May 31, 2012

175: Thistles at sunset

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , — paul davis @ 9:32 am

I did thistles like crazy all last summer. My favorite teacher said once, after reading a story I wrote that he recognized as a knock-off of Robert Benchley’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (a story I had not read–my knocking-off was an accident), “The only reason to write a story that has already been written is that you can do it better than the first guy. Do you think you’re better than Robert Benchley?”

I still apply that lesson to nearly everything, 30-something years later, but only in comparison to myself. I don’t care if I’m better than Robert Benchley–I want to be better than me.

Trying to be better than yourself can lead to a focus on yourself as the object of all inquiry and reliance on yourself as the source of all improvement. It’s self-help as ego thermonuclearity.

In Mittyesque fashion, I’ve spent that same 30-something years riding my bicycle while imagining myself to be heroically riding my bicycle. No matter what the circumstance, I ride myself cross-eyed and cramped–riding so hard I can’t eat or drink enough to keep riding that hard. Greg LeMond said once that when you get more fit as a cyclist, it doesn’t hurt less, it hurts more, because the more fit you are the faster you ride and the better you know how to suffer. I am at this particular point not very fit at all, but it doesn’t matter–I will always go exactly as fast as I can. I bring up biking in this conversation about trying to be better than myself because it’s obvious that I will never be better than the rider I was at 25, if “better” means faster, but if “better” means more heroic–in the ridiculous private sense of the word–that better I can do.

It hasn’t escaped even me that I’ve just concluded that the one better me I can be is a more ridiculous me. What I mean to say is that my interior monologue of heroism would make me the object of ridicule if I said it out loud. In fact, I know it’s ridiculous–it’s amusing even as internal monologue–but one of the big mistakes I’ve made is to try to stop doing it. Thinking of yourself as the truly average schlub you are can’t be a great idea, can it? It’s only a good idea if the alternative is to think of yourself as superman.

The really smart guys would say here, “The answer is to not think of yourself so much.”

The only reliable way I have of not thinking of myself is to look through a camera lens.

It’s self-calming because self-forgetting.

When I look at photographs, I’m always aware of whether or not I can feel the photographer standing there. If I can sense the photographer, I usually don’t like the photo. I prefer photos with no sense of the person behind the lens–the ones that allow you to forget the whole sentient mechanism arranged around the subject–when only subject is left. I’m trying to erase myself when I look through the lens, it seems, and I like the photos of others who have done the same.

Macro photography lends itself to forgetting the photographer. You are often showing things that the normal eye doesn’t see, so we don’t as easily stand ourselves back up in front of the subject.

Or maybe it’s that truly average schlubby weeds become stars.

May 30, 2012

174: Kansas City ditch walk

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:44 am

Back in KC for the weekend, I went out just before the sun cleared the ridge. The light is sweetly diffuse when it’s angling up over that ridge and banking off the clouds. I browse the ditches around our house. It’s only our house for another week, and then I’ll find new ditches.

Two things I can’t resist: lower left to upper right diagonals and fence posts. The decaying festive yellow tape is a bonus.

And intertwining…even rough, industrial, anti-lyrical intertwining

And flowers so luscious they don’t know when to quit…why are flowers never subdued? Like, “I’m just going to wear my sweatpants today.”

There’s exuberance even in the relative calm of green and dark purple.

The purple splash on white would be overheated in a seventh-grade art project. I walked up to it and said, “Really? This is what you’re going with?”

One of the few times I felt compelled to make an image less lurid.

A branch pruned from a red maple, with the leaves giving up their life to the air.

No post of mine is complete without a chainlink fence popping up somewhere.

May 22, 2012

173: Graduation party

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:50 pm

Our son, Jake, graduated from college on Sunday. We’re mighty proud  of him.

Kylie and Jake.

Mike and Jake.

Afterwards there was a party. I took lots more photos. These are the ones without people in them.

Right, this has nothing to do with the theme. Other than that it was in the yard and I’m easily distracted.

One of my top five favorite dogs, Debo.

Student housing has its charms.

The south end of Debo, with his owner, Cody, and Cody’s friend.

Can’t resist a tire swing.

Another top five dog, Mr. Wiggles.

Window at evening, twilight sky reflected.

Blinds at sunset.

May 21, 2012

172: Once more to the gallery

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:28 am

I have the sense that these photos tend to run together when I post too many at once, so I gave it a little break before coming back for one last round. For several of these, I applied a high pass filter and then made them more vivid. The photo above is straight-out-of-camera, for those who wonder what they look like without any processing at all.

For this one, I adjusted the contrast levels a little, making it more contrasty.

Same with this one–only contrast amplification. A high-pass filter wouldn’t pick out too much in these, because there aren’t any sharp edges.

Another one straight-out-of-camera.

High-pass filter with soft light applied. That makes for a pretty subtle sharpening, without the haloing of edges and extreme noisification of unsharp areas that occur with more vivid lighting. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want halos and noise.

Here’s one with high-pass filter and vivid lighting. This particular photo isn’t prone to halos (the edges aren’t that sharp), but the background is very noisy (and here I like it).

High-pass filter and soft light, leaving a creamy smooth background.

May 18, 2012

171: Twilit Turrets

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 6:05 pm

Here’s the administration building on the campus where I work in southern Iowa. It was the golden hour–the last rays are hitting the upper floors while I’m standing in twilight.

The other side, in twilit shade. Someone’s working late.

Cheville Chapel, as the sun departs.

Sunset through leaf.

Sunset around leaf.

Trees for later.

May 16, 2012

170: On the way to post

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:58 pm

I grabbed my camera at 8 this evening to walk to the Mac lab, with an empty SD card. Anything I would process would have to be gathered on the way. It’s 8:45 and this is what I’ve got. Setting sun through the curtains, striking my bedroom wall.

The sun in its last minutes of the day is doing most of the work here.

I love the golden hour.

One little white flower weed in the middle of a bunch of purple flower weeds.

The thistles are back. Yay!

This was the only cultivated one along the way. But it’s still pretty.


May 15, 2012

169: Foggy morning, southern Iowa

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , — paul davis @ 9:03 pm

I was out early on a foggy morning from my place in southern Iowa. I know this one looks like the purple was added, but this is how it came. It’s weeds sticking up through a purple flower bed, where the background blur just merges into one big bank of color. Not that I wouldn’t add purple.

With the focal point only a few inches lower, the purple blooms hopped into view.

Fog makes for even softer focus.

The morning sun was popping every dew drop.

I like weeds.

Last fall’s corn stalks are still lined up.


May 14, 2012

168: Gallery day 3

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: — paul davis @ 9:50 pm

Here you can see the art glass vase better than in the closer shots. The lower center of the shot is in sharp focus, but the top seems almost to be in motion. This glass artist has it going on. Really nice color fades where you can see through the vase, too. Wish I knew how that happened.

Vase lit by blue-gelled off-camera flash with red napkin and blue shopping bag forming a pretend landscape to the right. High pass filter noising up the backdrop.

Looking over the lip of the vase into the bottom, where overhead lights reflect.

Red-gelled flash changes everything.

Still red-gelled off-camera flash, but held so close to the vase that it blows out the exposure to yellow. Looks like a blast furnace.

Red, white, and blue. Looks like a sun-flared wispily cloudy sky in the background, but it’s still just a blue plastic shopping bag.

And one photo that’s not art glass.

May 13, 2012

167: More gallery day

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , — paul davis @ 6:32 pm

I still have some photos to get through from my day at the co-op gallery. I processed them last week, then forgot the SD card in my pocket when I went back to my Kansas City house for the weekend. These images excited me when I saw them come up on the big screen–they’re different than anything I’ve done so far. I wasn’t looking at them on the back of the camera, only composing quickly through the viewfinder, and now they almost seem like someone else’s work.

The art glass that’s the object of these photos is lovely all by itself. It’s hard to tell which spots are in the glass and which spots are reflections from the room.

The yellow dots are in the glass, but somehow here they seem to float free and rotate. No idea how that is happening.

Art glass of the third kind.

Back to the red gel, I think.

Only light. Solar flare? Jerry Garcia aurora?

Necklace on thin focus.

Turquoise necklace on blue plastic with blue gel.

The camera did this all by itself. The image was corrupted, but I liked it.

May 7, 2012

166: Gallery day

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 10:07 pm

I spent Saturday working at the co-op gallery I belong to in southern Iowa. When no one’s in the store, I occupy myself by making photographs out of the other artists’ work. This time I came prepared with my tripod, so I could get deeper depth of field than I can get handheld. For this shot I had to set it up and then stand very still for a couple of minutes to let the necklace stop swinging. Even shifting my weight from foot to foot gets it swaying again. Then I used a remote shutter release so the camera wouldn’t move from my finger on the button. All that still gets you only the thickness of one ring on the necklace.

I also brought my off-camera flash and some gels. This is a piece of art glass lit by a red gel on the lowest power.

Another piece of art glass, lit red and underexposed. I was waving a blue gel over it to get some highlights. The grit under the glass is the texture of the formica countertop.

Ceramic bowl, red wrapping paper, light blue plastic bag, darker blue gel, tan countertop, no flash.

Lollipop sticks in a bowl on the counter.

Noise added.

“Save Wrapper for Stuff.”

Subset of a nice big oil painting.

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