Tuesday, December 30, 2008

running into next year


Just got told today by my physiotherapist that I can start trying to run again this coming weekend. Recovery from the ankle surgery I had back in September has been slow but uneventful. I've seen incremental improvements each week, with some diligent doing of the prescribed exercises. Over the last couple of weeks I was able to finish hour long spin classes, without much of any pain (first time in about 18 months) and now I'm apparently cleared to start hurting myself again on a running track. About time too! In general my picture taking and enthusiasm for photography has tracked my recovery - more time to think, more time in the gym, more inspiration for photographs. Also generally being able to get around more easily helps, even being able to walk briskly ahead of people on the beach last week let me get photographs I wouldn't have been able to 3 months ago.

It has lined up well with the start of the triathlon season for Amanda, who is getting ready for her next Ironman race. Training for that starts this week as well. I think I'm finally going to be able to do the series of images I've had in mind for about two years now, tracking the training of several everyday Ironman athletes from start to finish. I'm looking to be healthy enough to keep up this time around, without any injuries at the moment. Things are shaping up well for 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

notes from an antipodean adventure


antipodes antipodes

The scenery is beautiful. Breath-taking. North Island New Zealand reminds me of home in Scotland. Pastoral. Quiet. Green, so very green. 44 million sheep, 4 million people, and you can easily tell this is true. We think the sheep are just waiting until they get that magical 12 to 1 advantage before the uprising. Black sand beaches, with nobody else there. Volcanic hot springs bubbling up into pools dug on the beach. A back-packing wonderland.

windows trail rotorua

Australia is a completely different story - the sunburnt country. Vivid yellows and ochre. Huge ghost gum trees, stuffed to the gunnels with Koala bears, just waiting to drop on your head and suck out your brains. Rainbow flocks of lorikeets swarm the bird feeders. The oceans heave with fish, just waiting to hook themselves on a line and jump into your boat.

antipodes xmas08-1-9

The seafood is amazing, everywhere. Fresh, tasty, well cooked and cheap. People are friendly, yet restaurant service is almost non-existent. A Christmas with family is always a great way to spend a holiday, particularly with some great walks to help work off the excesses. Wine tasting is, as ever, a great day out. Suppose we'll have to leave at some point. I'll be sad to go.

oysters kilpatrick koala

Thursday, December 25, 2008

merry christmas

zilker tree

Happy holidays and all that jazz. Thanks for all the comments and support through the year. Here's looking forward to a great 2009!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

sleigh bells ring

zilker tree

Had a great time shooting the Zilker Park Christmas tree, earlier this week. The tree is a tradition on the Austin skyline, built around one of the few remaining moon towers in the city. People flock to spin around under the tree.

I've photographed the tree every year and each time I end up with something completely different. This annual ritual reflects how my photography has been evolving in the previous year. I started out with very literal pictures of the tree in the first year. Moving on to colourful, telephoto abstract compositions the next year. That then changed to zooming and spinning under the tree. The next year I was trying to take pictures of the people themselves, rather than the tree, catching spinning groups of friends and family.

This year I'm heading down something of a blurry, alternative lens path. I built a small lens sleeve that I could mount a star shaped aperture in (from a Lensbaby creative aperture kit). I used this on the end of a normal 50mm prime lens for the shot above. Putting the lens out of focus let the points of light blow out into the shape of the custom aperture. The more out of focus the lens, the bigger the stars. Also the aperture shape gets inverted as it gets focused on the sensor, so if the single point is pointing down, it appears to point up in the final capture.

I worked with various compositions for a while, shooting through the gaps in the trees. Then I had something of a flash of insight and started working compositions that included the natural and artificial trees together. I much prefer the mix of the organic archetype shapes of the tree and the coloured lights. I got really excited by what I was seeing on the sensor as I moved along with this idea and really got engaged in the process - shooting for a couple of hours in the end, just this one bright subject. I realised after the fact that I'd seen something like this before, in Keith Carter's images of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Amanda made that connection almost immediately when she saw the finished pictures, too.

I also played around with a 500mm mirror lens that I own but almost never use. I wanted to see what the 'bad' doughnut bokeh looked like. I'm amazed how far away you have to be from a 155 ft tree to frame it with a 500mm lens! I was about 4 football field lengths away from the tree and still was only seeing the top in the frame. The doughnut effect is interesting to play with - certainly something to consider for other, smaller, subjects.

I had really got in to the whole flow of things while shooting the tree. Effortless and very engaged at the same time - I love it when the time flies like that and everything seems to come effortlessly. Also good when the results give you a tingle when they come up on the screen too!

Monday, December 08, 2008

posts from around the intertubes

end of summer

Something of a hodgepodge of links to things I've found worth a read in the last couple of weeks.

First to New Zealand, and Tony Bridge has a great post about the use of rules in photography and camera club judging. I've suffered from this experience a couple of times in the past. The trick I think is to get a deeper level of understanding - go beyond the superficial 'tips and tricks' aspect of the various photographic rules and understand what they are really about. Then, you can use or ignore them with some understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Along those same lines, Merlin Mann is something of a reformed version of his former trickster self and is bemoaning the sea of tips and tricks out there. He's come to realise that getting to a level of deeper understanding actually requires work. For photography, you have to take and look at a lot of pictures, to get to grips with what composition is about, not just read some books. The focus of 43Folders has switched towards more of a creativity bent, so is getting more intriguing, as it moves away from the productivity porn.

Mark Hobson has been waxing on about the process of developing vision, and if that even means anything, on the Landscapist. I like that Mark typically goes deeper into these notions than the conventional wisdom. Another fine discussion on deeper ways at looking at photographs can be found in this Daily Critique from The Mindful Eye. Craig does a great job of breaking down the more interesting aspects of how rhythm and relationships can be used within a composition to make the parts relate to the whole.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

salgado's workers & priour's chairs

Was lucky enough to catch the latest show at the Austin Museum of Art today. In the past I've always been slightly disappointed in the exhibitions I've seen there. Never quite reaching their potential. Thought provoking and stimulating, but always missing something. Today was easily the best pair of exhibitions I've seen in that space.

Damian Priour makes chairs. Small chairs, constructed from limestone and glass. Hundreds of chairs. He had the idea of sending one of those chairs to 100 of his favourite Texan artists, that agreed to return to him a chair that they themself had made, that would fit in the 8"x8"x8" box he had originally sent their chair in. The exhibition shows the myriad of responses he got back. Constructed from a wide range of materials and in a variety of styles, the results are exciting and surprising. Photographs, paintings folded and packed into the box. Snow, globe chairs, repurposed Tecate cans. Dollar bills and gold painted toy soldiers. Works in intricate detail from wood, neon chairs, a great array of different styles and approaches, within such a narrow set of constraints. That's the key for me in this - the end results were interesting themselves, but the concept was fascinating. A good example of how such a narrow constraint can let the imagination and creativity soar. I also really was inspired by the collaborative aspect of the project. Rather than working alone he involved many other people and the results from each are so much greater when combined than if they were considered individually.

This was paired by an exhibition of Sebastiao Salgado's Workers series of documentary photographs. Calling these images documentary is almost unfair. They were a lyrical and dazzling array of beautiful photographs, of some of the harshest conditions I've seen people working in, in the present day. Photographing for 7 years around the world, these images show fishermen and pig slaughterers, ship breakers in Bangladesh, Gold miners in Brazil, oil workers in Kuwait. The photography is great, the images harrowing and the spirit of the people really shines through the conditions they are found in. I was moved and inspired in equal measure. The power of still photography to show these situations and hopefully even effect change is unmatched.

Also really enjoyable was the audio tour, which for a once presented the artists talking about their own work and process, rather than being interpreted or explained by a curator. I much prefer hearing about it in their own words and learning about the struggles they faced or what they feel the work represents.

The current exhibition runs until February 9th, 2009. Good value for $5!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

austin center for photography

Good news for Austin.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

happy anniversary


2001_alt 2001

7 years of bliss :)

Happy Anniversary, Honey



Monday, December 01, 2008

image recovery

This one is geekier than most of my normal photography posts, but still relevant. I posted some code that I wrote to recover images from corrupt compact flash cards, with a brief discussion of how it works, over on my other blog.

reading deprivation part two

Looking back over the week, my initial feel was that I'd failed miserably at the reading deprivation aspect of the Artist's Way. I still read blogs, I still read books. But then as I thought about it further, I realised it had actually worked better than I thought. I did try to read less and also found I did free up more time to be creative. I took more pictures this week than I've taken for months. We went to a play, ate a great meal and I took a lot of pictures; just walking around the park, playing poker, Thanksgiving dinner and just messing around in the house. Point is that the more I've been journaling and thinking about my photography, the more photography I've finally started doing. It has all been very candid, fun and free flowing. The pictures give me a lot of pleasure and it is has been really rewarding.

The pictures are very different from what I would have taken years ago - I looked back at some pictures I took at family events 5 years ago. There are hardly any of the people in them. Lots of detail shots or pictures of where we were. There would be an occasional posed group shot of everyone together, but not much more than that. I think I'm taking more pictures of what matter to me now, rather than what I think people might want to see. Hopefully along the way I'm finding my way towards creating more authentic images that might actually have something to say. It is an enjoyable path.

I also had the chance to make some prints and give them away. If you haven't done this in a while, I really recommend it. Take some pictures of some friends or family and get some prints made, then give them the pictures. It doesn't need to cost much - 4x6 prints from a local pharmacy might be 30c, online prints are closer to 20c. They might not be the most artistic or high minded pictures you've ever made, but they'll probably be some of the more rewarding. I don't see finished prints so much any more and the print quality can be pretty good. I just edited the images in Lightroom, exported them as JPEG in sRGB colour mode and put them on a USB stick. Printing took 5 minutes and cost a few dollars. You may well have plenty of pictures you took at Thanksgiving - maybe the person who hosted the party might like a couple of shots? Or maybe someone else would - I'm sure you know who they are.

Concurrent with this burst of photography, I'm getting back to being able to exercise for more than a few minutes at a time. I think there is an explicit link between these two. Not just because I'm generally more mobile or happier, but finding time for periods of creative thought really helps make things happen. For me, that's usually when I'm exercising. For others it might be the time spent watching the leaves fall, or the hypnotic state you find when driving, or maybe on a long walk. For a few months there, I wasn't able to do any of those kinds of making space to think in my life. I'd be reading, or watching TV, lying on the couch playing video games, but never really finding the times where my body was busy and my mind could relax and come up with ideas.

poker night

poker face

I think Amanda's poker face might need some work. Kate certainly cleaned us all out.

raking it infilthy lucreguess who won?timguess who won?2 fat ladiesguess who won?