Straight On!

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

Given that this is a landscape photography website it should come as no surprise that I like to take photos of barns and farms and stuff.  And like any subject people have their preferences, and things they love, and on the other end of the spectrum things they like well enough, but generally don’t get too excited about.  In a sense this photo falls in that latter category.

What I mean is composition.  I normally prefer an angled shot, or some other perspective.  I feel that ‘straight on’ shots can be good… in moderation.  They can easily be overdone to the point that you get tired of seeing them.  At least for me.  This one, though, has many elements that appeal to me.  The old barn, ready to fall apart, contrasting with new fangled wind turbines.  The clouds help, too.  I’m always a big fan of big puffy clouds.

The time of day wasn’t optimal, but I have passed over a lot of photo opportunities simply because it was the middle of the day.  I was too good for anything less than perfect.  God forbid one of my photo friends found out I snapped a shot at… *gasp!*… mid-day.  I’m working to get over that.  You can get good shots at any time of day, depending on the circumstances of the moment.  This one worked out well.

For this one Missy and I were on an action-packed weekend.  We were visiting some friends in northern Illinois and decided to take a side trip to Champaign so we could eat at the only Wienerschnitzel within reasonable driving distance.  “Reasonable” being two hours out of the way, each way.  Hey, for an all-beef chili cheese dog… or six… it’s worth it.

But every story should have a moral, and the moral of this story is to always take your camera with you… AND keep your mind as open as your eyes.

Big Sky

Trees in Silhouette on Ridge in Winter, near Ely, Linn County, Iowa

Went to my photo club meeting today.  The guest presenter talked a lot about Midwest photography and their sentiment regarding it, and so on.  Two of his preferences were to 1) have big skies in his photos, and 2) he really liked stormy weather and big clouds.  Sun ray through the clouds always being an added bonus, of course.  For some unknown reason I do not have many big sky photos.  I may have to change that.  And I know that I do not have any severe weather photos.  I may fix that, too.

This particular photo is probably as close as they come.  The weather was harsher than the photo suggests, but the clouds were more complete in coverage, hence the solid wall effect.  I really like this photo… there’s a cropped panorama version, too… for the feeling it evokes.  There’s a sense of cold and stark loneliness.  The trees on a ridge by themselves, no one daring to go out there for any reason.  It’s good when a photo evokes feeling.  This photo was shot near Ely, Iowa.

Footnote:  It will take some time to catch up all my photos with the new logo.

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.