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. 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 for more photos from our parade adventure.

At 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.