Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Upon Brume

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: So why do I keep returning to old barns? I suppose the most honest answer is, because they're there. I believe in shooting close to home. Or better yet, because they're still there, and I sense about them, husks that they are, deep and venerable roots. Spirits inhabit these yet, and sometimes they can be caught lurking.

This is the blacksmith's shop at Skarf Mt. I've described it before. As it turns out, smithing was a specialty of the great grandfather of the current generation. This was his shop first, and his children learned forging from him. I'm struck by how the arc of a life continues to shape the present and how it may be transformed over time.

There's that, but there's also the purely visual, the look of old wood as the paint wears and the wood ages, how it catches light or hums softly when there's little light. In photographs it can appear especially painterly. In all likelihood, some of this is wood cut around these fields and hewn on these grounds. The patterns on it's surface tell the story of seasons, of drought and flood, before there was a farm or a blacksmith.

On this particular afternoon there was also the steady patter of the rain gutters. If only I could, I'd paint all that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Barnyard Thaw

RIED CALLANAN: "As you progress through your photographic career and experience, you learn that oftentimes you photograph from your dreams and your memories and your intuition and your background. It's not just the perception through your eyes."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Three years of wandering and regular photographing has bred practices and habits worth reflecting on. Why do I regularly return to the same sites?

The snow before the holiday was accompanied by bitter cold, but by Wednesday (Christmas Eve) temperatures had moderated. It was in the bitter cold that I took yesterday's photograph. Although I have shot Skarf Mountain Farm many times, I never saw that angle until I saw it then. What first drew me was the foreground splash of berry brambles against the cracked, aged barn-wood. The big gash in the wall was a feature to be carefully placed. The low sun caught every bit of detail in the wood and the brambles. However, in spite of frequent visits here, I'd never before seen the intriguingly twisted passageway through the barnyard just behind the brambles. How simply and elegantly it let me balance the composition. I'd never seen it that way. Under recent snow and the cold sunlight of the solstice, it was obvious. How had I missed it?

Well, for one thing, I'd never seen it under snow. There are close to two stops of difference between the ground covered by snow and the ground with its usual covering of grass and hardened soil. Under snow, earth and sky unite. I'm reminded of the first thing Freeman Patterson said in his first workshop three summers ago. "It's all about composing tonalities. Learn to see tonalities." Had snow suddenly made it a composition? I spent a long time adjusting placement, height, angle, and zoom to include or exclude various details and to shift the viewer's path through the composition. In fact, there seemed too many good options.

Then this weekend temperatures climbed as high as sixty and the world turned spongy. Naturally, having found the angle in winter's deep freeze, when I was back there Saturday I wanted to see it in thaw. Thick, even fog muffled almost everything as snow condensed to vapor. The density of the fog changed often, but visibility was rarely above 100 feet, often far less. The white snow was off the dark roof of the barns, but snow still led the eye along the ground. The scene composed itself differently. It did so instantly as I looked through the viewfinder. The barns, smothered in fog, loomed somewhat massively, and the snarl of berry brambles were no longer outlined by the setting sun, but made quiet and hung with drops of melting snow.

Looking at the two photographs side by side reminds me of a series of quick decisions I made in standing, zooming, and framing this photograph that were quite different than those I made in the freeze photo, I didn't study this one intently as I had the first, and I made just five quick shots. I was especially aware of wanting to spread out the opposing face of the heifer barn on the right where earlier I had kept trying to pinch it. It was not merely to make more background to the water droplets, but to enhance the broad shape. Shooting it this way was a bit like suddenly hearing the right chord struck on the piano. Very curious, my certainty about this shot and the urge to improvise infinite variations to the earlier one!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Barnyard Freeze

ALBERT CAMUS: "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - The wanderer never knows where his path will lead. Yes, I believe in wandering.

I've been thinking a good deal about, among other things, how my shooting process has evolved over the past three years. Many friends who shoot "art landscapes," troll by automobile in search of good shots. From time to time I've done that as well. They drive until something photogenic appears, stop for a few minutes to shoot, and then move on. The more I shoot, the less satisfactory I find this method. The issue for me is less about finding good things to shoot. I believe good photographs can be made anywhere, though I certainly have my preferences for subject matter. The more fundamental issue is attaining the concentration to shoot well.

I return to the same places often, though I also try to expand the kinds of places I shoot. The process of returning is consistent with the notion of wandering, since the same place is different every time, and I often find new things that delight me in places I know well. It may be that in becoming familiar with the unchanging forms of a place I become more sensitive to the nuances of the moment. However, the essential trick, wherever I am, is in putting aside expectation - becoming a true wanderer - developing a wanderer's concentration to see and feel what truly engages me.

I've watched the pianist Alfred Brendel in concert. He walks onto the stage without acknowledging the audience, sits quickly, hangs his head as if continuing a meditation begun backstage. I sense this as the gathering of his focus and energy around the sounds he is about to make so that when he releases that first note he is the sound guiding the shape, flow, and accent of every detail of the music. The thought of maintaining that concentration through the bubbling and rushing river of a Schubert sonata for 30 or 40 minutes is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, for my quite human limitations, the photographer must only seize the stream's energy once in the process of honing the composition. On the other hand, more than the turns of a physical path or road, it may be the twisting course of this stream of engagement that guides the wanderer on his journey.

I've found it's essential to leave the car. I've driven roads repeatedly and seen nothing to shoot until I finally went back and walked there. The car seals me off from all but the visual, and even the visual is greatly circumscribed. All of my senses need to dance if my pictures are to reach beyond the visual. As I begin my walk, I usually leave the camera in my backpack and shoulder my tripod like a rifle. If I have a destination and route in mind it will give way to fancy, but even as I wander from the preset trail, I won't take out my camera until something of the moment overpowers the natural wish to continue. Sometimes I never take my camera out, and I end the day with nothing more than a healthy walk. On the other hand, if the impulse to stop takes over, I may shoot at the same spot for ten minutes or an hour or more. If I stay put it means I'm wandering. Then, one shot leads to another. The more familiar I am with the site, the better I will be able to judge when to move on or where to move next to "follow the stream."

Occasionally my concentration is suddenly broken. It is a feeling akin to descending the stairs to find suddenly one step fewer than expected, and no chance to turn and climb back. However, unlike walking, where destination is the usual goal, wandering is its own reward.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New England Farmhouse

Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea:

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar,

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Orchard Solstice

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Strangely familiar yet incongruent, this dance in the orchard at the solstice. A little sugarplum fairy music please, but grotesque and arthritic. I have been enveloped in gray since Friday - this dance in the orchard taken Saturday morning - and today not feeling quite in sync with the storm - worries about bad roads and icy sliding.

I posted Thursday's TODAY'S and went to bed. Despite doubts I had about the weather forecast, I was back on the same, high hill overlooking Twin Elm Farm by 11:15 on Friday, but the lighting guy had put the big diffuser on everything and gone home.

It's decent exercise reaching the top, and I lost track of time shooting my way up. The weatherman said the storm would arrive at noon on Friday. I was bored and ready to give up when I checked my watch. He must have been giving the Twin Elm microcast? I looked at my watch at 12:04 and when I looked up I knew the white glow over the most distant hills was not strange fog but the front line of the snow. If there was an event to be photographed, I was in place, and it was chugging up Oblong Valley. I'm still deciding if there was an event.

The first thing I did was forget everything I learned last winter about photographing in snow. Shutter speed is critical - 1/30th to 1/50th in light to medium wind will keep the flakes from unflaking too much. Only against dark backgrounds will smaller, distant flakes make visible texture. Did I forget or just not switch on a very different mind set?

Gloves - right glove off will speed work if the digits don't go numb. If that doesn't work it's glove liner weather. Some good news: I've finally mastered working with the camera "raincoat." Essential equipment.

The new screen loupe fills with snow - keep it pocketed.

But in the end the approaching snow did look like fog - very even fog that fell like a scrim instead of swirling like a serpent. It shaded the deep hills behind Twin Elm nicely, emphasizing the narrow valley between them. I considered finishing and posting that shot, but it wasn't right - too muted and bland.

I kept shooting, but the hills were buried in white-out long before the pasture was white. On the way home the roads were icy and they were predicting a second storm to arrive Sunday. How to get in sync?

Saturday's photos were the best of the weekend, but the work was effortful, and the snow was back fiercely on Sunday morning right through, "Meet the Press."

The solid gray continued throughout the day until an hour before sunset. Then, without warning, the lighting guy was back with a bit of razzle dazzle. It would have been a sunset to shoot from some high hill or from the orchard, but the roads were slick, and I was engaged in a dusk shot in the valley. Sometimes it's tough to get in sync with a storm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Folded into the Batter

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The last time I was here, autumn leaves still consumed Twin Elm farmstead. I've been sticking close to home since mid-November, shooting mostly at Misty Morning Farm and the nearby orchards. I headed this way because we had some blue sky, promising clouds, and we have reached the solstice. Daylight is hovering at 9 hours and 10 minutes and the setting sun has the best angle for lighting this farmstead.

One never knows what one will get, and I went with no preconceived plans. The clouds never panned out, but with the leaves off the trees and the soft, low light of sunset sculpting the scene, the farmstead lounged out in the valley to have its portrait made, "Olympia." If it also tells a story that seems uniquely New England, I'm satisfied.

Tomorrow they are predicting 5 to 10 inches of snow. I've checked the weather maps and I think we will be between heavy storms both north and south. If snow doesn't stick me in the neighborhood, I may head back to Twin Elm. I'll need to be up on the hill before the snow gets deep.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


GARL RIZBUTH: "The chief aim of art is to communicate something intangible and of the spirit directly, completely, and precisely to other people, often across gulfs of space and time."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Do kids still remember fireflies? Everyone who grew up in the Northeast back in the fifties and could get away from the city remembers them. They were more numerous than stars, and even a little kid could catch dozens in a half hour. I still live in the Northeast, but I only see a few each summer now, and often they don't look well with their lights stuck in the half position. That's the way they looked when I was a kid and I woke the next morning and looked in the jar, listless and short-circuited.

This is another image rediscovered when reviewing the October Orchard shoots. It caught my attention originally too, but I put it aside for some technical issues that don't bother me at all now. How easily it came as I walked among the peach trees! - the grass so perfectly lit, the composition, everything was just there.  I made just two exposures, two distinct compositions, and I like the other almost as much as this. Because they came so easily, seemed so obvious, I moved on.  Perhaps these are fireflies of the daytime. I'm disappointed only in that the technical problems seem to be a bit exaggerated in this reduced jpg version.

Click here for Firefly Information.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Owls 'n' Elves

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Act I, scene 1; action: After leaving the October orchard I hiked back down the hill to my car which I had left near Misty Morning Farm. I wasn't expecting to find the proscenium framed with swags and the stage set, as if awaiting players. Jane wanted to call this, "Pyramis and Thisbe." I prefer, "Owls 'n' Elves." I recall someone said, "The play's the thing." Since the viewer must supply the play, the title is also yours to invent. I stick with, "Owls 'n' Elves."

This photo had little processing. Here is a case where the use of HDR would spoil the mystery. I could have revealed considerably more of the dark forest, even from my single image. I chose to raise shadow tones only very slightly. If our monitors are similarly calibrated, when you look beneath the background arch on the left, you should be just barely able to distinguish the suggestion of deep forest. Even now I wonder if I shouldn't reveal a bit more shadow detail. If this photo had included sky, it would have needed HDR to encompass the full tonal spectrum.

But hush! Somewhere, in the darkness at the back, the first player has just entered left. Let the play begin. ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Orchard Orbits

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!"

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: In contrast to yesterday's image, this one, I thought, suggested destination. Then again, the serpentine vine climbing up from the shadows leads in a different direction, and I thought of calling this, "Genesis," but I'd rather not push such a strong meaning onto the image. Perhaps it is presumptuous to suggest beginning or end; it is enough simply to recognize the wheeling shadows of the orchard as it orbits through space.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Peach Orchard, October 6th #2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: We are again in October's orchard wonderland. This photo more than others seems to me to suggest the start of the journey. We stand as if in a shadowed vestibule ready to enter a garden of delights. Two trees invite us in and motion us on to the sunlit area behind where more trees await. But stand a moment and let your eye explore the path.

This is a single exposure with minimal processing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Autumn Bower

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The shady place on the bright day is the photographer's nightmare. As shooting nightmares go, this is a pretty bad one, and I post it as much for technical issues as for any aesthetic qualities it may or may not have. I had timed my shoot to be in the orchard when the low sun lit up the red and yellow vines. Shooting from a distance as in yesterday's image could be handled with a single exposure. I didn't care if detail was lost in the dark boughs of the distant trees. It was their overall gawky form I needed.

In contrast, this close-up only works if we can see the leafy vines covering the shadowed side of the boughs. Standing there I saw those vines clearly. My photograph could not encompass that range. Setting the exposure to preserve the bright leaves left the shadowed area in black gunk. Fortunately, back in October, looking ahead to taking up HDR, I made a number of images in bracketed sets.

However, processing this set of images for HDR created new problems. There was a constant wind that vibrated leaves and branches of a certain length. When I processed my images for HDR the software was unable to resolve some of this movement. Along the left foreground especially, leaves that were frozen in the individual pre-HDR images appeared multiple times in the combined HDR. You can see a bit of this remaining about 1/8th of the way across the bottom from the left corner and in the far right corner.

Even more damaging was the way HDR processing spoiled a key detail of the shot. In very bright sections the original photos showed crisp veins in leaves rendered translucent by the bright sun. In the HDR version these details were smudged unacceptably.

HDR created a few less significant problems as well. In the right corner and in shadowed areas there is more noise than I expected. This is a result of not making a high enough exposure to get the darkest tones of the image into the mid-range tonalities. I've since read that it's advisable for the left third of the histogram to be blank in the highest exposure to get the dark tones well exposed.

To resolve the problems in the photo above, I found it was possible to combine an HDR and an ordinary image, making use of the parts of each that showed details best. Most of the image is a regular, unprocessed image. I chose one that handled bright areas well. The HDR version is the source of dark areas and good transitions to the lighter areas. Using an eraser with a soft, gradient edge I removed sections of the top, non-HDR image to expose the underlying HDR. The areas of the HDR exposed are along the shadowed areas and some sections where shadow and light mingle.

It's very easy to use HDR to stretch tonalities in very extreme and unnatural ways, and it can be useful for creating surreal or expressionistic distortions. My aim here, however, was only to open up the shadows and restore what was missing. I could have brightened the shadow considerably, but chose only small adjustments. Too much HDR and highs and lows are saturated but compressed. To me such images scream "HDR."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Peach Orchard, October 6th

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: It seems a world away now. I have to look back and remind myself. Just two months ago was there really a Van Gogh (or even Jackson Pollock) galaxy of light and color in these orchards to be snapped? I hadn't expected it - the pyrotechnics - this peach orchard garlanded in poison ivy and stung by the setting sun.

This peach orchard lies on the north side of of Baldwin Hill. The land slopes so gently that it's hard to find the top, but once there I can look northeast to Mt. Tom, the next big hill. Mt. Tom is a tall cone of rock. Baldwin Hill is a broad, fertile dome. Much of it is planted with old orchards. The apple orchards are at the top and descend down the eastern slope, but there is an open view southwest as well, thus the shots of the apple orchard backed by setting sun. The land has been farmed there since the mid 1700s, and the same family still runs the orchards.

In early October I was pretty much splitting my time between shooting here and at Hilltop Pond. The first of those pond photos were taken about when this was shot (1), (2), (3), (4).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Apple Orchard Friday

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I've been working with high dynamic range processing (HDR) for almost a week. HDR isn't new, but it's new for me, and it is changing the way I look and see as a photographer. Whether HDR leads to more literal representation of what I see is my personal choice, but it does permit greater fidelity between the world seen and the world photographed.

I shot this image on Friday. Last Sunday I would have passed it by. There are more than 8 stops of information in this image from the darkest pixels to the lightest, far more than film or digital cameras can record in one image. (Five clean stops of light is about the best one can expect from current DSLRs. After that the top starts losing saturation and the bottom gets noisy.) As one brightens this exposure, the sky loses all detail long before the foreground tree gets any. Nor is it just that detail is lost. Even in situations where the dynamic range is less extreme, over-exposed sky quickly bleeds into dark areas. This would spoil the crisp texture of branches in this shot.

To make this image I shot multiple images at shutter speeds ranging from 1/20th of a second to 1/5000th of a second. My goal was shots that encompassed the darkest and lightest tones and filled out a fair sampling of the middle. The software suggests shooting two stops above and two stops below the correct exposure. In fact, this picture required more to encompass the intensity of the setting sun. I checked the trailing lines at both ends of the histogram until I saw they had ended in all three primary colors.

I've found orchards, unless on or surrounded by some pretty steep hills, to be especially difficult to shoot. I photographed in the neighboring peach orchard through much of the fall. The grotesque contortions of the branches, the trees' neat rows, the foliage, fruit and flower all appeal to my photographic tastes, and, except when the winter wind blows, they are beautiful places to walk. At the orchards on the top of Baldwin Hill especially, the dance of the fruit trees wants to whirl in partnership with the sky, and often the best skies lie close to the sun. Until this week, I looked at such scenes with the knowledge that my image would be mostly silhouette. Knowing I can put detail into the shadows lets my camera enter new worlds.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Apple Orchard Sunday 2

S.T. COLERIDGE: "Those [winds] which mould yon clouds in lazy flakes."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Apple Orchard Sunday

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I walked today, but the lighting guy had closed up shop and gone home. Sometimes it's like that. The last good shooting day for me was Sunday. Although the sun broke through only occasionally and weakly, the clouds provided interest, and after using up the last of the subeams at Misty Morning Farm, I threw myself recklessly into the orchards on top of Baldwin Hill. Of many experiments, the husky alto of this music seemed to suit the moment.

TECHNICAL - Some time ago several friends recommended high dynamic range (HDR) processing. After shooting this I began fooling with the software. To use it, one needs images shot at different exposures. This image is about as good as modern cameras can record in the situation above. Where the sun breaks through the image is overexposed, burnt out, the pixels have been blown away. At the same time, where the trees are in silhouette the image is underexposed, there is not enough light, detail has been lost.

I've been preparing to shoot HDR for some time, taking three images to preserve detail at both ends of the histogram. I wish I'd shot this for HDR to see what I could have done with the finished image. On another occasion I might have chosen not to shoot in such unpromising light, but somehow, on Sunday this silhouette seemed right, and I'm not sure HDR could have gotten closer to the mood.

This is best viewed full screen. In fact, zoom in and you'll see the exposure was carefully calibrated to preserve much of the shadow detail.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Misty Morning Vegetable Garden, Nov. 29, 2008

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Saturday was a dark day with mighty clouds that hovered but never pounced. The bite of winter was in the air, and the dark season had digested most of the landscape. I set out more to walk and get my daily exercise than to photograph, but as I reached the bottom of the pasture below Misty Morning Farm, the landscape began to awaken. The swampy lowland between Misty Morning Farm and Dyer Farm offered welcome colors and textures though no shots yet. Even occasional, "theater lights," didn't make a picture, but on another day the pond behind these swamps might offer eye-catching reflections. I made note.

I'd never been to the bottom of this meadow, though I'd considered it last winter when it was covered in snow. The rewards seemed not promising enough then to justify the difficult trudge in snowshoes to the bottom and back; the hill is so steep that I thought the barns, set back at the top, would be hidden when I got to the bottom. Even in the spring it was too soft to walk comfortably. Now that the ground was frozen, I was scoping it to plan if/how I might shoot it when the snow returned. In fact, the barns were out of sight from the bottom, but there were other opportunities further up where rooftops and gables came into view, and I slowly wound my way back to the top exploring all the angles.

When I'd had enough I headed out for the rest of my hike. On the way, I passed the vegetable garden. The last time I was here colorful baskets full with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and squash lay beside rows of old leaves, stained and sunbeaten but green. The last of the Misty Morning's bounty was being harvested.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gotham Lights

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: There are so many ways of inhabiting the past, in New York City especially, so many doorways to slip through, and a moment later I find myself in another time. I'm still pulling from photos created earlier this summer. This one was snapped quickly on a hurried walk crosstown in Manhattan. I was with my daughter and it was beginning to rain, so this journey was especially quick. She almost didn't have to stop as I snapped two images while only half hoping the results would turn out. I don't recall setting up my tripod on the busy sidewalk, so my hunch is the shot is hand held, and the EXIF data tells me I shot it at 1/13th of a second. Amazingly, I see only a tiny bit of vertical movement, and it adds to the effect. Zoom in. Look around. If you've brought a few matches, sit back and light up your Meerschaum.

Today's attack in Mumbai makes escape to another time seem especially appealing. Keep steady. Keep faith.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spider Galaxy


The sheet web spider lives, we say, upside down.
He hangs beneath, injects with poison, those who land above.
He pulls them down to devour them raw.
But who is to say which one of us is right?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Buy the Sea

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The change in the weather has kept me in, and I've been looking through images from old shoots that I'd marked for possible publication on TODAY'S. I have culling process, but good shots sometimes get left behind. I wanted to see what was there. I'm sure some of you may be looking at this and getting ready to write that I should discontinue this excavation immediately.

None the less, I persist. I like this especially now that I've forgotten where it was taken and what those are? I could look up the shoot, and it would say, but I've decided I don't want to know. My best thought on the matter is that it was in some musty, wharf shop in a remote fishing village up the coast of Maine or maybe Nova Scotia, or perhaps its from the trip to Holland I wanted to take but didn't.

Why do I like it? It's the colors and shapes, the textures, the balance, its tensions, the patina of age, a bit of mystery, unspecified ironies, elves. It's probably curable.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Water Color

CORRESPONDENCE: In response to yesterday's post about viewing images on your computer, thanks Larry and Melissa for these suggestions:

Larry: "For viewing your pictures, I use either ACDSee or IrfanView. But, just for spaces sake, I convert them to jpgs via Vue Print Pro."
He confirms that both programs let you see your image full screen and with all the menus and scroll bars gone?

Melissa: "Using Firefox 3 and TURNING ON COLOR MANAGEMENT is a huge improvement on a PC especially (but MAC too) when viewing photos. http://www.gballard.net/psd/go_live_page_profile/embeddedJPEGprofiles.html is one site that gives some info."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I carry so many things now; perhaps I should carry my own duck.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Absence of Duck

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Yesterday I received a note asking, "How would you like your pictures to be viewed?" At first it seemed a funny question, and I wasn't at all sure what my correspondent meant. As it turns out, he'd spent considerable time with several of my images and was asking about taming his monitor to see them better. He was really asking what software I used. His question is well-timed since this image won't look like much against normal bright clutter of most computer screens. Since the question of proper viewing is so important here, I thought I'd share the suggestions I offered him.

Alas, he's Windows and I'm now firmly Mac, so if anyone has any WIN suggestions or additional tips, send them to me, and I'll pass them along. These suggestions are not for the photographers in the group, who probably have solved much of this, but for general viewers. Easiest and most important suggestions are offered first:

1. Check the lighting around your screen. Often it is a compromise designed for the various things you do around your computer. Desk lights and nearby windows sometimes glare and distract. Pull down the shade. This fix is free.
2. Some image viewers permit resizing photos to fit the screen. A photos composition can rarely be digested in pieces, and any good photo has good reasons why it begins and ends where it does. More on these viewers in a moment.
3. Do anything you can to clear away screen clutter. Most people don't realize how distracting all those scroll bars and menus are until they find software that lets them view an image against a solid background, preferably, I think, a dark one. Macintosh includes "Preview" "iPhoto," and "Mail," all of which accomplish both #1 and #2 in the various contexts in which one works with images. "Mail" is especially nice in letting one view any emailed image full screen.
4. Although it's essential to see images whole, some photos reward zooming in. The jpg images sent have limited zoomability, but you'll often find surprises you missed before you zoomed. Did you notice the abundant water drops on these birches? Zoom in and they are an important part of the image that you would have enjoyed in a good print.
5. There is a standard for monitor color. Calibration to that standard is the toughest issue to solve. Doing it properly requires expensive hardware and a bit of know-how. I use a Huey (WIN and Mac available) which not only calibrates my monitor but resets but resets it every time room lighting changes. Most importantly it gives me images where true whites and grays have no tint. Most won't want to spend for Huey. However, there are some web sites that offer free tools. Spyder, another maker of calibration hardware has some free virtual tools at their web site that will let you see how far off you are and tell you how to make some no cost fixes. (Another calibration site)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fen Suck'd Fogs

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: When I was back at Hilltop Pond last week, the color had mostly blown away or crisped to brown. Low clouds floated over the hills and a thin mist rose from the still water. However, this shot seemed to me to come from someplace even darker. It could easily be the blackness of the words Shakespeare chooses in next quatrain of sonnet 73 to image darkness overtaking "twilight..."

Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.

How smoothly those words slide from the tongue! However, the words that came to mind and that title this image are from the curses Lear hurls at his daughters before he rushes out into the storm. Although I seek no such vengeance on anyone (at least none who aren't in office), I am amused at how observant of natural processes is this furious invocation of deities that Shakespeare puts in Lear's enraged speech.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Yellow Leaves

...or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

-Shakespeare (from Sonnet 73)

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 has always seemed to me one of the most haunting and sublime songs in the English language - the futile rage that concludes the first quatrain, the black hush in which the second ends, and the just resignation to ongoing process of the third. The sonnet returns to me each fall about this time, and on days like this its polyphonic strains are a likely accompaniment as I shoot. I believe it is much more important that I find the tempos and harmonics of a place than find the shots. If I'm properly tuned, the shots appear.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Polarities 2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Polarities 1 and Polarities 2 were taken 22 minutes apart. I did not intend to make them a mirrored pair, and I think the differences between them add to their interest. They are seen to best effect either placed side by side or flipped as in a slide show.

In fact, Polarities 2 was shot first, and I made many exposures, enjoying the rich color and experimenting with how the eye is caught at the lower right corner. Of course, changing where the corner sits changes everything. Soft, low clouds diffused the light and made the yellows and reds of the underbrush by the pond more intense. How rich it seemed now that all else was brown and bare beside the still water!

I could have gone on enjoying that heady brew, but I was beginning to repeat and needed to break the spell. I changed my focus and moved in close. What could I find along the shore in the still water? -leaves floating and submerged? -tall swamp grasses? -their glassy reflections? When I turned back I was on the other side of the weeping birch tree, looking into the narrow end of the pond, and had entered the universe of Polarities 1.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Polarities 1

Aphorism IV: "Everything is dual; everything has an opposing point; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes bond; all truths are but half truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Undulations 1

APHORISM III: "Nothing rests, everything moves, everything vibrates."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Back in Connecticut, no sooner was the parade history than rain came and took down all the leaves but the oaks'. Once the rain ended, the first days of shooting were wrapped in forlorn gray sky. It took me back to Hilltop Pond where even the birds had become silent. While I might have wanted to catch more of the earlier blaze, there are many moods found here.

Even though I had another week's worth of parade photos that I thought worth adding to TODAY'S, I've decided it's time to move on. Anyone wishing to see all of the selected parade shots can do so at the official parade site. The parade site also sells all of the shots posted there. 100% of profit goes to support the parade.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wry Bones

FREEMAN PATTERSON: "The camera always points both ways. In expressing your subject you also express yourself."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NY Halloween #11: When I was a little child I remember tickling the downey hair on my arm until I could barely stand the painful thrill of it. The parade's view of the brutishness and tenderness of mortality feels a bit like that.

Monday, November 10, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NY Halloween #10: In 1968 my wife and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It took all day. When we got to the campground at the bottom we were welcomed into a community of 30 or 40 campers and invited to toss whatever we had brought to eat into a giant stew pot. The result was tastier than I would have expected, and I don't recall either of us finishing dinner hungry. That stew was very much like this parade, a mongrel mix made of contributions from countless individuals. It is a small-town parade of mountainous proportions. The infinite variety of genius that spills up 6th Avenue is thrilling.

I have now tossed my photos into the Halloween stew and have been given a gallery at the parade web site. Once at the parade web site, do a text search on my name, or go directly here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Finding Elvis

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NY Halloween #8: ...and when we find our inner Elvis, what have we become, and where is Elvis?

Friday, November 7, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NYC Halloween #7: They are ready and waiting, looking up as the parade prepares, regarding the operations and silently commenting, secretly ogling? By what process do they become us, do we become them? How does it happen that a parade becomes a living thing with a spirit and life of it's own? In how many ways is that thing us?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Points of View

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NYC Halloween #6: What impressed me most was the innocence of this naughtiness. While we voyeuristic photographers gaped, the girls carefully and thoughtfully, over three hours applied the paint. It appeared that the finished designs were guided and detailed by two professional body painters. Periodically the girls would pose, talk, change partners, and continue painting until the finished designs began to emerge. One design especially made me laugh - ideal use of the medium! There are some excellent photos of the girls finished and marching on the parade web site. I recommend these.

Looking over my results from the shoot, I'm keenly aware of the difference between photographing the event and making photographs. I hope this image is about the frenzy and excitement of the moment and perhaps about something else as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Behind the Mask 2

TODAY'S PHOTO - NYC Halloween #5: HHalloween isn't Halloween without its portion of naughtyness. and the most famous naughtiness of New York City's Halloween parade through Greenwich Village is its bit of nudity. A half dozen girls, elaborately body-painted, parade topless. What a surprise to find that for three or more hours before the parade the girls apply each other's "costume" publicly! In its own way, this image, too, is a portrait.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Stoop

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NYC Halloween #4: People begin assembling to march in the parade around 6 PM, though some people come much earlier, and many people aren't marching until 8 or 8:30 PM.

I'm not sure if I caught a serendipitous moment or a well-planned tableau. Even the lighting is right. Whatever the truth, we get to make up the tale.

How different the tale might have been had I stooped!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Behind the Mask

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NYC Halloween #3: Masks are funny things. They're usually created to conceal identity, but the parade portraits I liked best were those that seemed to reach behind the costume and mask to suggest something real in the person's identity. Sometimes this may be the result of the artistry of the costume or of the "actor" wearing it. At other times it may be something accidentally revealed in the shot. Of course, in any picture it is up to the viewer to contemplate the spectral boundaries of reality and illusion.

In selecting portraits to post, I've most often sought those that reach behind to find something more ...or perhaps less.


Visit Bob Lejeune's blog at http://boblejeune.blogspot.com/ for more photos from our parade adventure.

At http://www.halloween-nyc.com/parade_pictures.html you will find publicly posted photos from the parade.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Street Warriors

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - NYC Halloween #2: As I was moving through the crowd, snapping photos and trying to reunite with Bob, a trio of rogues appeared. I took just two shots, one in which this fellow sneers down with his arm around a male sidekick in top hat and gotham eyes. It is an ordinary shot, decent, but nothing to single out. Just then he turned to draw the lady into the shot and she hung in this pose for a moment. I'm not sure what made me compose it as I did, but I knew instantly it was what I wanted to do. Sometimes ones pull to a given composition is that immediate, that visceral. Could I have recomposed and shot something more conventional? I think she stayed this way for a second more, but I moved on. It was 6:03 PM, the sun had been down for ten minutes, and I'd hiked my ISO to 1600 and was resisting flash, so the image is grainy, but even that adds to the effect.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Masked for Halloween

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - "Notes for Next Year": Friday night at the halloween parade in NYC was challenging and fun, and using my camera off the tripod with my new, "walk-around" lens and in a different kind of shooting situation was instructional. This is great people shooting; everyone there wants to be in pictures. If the weather is anywhere near what it was yesterday, I want to go back next year. When I do, I want to remember some of the things I did right and some I did wrong:

1. TIMING - PARADE STAGING: We made the right decisions about when to arrive and where to go. The staging of the parade is better shooting than the parade. We arrived near Spring Street and Broadway around 2:30 PM. My first shot is time stamped 2:46:26. We were in no rush to get to the site of the parade and spent 20 minutes dawdling and casually photographing street life and beautiful light. We were headed for the parade, gathering site at Spring St. and 6th Ave. A block away, on Sullivan St., we saw floats and a lady in a truck showed us the plan for float parking. There were many areas set aside for floats and parade vehicles on Varick St (an ave west of 6th), but we never got to any of these.

After photographing ranks of police (3:30 pm) getting their marching orders, a fellow-photographer pointed us (no pun intended) toward the topless girls. They were on Spring St. Once on Spring St. we first encountered the giant skeletons and the ghosts' ball. An Alberich-like dwarf was helping a few people get used to wearing the shoulder braces. There were maybe a dozen photographers exploring, parade participants relaxing and preparing, and the first costumed marchers were happy to be photographed.

The topless girls were at the Varick St. end of the block and it took 10 minutes to reach them. They were painting each other and getting painted by two body paint pros. This is the best show going. I shot the first topless photo at 3:41:01.

Essential to getting inside the restricted staging area without prior registration was arriving early and having an intimidating looking camera. As we had gotten in early, we were never questioned, but I almost got locked out when I started to stray outside the barricades. My big lens got me back in. The key is arrive early and be prepared to stay.

2. PEOPLE: I should have been more aggressive in engaging participants in conversation and posing them where I wanted them to stand. This was the same mistake I made at the 4th of July parade I shot. It is a sign of my inexperience with street shooting.

3. TECHNIQUE: My new 18-200mm street lens is a good deal heavier than my previous street lens, and I quickly found that my best planning in how to shoot was being undermined by my handling of the camera; the new lens changed the balance of the camera and tangled my thumbs. I had a terrible time setting exposure and then realized that I had somehow fumbled and changed camera settings without realizing it. Throughout the evening I experienced accidental changes to exposure compensation, shutter speed, and I frequently switched the mode off of shutter priority without realizing it. Practice, practice! Check metering often!

The side street is very contrasty and at a slower pace would call for spot metering. However, things change so fast that I found myself shifting positions constantly. As the girls moved, I moved. At any given minute at least 3 others were shooting the girls. Sometimes the girls were lit brightly, and sometime they were in shadow. We needed a diffuser on the sky, but the bright light also brought out the crustiness of the body paint. Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that I would be better in matrix metering. Lesson learned, switch to matrix metering.

To make matters worse, I find I have a habit of hitting the dial on the back of the camera with my thumb and sometimes with my nose. As a result, the focus point was never where I expect to find it, and I lost precious time finding and moving it to meter and focus properly. VERY IMPORTANT: Turn the lock on to keep this from happening.

4. PARADE SHOOTING STRATEGY: We made the wrong decision about shooting the parade. As the parade was forming we decided to leave and were shocked to find 6th Avenue packed with spectators behind barricades looking in at us. What a rush suddenly to see thousands of faces looking in to where we were. Next to the staging area were corrals where the hoards of marchers gathered and from which they were systematically released at intervals to march between bands and floats. We were about to leave the staging area, join the spectators, and head uptown to see what the passing parade looked like, when we found a gap that let us into one of the corrals to march with the parade. Doing so turned out to be a mistake. Once inside, the police would not let anyone exit. We were locked in the corral for the next 40 minutes. When we did find a gap to escape, we discovered we had just moved into a neighboring corral. No sooner were we there than the police released everyone in the first corral into the parade, and we contemplated another 40 minute wait until we might be released. Finally my companion, Bob Lejeune, found a policeman who took pity and let us rejoin the multitudes of spectators.

Once on civilian territory we found as many costumed celebrants wandering Greenwich Village as in the parade. There was partying everywhere. A better strategy for shooting post-staging would be to shoot the partying. I would find locations with good ambient light and let the party pass while shooting from stationary positions.

5. THOUGHTS ON COMPOSITION: After reviewing shots, I always see opportunities missed. a) I need to constantly remind myself to watch backgrounds. This is always tough in fast-paced, street shooting. It is tougher on east-west streets like Spring St. where the setting sun created bright light and deep shadows everywhere. b) Always watch for chances to include the grand old buildings of the area. Often this means getting low to shoot upward. c) The giant puppet skeletons, ghosts, and other props that are raised on the shoulders of marchers often look best when the shots include at least the shoulders and heads of those marchers. Usually it is a mistake to focus only on the puppets as the supporters provide scale. Where the marchers can't be used for scale, these puppets must be shot against buildings or other objects that give them scale. Lacking this, they are not especially impressive. d) While there are many opportunities for portraits of people, the parade is as much about the city as it is about people. It is important to look around often for chances to shoot the city with the parade passing through it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Edge of Sunlight

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Wm. Shakespeare - Sonnet 65

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Skarf Mt. Blacksmith Shop

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: An old, dry husk, the blacksmith's shop is pealing apart. Gaps in the wall expose dusty benches and the forge. An account book lies open near a window that's lost its glass, and tools rest near unfinished work, as if the smith might appear at any moment from a long lunch and fire up the cold hearth.

Who was this smith? Was he a lone individual or was smithing a family trade passed through generation? Signs of his work are on most of the buildings of the farmstead in hooks and latches and handles. Few farms of this size would have such a shop. Did this forge serve all the farms of Skarf Mountain?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Autumn Barnyard, Skarf Mountain Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I'd like to think the barns did it by themselves, perhaps one night when nobody was watching. The next morning it was there like Cinderella's coach, the great doors of the barn swung wide and the hay wagon loaded with crisp, square bales - as if the farm were running once again. Of course, I know it isn't so, but I do believe the barns are watching. taking it all in, even as the glass shatters and the wood grows brittle and frail.

The main barn, shown here, is really three barns, or rather two or three additions to what looks like it might initially have been a hay barn. The original barn is to the left, up and mostly out of the picture. The next section stops just past the right hand great door. You can see how the roof is worn differently at the seam. The section to the right of the great doors appears to have been a tobacco barn at one time; hinged slats open to ventilate the drying tobacco leaves that would have hung inside. This end section has a lower story with access from the end.

At some point the farmer seems to have switched to livestock farming and had to struggle a bit to make the barn fit the new usage. The area to the right of the great doors and on the level below were then fitted with neck stalls made of wood. This also would have prevented operation of the ventilators. It was probably later when the area with the row of windows was added along side of the two first sections of barn in order to make a space wide enough for more livestock. This time metal neck stalls were used. The stalls all seem very small to have housed cows. Whatever they were, there might have been as many as 40.

The farmstead had its own blacksmith shop. Close examination of the chain and ring on the post show it is hand forged.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Skarf Mountain Dairy Barn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: They built the barns and farmed the land around the time of the Civil War. Their descendants live in shiny new houses on top of the hill. The cow stalls have been empty for half a century. The hay, most probably, will feed horses that are ridden where corn used to grow and cows grazed. Curious, how time rearranges things!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


HENRY DAVID THOREAU (writing of an autumn train ride): "As we were whirled along, I noticed the woodbine, its leaves now changed, for the most part on dead trees draping them like a red scarf. It was a little exciting, suggesting bloodshed or, at least, an epaulet or sash as if it were dyed with the blood of the tree whose wound it was inadequate to staunch. For now the bloody autumn was come and an Indian warfare was waged through the forest."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Red leaves are often a warning sign (e.g. poison ivy). When I pulled some of this virginia creeper from a tree thirty years ago I got what seemed like a poison ivy rash. Now I know why.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Skarf Mountain Farmstead 2008, #1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Lurid autumn swallows idle farmsteads. At Skarf Mountain Farm as at many others, the harvest commotion, the tramp of muddy hooves, the jangling of cattle stalls, wagons hauling hay, all ended years ago. The wheel ruts in the farmyard are long healed. The locus of commotion has shifted. Now, across every stone wall bittersweet lounges and ignites, sly tentacles of virginia creeper and poison ivy turn neon red, as maple trees flash in the sunlight proclaiming another advance on the old buildings.

I know they are modest structures, these old farmstead, but the building shapes and layouts, thoughtfully planned by generations of practical farmers, tell a story and delight the eye. Enclosed within the old farmyards one can feel the rhythm of their work. In this farmstead two buildings may be gone by spring.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Autumn Cow in Retrospect

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Fall is the time when the earth perspires and cows steam. I'm getting to know cows. While my chest cavity lacks the heft to speak the tongue, I listen as they talk. They warn of my passing, and when I walk between them, talk across the divide. They are inquisitive by nature, and it can be intimidating to have a herd of thirty or forty all watch as I pass. Sometimes I play with them. They will turn their heads sideways to follow me until they are eventually looking backward. Then I go slowly, drawing their heads further until they nuzzle their own flanks, to see if I can make them stumble unbalanced before they readjust their heft.

These are beef cows, steers and heifers. Across the stone fence the neighboring farm has dairy cows; they're used to being around people, and you can rub their foreheads. These can be skittish which is about how I feel as I walk among them. They're left pretty much alone to graze through connecting pastures, but I've learned that these at Four Maples Farm are so calm that sometimes when I pass they don't even stop eating or rise from their afternoon bask in the sun.

Across town at Twin Elm Farm the herd is more mischievous. The farmer wondered, had two of them not been castrated properly? And I wondered what it meant, "castrated improperly."

Sometimes at Twin Elm as I'm shooting they'll sneak up behind me, and when I turn they jump away. One morning I turned from shooting, and there they were, the whole herd looming out of a thick fog, watching me. Sometimes I've had a third of the herd follow behind me as I cross the pasture. When I stop and turn, they stop. When I turn back and walk, they walk.

Nor is it true that cows lack guile. The other day they had me surrounded (at a safe distance). I was shooting one who was well positioned with regard to the light. As I shot I became aware of the cows slowly converging. They thought I wouldn't notice them, slyly nibbling their way along the grass headlong toward me. Their heads were down but their eyes were up. Several times as I was shooting one, he would eat his way almost to the camera, and I'd have to stop, step forward, and shoo him back. They run away when I try to touch them. I ran away when two steers began locking horns in the background. I left quietly and in the other direction.

I ended the day in a muddy farmyard, eavesdropping on three genuine moo-cows with drooping utters that let me rub their foreheads.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Corn Harvesters near Hiddenhurst


Flying toward the equinox,
the mystical shifting of polarities
that generates autumn perspirations
and soon mute frost.

Momently poised on the hillside,
between orbs, sifting light,
as the field is rolled and stored;
saving up the summer to feed the winter.

All life suspended in the flux between poles,
teetering on time,
like this photo, stop action,
while wheeling engines spin soundlessly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I visited on both Saturday and Sunday mornings as the radiant sun rising, blazed and dazzled across Hilltop Pond. I left reluctantly when winds came and chased the image off the pond.

Monday was entirely different. The lighting god, to whom all landscape photographers pay obeisance, had floated his great diffuser across sky, and autumn was bathed in soft, shadowless glow. When we passed at 2 PM, breezes still roiled the image, so we rode on to Twin Elms. When we returned at 4:30, the winds were just leaving, and melancholy stillness saturated the air, and I thought of Shakespeare's "Bare, ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

This was the first shot I took. I was immediately pulled to the hushed banks beneath the trees, a concealed area with electric vegetation, a place to safely take it all in, ...and to the sliver of sky reflecting in the water. The sliver was for me the key to the composition. The trick was to balance it properly with actual sky, while also positioning the tree trunks to lead the eye. Sometimes the gymnastics which guide a composition are immediately evident, not often. I made just two exposures, this, and one in which the reflected bit of sky began near the lower right corner. Now, if only I had a few turkeys strolling off in the background on the left.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pond Tiffany

ERNEST FENOLLOSA (c. 1890s): "The mere representation of an external fact, the mechanical copying of nature, has nothing whatever to do with art. This proposition is asserted by all Oriental critics and is fundamental canon with all Japanese painters....
   ...Lines and shades, and colors may have an harmonic charm of their own, a beauty and infinity of pure visual idea, as absolute as the sound idea in music. The artisitc element in form is ... the pure simple music of a form idea... the fact that such a line organism may represent natural fact does not interfere with its purely aesthetic relation as a line....  Now such line ideas, apart from what they represent, ... are exactly what the Japanese conceive to be the basis of all their art."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn Palette

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: To the painter, pigment; to the photographer, light.

Monday, October 13, 2008

TODAY'S PHOTO: Detonation, Autumn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I interrupt this jaunt through Maine for autumn, drunk and wheeling with color. It seems every autumn is different. This one arrived early and colored up quickly. It reached its peak this weekend as dry clear weather passed through the Litchfield Hills, drawing me to shoot upward of 6 hours a day, and filling my bin with photos I'm eager to share. Much remains from my Maine adventures, and I will return to them during the drab months when I'm longing for color.

Hilltop Pond, 8 AM, Sunday! I'm the only one here. At my back, the sun has just come over the mountain like a still wind. How can such things pass without anyone noticing? I'm transfixed.