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.  🙂

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.

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.

Keepin’ Busy

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

It’s been a few weeks since my last post.  When not working and doing other life activities I’ve been processing a lot of photos.  My goal is to do a major overhaul of my website.  I’ve been re-processing many previously done photos.  I’m adding a bunch of new photos, some really new ones and some older photos that, for whatever reason, have never been published but I am now realizing how good they are.  I am also retiring some photos permanently, photos that I look at and am no longer enamored with and/or they’ve simply never generated a bit of interest.

This photo is one that I’ve never before published.  It has a nice old-time feel to it.  A link back to a simpler time… a neat yard and a simple tire swing.  I almost want to get on the swing myself and go for a ride.  I’d probably regret it in the morning, though.  haha  This was taken near Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

I’m a little unsure of the processing, though.  It looked great in Photoshop, but now I post it here and it looks too bright.  I naturally favor darker photos, but a lot of people seem to prefer brighter photos.  What’s your opinion on this one?

The long and winding road, the sequel

Winding Road in Backbone State Park, near Dundee, Delaware County, Iowa

The obvious Beatles reference notwithstanding, I do seem to be on a winding road kick the last few posts.  That’s ok.  A good photo is a good photo.

Anyway, right after I moved to Iowa I asked around for some good places to shoot.  Backbone State Park was a common response.  So I packed up the gear, looked it up on a map, and took off for the park.

This was back when I still had film cameras, and this shot was done on film.  With my Pentax 67II medium format film camera, to be specific.  I sold it along with all my film equipment several years ago as I felt I was becoming a “jack of all photo trades, master of none”.  I felt that by trying to do too much I was losing my focus (no pun intended).  Hence, I decided to take the financial loss and focus solely on digital.

I do not regret my decision one bit, but I will admit that I do miss this camera and a couple others I had.  Sometimes I feel like I should buy another film camera because I feel it would help me keep my skills sharper.  It’s easy to get lazy with digital.

And here I am… all digital and going through older photos and finding some nice ones that, for whatever reason, I didn’t do anything with before.  I guess you could say that this is a Reader’s Digest version of my own photography long and winding road.

Peaceful, easy feeling

Stewart Lane, Montezuma Hills, near Rio Vista, Solano County, California

“Peaceful, easy feeling” is how this photo has been described to me.  I think that fits.  It does have a certain calmness to it.  The muted colors, the openness of the countryside, the sense that time moves more slowly here than in the rest of the world… all serve to reinforce that calm, peaceful, easy feeling.  Every time you go by it you want to stop and follow the road around the bend.

The Montezuma Hills are in the southeast corner of Solano County, along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, just south of Rio Vista.  Historically the area had been used for what is called “dry farming”, and there’s pretty much no other reason to go there.  There are no state highways into the area, nor do any bridges cross over into the area.  If you find yourself in the Montezuma Hills it is because you went there purposely or you’re lost.  Option C does not exist.

California, in general, is known for its wonderful scenery.  A photographer’s paradise.  California is also known for its smog and air pollution.  And this day was one of those days.  I actually went out to shoot this road in the other direction, where there is a barn in a valley.  Problem was, the sky was so brown it ruined the shot.

I took a few shots anyway, then as I was packing up I turned around and saw this.  This spoke to me.  I composed the shot, purposely cropping the sky out of the picture, and here’s the result.  What’s ironic is that the smog acted as something of a diffuser and gave the scene the muted look that you see.  In this case the air pollution actually aided the photo.

I guess the moral of the story is to always keep an open mind and an open eye.  And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have this one on my wall.

Let the Road Trips begin!

Gravel road and tree, near Andrew, Jackson County, Iowa

Yesterday was the first official road trip of 2017, and I have some random thoughts about it.

Random thought #1:  Being from California, I am used to spring starting in February.  Weather-like, I mean.  By the time April comes spring is in full bloom, literally and figuratively.  In Iowa, in April you’re still prone to be in winter mode, and even possibly have another big snowstorm lurking around the corner.

Gravel road and tree, near Andrew, Jackson County, Iowa

Random thought #2:  Here in Iowa, this is probably the least pleasing time of the entire year, aesthetically.  Everything is boring and stark and dull.  Downright unattractive, really.  You don’t have the subtle hues or the soft lines of winter, and you don’t have the blooms and the greens of spring.  You’re in-between.  It’s just… blah.  Hence, there’s not much to shoot, although you do occasionally stumble across something worthwhile, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Missy and I, after attending a Toastmasters Contest earlier in the day, are tooling down Hwy 62 in Jackson County and I spy this scene down a rural gravel road.  I immediately have visions of a stark black-and-white image flash in my mind.  So, I turn around and head back.  While Missy is walking Wesley I get out the gear and take a few shots with specific post-processing in mind.

As I’m doing the post-processing I get my black-and-white version and it looks good.  Then, just for fun, I start playing with a color version… and I like that, too.  It was overcast, which I didn’t think would matter in black-and-white, but it’s fine in the color version, too.  So I am publishing them both.

Please tell me which one you like better and why.  Same photo, just one color and one black-and-white.  Which one appeals to you over the other?

 

The Old and the New

The old and the new, near McCallsburg, Story County, Iowa

This photo has always been a favorite of both Missy and I.  We took this about three years ago near McCallsburg, Iowa, in Story County.  The image evokes kind of a nostalgic feel and nicely contrasts the old and the new.  That and the quality and richness of colors is what makes it so appealing, I think.  This photo is yet another example is stumbling onto something when you least expect it.

In our case, we had attended an all-day Toastmasters meeting in Ames.  We chose to take an indirect route home, avoiding the main highway and using still-nice, but rural, county roads.  Took longer, but we had the luxury of time, and we did purposely want to see new places both with photography in mind and simply just to see new things.

What’s strange, to me at least, is that in spite of how much we like this photo, we haven’t done much with it, and I cannot explain why.  I’ve never put it up on my website for sale (that will change soon).  I’ve never really displayed it, except a couple incidental publishings, and I think I entered it into a club contest once.  This needs to go on my wall.