Draws You In, Doesn’t It?

Railroad Bridge across Cedar River to Quaker Oats, Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa

Here’s yet another example of finding an older photo and seeing it in a different light for the first time.  And this time this one has quickly turned into one of my all-time favorites.  In color this shot was nice, but… meh.  In black and white it popped, and I couldn’t stop staring at it… or should I say ‘staring INTO it’?  That’s the key here, the image draws you in and you can’t help but look all the way down to the end, trying to look even farther.  The combination of the starkness and simplicity of the black and white, the symmetry, along with the lines leading… pulling… you in is simply incredible.  This will end up on my wall, somewhere.

This is the railroad bridge that leads to the Quaker Oats plan in downtown Cedar Rapids over the Cedar River.  It is “unsecured”, as in no gates or barriers into the plant, but rumor has it that if you even set foot on the bridge as it heads over the water you will be greeted by a couple burly security guards from the other end, and will be not-so-kindly warned and escorted back to where you came from.

I also like how the plant and the sign itself peeks out from the side, providing context.

This was taken a few years ago one evening as part of another photo shoot sponsored by my photo club.  Something that I probably never would have done on my own.  An active and pro-active photo club can be an invaluable resource.

Uncle!!!

Tunnel of Trees, Hwy M-119, Emmet County, Michigan

Ok, I give.  You win, Mother Nature.  It’s been at or below zero for a few days now.  I’ve had enough and I capitulate.

While I have taken advantage of the last three days inside to catch up on some blogging and paperwork issues, that’s not nearly as satisfying, so I have chosen for today’s photo something completely opposite of what is happening outside right now.  Call it wishful thinking, or blind hope, or whatever.

This shot is from the road trip Missy and I took in October, 2016.  This is Michigan state Hwy M-119, the “Tunnel of Trees” near Harbor Springs, Michigan.  It is quite the famous tourist destination, and for good reason.

A photo like this gives me hope.  Hope knowing that it will not always be below zero and too cold.  Hope knowing that I will be doing more shooting and soon.

!!! Updated Website !!!

Today is also the official roll-out of the updated website.  It’s not radically different.  It’s still 2002-ish in terms of looks.  But it’s tightened up and streamlined quite a bit.  The photos have all been reprocessed… which was a slow and fitful process that took most of 2017… and many more added.  (I will continue to add more as time goes by, too.)  It has a better overall feel to it, I think.  I have also made a few “secret” pages… one for only Iowa, one for only Michigan, and one for all photos in total… that will allow me to share with specific clients and to also help keep myself in line as to what I have and don’t have that I can reference at a glance.  Click the link above and go take a look.

Winter Scenes: Pros and Cons

Wagon in Winter, near Palo, Linn County, Iowa

I love a good winter photo.  Especially when you can grab the texture of the snow, and double-especially when you can catch shimmering glints of sunlight reflecting off the snowflakes.

Take this photo, for example:  I shot this back in 2005/06, my first winter in Iowa.  It is down the road from where my photo club meets, and I stopped and shot this on the way in.  There was something about the whole scene that appealed to me.  It evokes a peaceful feeling, a quietness.  It is actually somebody’s front yard, but is cropped well.  It also helps that it has the aspects mentioned above, the texture and the glints of reflective light.

Those are the pros.  But, I don’t have very many winter shots, because of the cons.  What are the cons, you ask?  Well, there’s only one.  It’s cold.

Yes, that’s right, I am a west coast, “first world” American, and I am not overly enamored with the cold.  It’s really that simple.  I admire photographers who routinely go out every week in the winter to get a shot.  That takes perseverance and dedication.  Then again, for many of these people photography is literally their bread-and-butter.  For me it’s more of a sidelight.  I still need to keep my day-job.

Take yesterday and today, as a case in point.  It’s been absolutely beautiful.  Fresh snow.  Fluffy-type snow, which is best for those reflecting sunlight glints I keep mentioning.  Clear blue skies.  Everything needed for a truly nice winter photo.  Unfortunately, it’s also been about -2 degrees… and that’s the high!  Wind chills have been -20 degrees, and lower.  Brrr… I’ve been staying inside, working on my websites and blogs, and catching up on things that way.

Many of the winter shots that I do have were taken when I was driving from one place to another and happened to have my camera with me, which I will continue to do.  Stay tuned.  🙂

Local Flavor

Statue of Nile Kinnick at Kinnick Stadium, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa

Keeping in theme with Iowa, I took these about four years ago.  They’re at Kinnick Stadium, home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.  This is at the entrance to the north end of the stadium.  It is named for alum Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, who died in World War 2.  According to Wikipedia, it is the only college stadium named for a Heisman Trophy winner.

The statue is very striking.  Very dignified.  The location is kind of tight, and you don’t really have many good choices for vantage points and good composition.  You’re somewhat stuck with what’s there.  Move back too far and you get several extraneous things in the shot that seriously detract from the shot.  While this can be disappointing, there are still several good opportunities, you just have to look up for most of them.  Looking up at a subject isn’t always a bad thing.  It adds something of a larger-than-life perspective, which works well in scenes like this.

I like the three layers in this shot.  The plants in the foreground add a pleasant aspect that helps break up the hard lines of the stadium structure, in a pleasant way.  The statue itself being the main focal point.  The ‘sign’ on the stadium wall providing self-explanatory context.  I have three shots total from this location currently processed and available, and two of them can be found on my nostalgia page, at least for now.

I’d like to go back and get some more shots from around the stadium, not to mention the historical aspects of Iowa City, itself.  I don’t get down to the Iowa City area nearly enough.  A nice local flare is always interesting, and helps break up what can be the monotony of farms and barns and windmills.

More Old vs New

Old Barn and New Windmills, near Saunemin, Livingston County, Illinois

My ultimate goal… well, one of them, anyway… is to find a really good shot of an old windmill and a new wind turbine.  That would be awesome.

In the mean time I have also been looking for anything that showcases the contrast between old vs new.  (I love then-and-now photos!)  I recently found an old barn surrounded by dozens of new wind turbines.  I was able to get several nice shots from various perspectives.  This is one of my favorites.

Missy and I were traveling between Champaign, IL, and Ottawa, IL, having taken side trip in a more purposeful venture to eat at Wienerschitzel.  Their chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries are that good, good enough to travel an extra night and four hours out of our way, but I digress.

Anyway, here we are gliding down Hwy 47 and I’m scanning the countryside for something to shoot.  I spy this barn down a gravel side road and decide to check it out.  Parked about a half mile away, and worked my way up so that I could get several perspectives.

As I got closer I see a hawk perched on top of the roof ridge.  It seems to be very interested in this interloper invading its personal space.  After several minutes and shots it takes off… in my direction.  The bird swooped down about 20 feet above my head.  I’m not sure, but I think it might have been sizing me up to decide if I was small enough to haul away for a tasty treat later.

The hawk eventually settled in a safe distance away and left me unmolested.  Was kind of a relief.  Not only was I going to be dinner, I was also left alone to finish my shoot.  I finished up, hiked back to the car, and continued on the trip, and the result is the shot you see here.

Red Barns and White Snow

Red Barn and Farm in Winter, near Ely, Linn County, Iowa

Makes for a nice contrast-y combination, don’t you think?  Everything is easily discernible.  The barn just “pops”.  There’s a sense of stillness in this photo.  It’s obvious this is a working farm, as evidenced by the items carefully stored outside.  There’s also a sense of… almost hibernation.  Activity is on hold, most equipment has been stored inside protected from the elements.  You can bet the farmers are inside, enjoying the warmth that modern life affords them.  One would think they’re sitting by the fire, sipping a hot drink, partaking in a favorite leisure activity, and basking in a well-earned rest, but they’re probably actually actively planning and doing paperwork for the next season.  No rest for the weary, as the old saying goes.

I shot this a couple years ago not too far from where I live.  This weekend I was finishing up re-processing all my existing photos that I currently have offered for sale, and came across this one.  I’ve always liked it, the contrasts and all, but never knew what to do with it.  The white sky overwhelmed everything else.  The eye was drawn too much to the white sky and away from everything else.

By cropping it to a 2:1 ratio mini-panorama format the whole feeling of the photo is reversed.  Now, the white sky is just a complimentary aspect to the overall scene.  Now, the red barns dominate the scene and draw the eye, as it should be.  You’re now focused on the primary aspects of the image.  We have wonderful processing tools available these days, and can manipulate in ways that just a few years ago were unimaginable, but it’s amazing how often something like a simple crop is what makes the difference.

It’s contest time again!

Bay Bridge and San Francisco at Night

I really don’t like contests. Any kind of contest, not just photo contests, but I will focus… get the pun?… on photo contests since this is a photo blog. Contests are too random. At least the ones I enter. The state fair has different judges each year. Which is good… and bad. The good is you don’t know their biases and preferences. The bad is that you don’t know their biases and preferences. If you do know the judge(s) you can tailor your submissions to (hopefully) match their preferences. That can work out well, as I did just that several years ago at my photo club’s annual contest. I won several prizes, including Best of Show.

So why do I enter contests? I enter because they push me to continually improve and shoot better photos. There are a lot of good photographers in the world, and at least keeping up with them is a challenge. Unfortunately, there are also some mediocre photographers who are gurus with Photoshop and Lightroom, and they can produce some stunning images that grab people’s attention… and judges are people, too.

I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel that the primary skill of a good photographer should be… wait for it… photography. Call me old fashioned, I guess.

The photo above is the one that won “Best of Show” at my photo club’s contest.  That was in 2010 or 2011.  It’s a bit small here because it’s so long.  This is 17 images stitched together to form the panorama.  Hopefully you can see it well enough.  And, yes, I have this one hanging on the wall in my living room.  It’s 7 feet long and printed on canvas and is gorgeous.

It’s that time of year again

Sunrise reflection on Pete’s Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, near Munising, Alger County, Michigan

Fall.  Or, autumn.  Time for vivid colors.  Crisp air.  Changes of season.  Everybody, it seems, loves this time of year for photography.  I certainly do.  I get more excited for fall than I do for any other time of year.

Here’s yet another shot that I took about 9 years ago, and didn’t do anything with until just recently.  Again, in looking through old photos I saw a new potential in this one and decided to go with it.  I think it came out pretty well.  I’m especially pleased with the reflections on the lake.

On a side note, I have started a new blog.  See, I am something of a curmudgeon, so I started “The Grump”.  I had to spell it with a ‘k’, though… http://kurmudgeon.net/ … as the proper spelling was already taken.  That’s ok, I can say I did it on purpose because I’m Ken with a ‘k’, also.  Actually, I was surprised that this one was available.  Anyway, check it out when you get a chance.  It’s intended to be fun.

Which is better?

Shade Tree and Tire Swing, near Mt Vernon, Linn County, Iowa

Back on July 30th I posted this photo.  It’s a great photo, but I wondered if maybe it was too bright.  I also asked the question on my Facebook page, and some felt that it might be and said they’d like to see a darker version should I do one.  In general, I like darker photos, but I also need to be aware that my tastes aren’t necessarily everyone else’s tastes.  Many people prefer brighter photos.  Plus, while my darker photos tend to look great on a back lit computer screen, they sometimes look way too dark when actually printed.

Shade Tree and Tire Swing, near Mt Vernon, Linn County, Iowa

So, I reworked the photo a bit.  All I did was back off on the exposure a bit… a full stop, actually… and here is the result.  Same photo, just a slightly different exposure, and thus a slightly different result and feeling.  So tell me, which one do you like better, and why?

Personally, I like the darker version better.  It’s easier on my eyes, for one thing, plus it evokes a sense of a softer and less harsh time of day, which adds to the feeling of calm.

What, exactly, is a photo?

Steamboat Slough at sunset, near Isleton, Sacramento County, California

This question comes up every so often in the photo community.  You would think it’s an obvious answer, right?  What is a photo?  Not what makes a good photo, just what is a photo in a tangible sense?  I got sucked into this question… again… on a Photoshop and Lightroom page on Facebook recently.  You’d be surprised how many varied opinions there are about this.  Then again, knowing human nature, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.  Some of the perspectives are quite interesting.

Some feel that a photo must be ‘pure’, SOOC (straight out of camera).  Others point out there is no such thing.  One person says there is no such thing for film, as film must still be developed and developing makes changes, but there is such a thing for digital because you can take it straight from the camera to the printer.  That’s one perspective.

Others feel that the concept is wide open and pretty much anything involving a camera is a photo.  This can include end products that are far beyond anything that is even possible in the real world.  For example, I once saw a winning photo in a national magazine photo contest with a 6,000 mile tall woman standing on top of the Earth in a James Bond-like pose.  Another perspective, and many other viewpoints in between.

Here’s my thoughts, and they are based on a simple benchmark.  The standard should be the same for film and digital, so SOOC is really irrelevant.  My base criteria is that a photo must be something that actually exists as viewed in the photo, to a reasonable extent.  That means that changing the mood or colors via dodging-and-burning with film, or Photoshop manipulation, is fine, as long as it’s “real”.  Changing the sky from blue to orange is still a representation of the sky.  The final photo must have started as a photo.

The photo contest winning “photo” I mentioned above is not, in my opinion, a photo.  Just because a camera was involved somewhere in the process does not mean the end result is still a photo.  You can call it a work of art in its own right, and it may very well be well done, but a 6,000 mile tall woman simply does not exist.  Not a photo.

The photo I include with this post IS a photo, and is pretty much SOOC.  I shot it on film in roughly 2001, developed it, scanned the slide into digital several years later, and didn’t feel the need to manipulate it beyond that.  That’s what it looked like to my eye.