Photos & Random Thoughts

A May Moon

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A May Moon

An Uncharacteristically clear May night for the deep south.   Not used to getting this sort of clarity here in the warmer months, usually our humidity is insane by now.
I shot this w/ a Celestron 8 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.  Normally, it is 2032mm @ f10, using a focal reducer drops the aperture to f/6.3 (which aides clarity and brightness) but at the cost of reducing the magnification to 1280mm.    This was shot with an iPhone 6 in eyepiece projection.

Reaching Skyward

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I was talking with a friend the other day about some upcoming local and national photography shows of various ilk.  It came up from the conversation he had entered some of his works into some events that are juried for entry and of his 3 entries, only 1 made it into the event.   He was pretty discouraged by the experience.

Now, I'm going to get on a soapbox. :)

I hate almost everything about the idea of 'peer critique.'  Here's why. 

Your peers [usually] aren't your audience. 

We, human animals do not have a natural ability to process constructive criticism.  The idea behind photography critique is to learn from an outside party ways that your photograph might have been improved.  

But, really what you are doing when seeking critique is seeking confirmation of your own opinions on the quality of something.   If your peers show your work admiration then you enjoy a small ego boost and healthy levels of encouragement.  However, if your peers admonish your work the negative encourage almost always carries more weight than the positive.  

Simply put, if you are seeking encouragement through critique you have much more to lose than to gain.

This isn't to say that a person's photography can't benefit technically from the input of a more experienced peer.  But let's explore that word: experience.

We develop through experience.  Physically our brains develop neural paths based on sensory input.  Put another way, our experiences work to define who we are and how we see.   The application of another person's experience to your art might technically improve the work in terms of conformity (to what is largely an arbitrary set of rules) but in doing so, your work becomes democratized..

To wrap up, I'm not suggesting that a person should never submit work for critique or jury.   I am suggesting however that our increasingly connected world-wide-network of award winning photography 'experts' should serve you more as a source of inspiration than as a reference for quality.

This is why, whenever someone shows me something for critique, I will only comment on those aspects of a work that I find appealing. 

Don't let other people's opinions of your work discourage you.   Just keep doing your thing and the pieces will fall into place.

..drops mic.. steps down from soapbox. :)

Harbor [of] Mobile

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Another fun outing with our friends at the Eastern Shore Camera Club, a sunset cruise through the Port of Mobile and surrounding areas.

We've been enjoying uncharacteristically comfortable weather for this time of year!

.. like a tripod in the sky..

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After another awesome meeting w/ the Eastern Shore Camera Club , was answering some questions from members about the state of drones.   We snapped a couple of shots for fun in Fairhope - always a pleasure hanging out with the great photography peeps in our area.  

Something I need to do more often..


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I've only been to one Martini Bar in my life.   We picked well.  The view was artificial but awesome.  The service was excellent and the martinis..?  Well, I don't know enough about them to tell you one way or another but the two I had seemed quite good.

More importantly, it was a rare treat to have an adult night out with my wife.  Adult nights out just don't happen often at this stage in our life!  The bartender manager called himself 'The Doctor', their product obviously, 'The Medicine.'  Our particular bartender was a 30 something man from out of the country, he worked 6 month contracts to provide for his family back home in the Philippines.  Another coworker of theirs was looking forward to going home to see her baby, soon.   She left the baby at home with her husband and also opted for this lifestyle of working out of town, sending money home to support her family.

I guess it is difficult for us to reconcile the American experience of an 8-5 job, family and mortgage with the hardships people endure in other parts of the world to gain a fraction of our comfort. 

Delta Sunsets

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Less than a mile north of my neighborhood sits this little boat ramp and fish camp on the Delta. I feel badly that I don't know more about it but I do surmise a few things.   

Next to a state highway, this boat ramp and fish camp advertises catfish for sale.   The main set of buildings are pretty old, as is the very kind eyed man that lives there.   Next to the main buildings, a very unique boathouse sits on the water.   I imagine his family lives here, probably a son.

In the evenings, the water grows super quiet and mirror-like and the colors and reflections really start to pop.   It's a unique place, not like many other I've seen.   In some ways, it isn't picturesque at all but in other ways it hides a charm and beauty that is genuine.

Each time I pull in around a sunset (I don't go often), the man that lives in the main house comes out on his porch to inspect.  It's weird because this is a business but it is also his home.   I always approach him with a wave and try to settle his curiosity in my presence with a smile.  I always ask if it is okay to take pictures and he's always kind with an affirmative answer but usually says very little else to me.   He's elderly, I'm healthy and try to be courteous and offer 'Is there anything I can do for you or that you need?' and he always declines.

He's not a talker but I can only imagine what he thinks about me, my foreign car and the terminator-looking camera drone that I used for shooting on this day.

To the west, sunset colors dot the sky and paste a reflection that scattered by the delta grasses below.  The sunset itself was obscured by clouds but like this place, that too lends a certain charm to the images.To the east, the boat house sits on a glass-like mirror of water surrounded by river-side tree growth.

I'm not sure what I will ever do with this video, though I have some plans that might call for some of it.  In the meantime, though.. here is some unedited footage from some drone action in this peaceful country corner.

Eta Carinae

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I think I like this Nebula's name as much as I like the stunning magenta clouds of space-awesomeness that it contains.

I like coming off a productive weekend and hitting the ground for a new week with a good stride.  Over the weekend I finally got around to a much-past-due update for this site.   I finally got around to building a simple logo for the site and did a lot of printing for some summer projects and shows.

Wishing you a great week!

The Austal Waterfront

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One thing I don't think anyone in the Mobile, Alabama area can deny that Austal's presence has been felt in Port City in a big way.   Whenever we are eating lunch along the causeway at R&R, Felix's, Blue Gull and the others, you constantly see cars w/ Austal parking permits or folks with Austal Polos.

I have no idea what it is like to work for Austal but I'm thankful that Mobile, Alabama has the jobs this company provides. I can certainly see these jobs providing the economic fuel for the commerce engine of this small City.

Prints for Good Causes: The Prayers for Carter Benefit

Occasionally our kitchen table gets re-provisioned for the purpose of building out canvas prints. Very often for silent auctions / fundraisers. 

I use genuine Epson UltraChrome K3 Inks and appropriately matching media.  There are fancier printers - I'm sure - but ours does a fine job!

Stop by the  Prayers for Carter, Benefit at Oak Hollow Farm on May 31st from noon to 4:30 CST. There will be a fish fry, a draw down raffle, a Silent Auction and more to benefit this little dude and his family. 

Have a similar cause or looking for prints to auction off for fundraisers?   Reach out to me with the details, I'm happy to help when we can.

Filming for 'Sail the Daedalus'

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So many of the photography things that I do are overly covered by NDA.  Lawyers pour over the legal crap in the contract and in the end, I turn over raw video or photos that are owned exclusively by the contracting party.   I don't get to talk about the details, I don't get the advertise that I do work for "XYZ Corp".   

But, I do get paid for it.    I call these type gigs photography booty-calls. They aren't ideal but hey, the gear doesn't pay for itself so I'm not opposed to these arrangements when equitable.

By contrast, shooting for local companies is usually orders of magnitude easier and more enjoyable.  We agree on the particulars, meet up and do a set of shoots.   Mostly all governed by a handshake.    I like that.    In these sorts of arrangements, I'm usually not under a non-disclosure and usually retain the rights of the raw materials from the shoot, though I'm generous with it putting no limitations on the customer's usage of said material. 

More relationship, than booty call. :)

Over the weekend I shot some video for a local Sail charter that happens to be a friend of mine. We had a great time!  I will say this, though.  Drone photography of sailboats is hard.    I've done some offshore work and it is considerably easier if you can shut off a motor and just land back on a mostly stationary deck or nearby platform.

For a sailboat, though, the challenge is that you are flying a 2ftx2ft quadcopter with spinning blades capable of severing bone, rigging or sails.   You have to land it on a 5ftx5ft moving platform that is often heeled to one side, moving as quickly as 9 mph.    If they stop the boat, you have a sail in the landing zone.  If they keep the boat moving, you have a moving target.

I tried it both ways.  Some, filming from the boat and landing back there and others filming from the marina.   Filming from the marina was considerably easier but from the boat was easier to coordinate shots.  The Inspire 1 *can* be caught but I recommend a Falconer's glove for safety if you choose to do this and honestly the onboard flight controller isn't thrilled with being plucked out of the sky.

All in all, I was thrilled with the Inspire 1's performance in 5-12 mph winds, over water.  The resulting 4k video was incredible.   Unfortunately my Final Cut installation is acting up so we are having to settle with the 1080p version for now but the results are still decent, I thought.

Speaking of Somewhere Warm..

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From Tiki Huts to Jetskis, we have a little something for everyone on our epic, white sandy beaches.   We are really fortunate to live in such a gorgeous place...


Find Somewhere Warm

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I enjoy talking to the Bartenders and other folks that work on the Islands in the Bahamas.  Their choice of lifestyle is quite interesting.  I guess because it is such a contrast from the office florescent and computer time that many of us call a work day.

Every day a new blur of tourists both young and old pass by their station.   They make drinks and small talk, share some island flavor and get some mainland gossip.

On the day this was taken, the Tiki bar closest this chair was run by a fellow named Antwon, he was from Jamaica.   He stood, cleaning glasses and singing to the Radio in enthusiastic ways.    

He had worked for the company, on this Island for 2 years.   His current contract was coming to an end in just a few days and he was lit up with excitement on the prospect of going home for awhile and seeing his girl.

The Walk to Conclusions

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Are you a skeptic?   A Cynic?  How about an idealist?

It is often funny to me how blindly people will follow something that is stated as truth, so long as it is said forcefully.    

A contract developer at a certain furniture company once told me, "You don't have to know what you are talking about, you just need to project confidence with the BS you sling."

Sometimes, working in the evenings or while on the treadmill, I look for non-musical noise in order to fill the silence.   The noise keeps one part of my brain busy while the other parts try to work out problems and do technical things.  Usually, the Netflix Documentaries section are my noise of choice.

This weekend that noise came in the form of a particularly troubling set of documentaries that just didn't fact-check out very well.   I won't mention the name because it really doesn't matter but they were basically manifestos for social anarchy in the sheep's clothing of a humanist / technocratic social movement.  

I will distill the lesson down to this...

Trust.   Then Verify.   :)

Movement and Shadows at Dusk

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There is an alligator to the right center area of the pier.   Really.

Isn't it funny how words change over time?   The word Drone, for instance.  A decade ago, before Drones became the military's seemingly go-to gadget for raining death from the skies in foreign theaters of war and before drones were known as hobbyist gadgets, and photography tools or delivery gimmicks, they were worker bees in the hive.

Something you probably didn't pay much attention to in Natural Sciences because the word, Drone, used to be synonymous w/ the word boring.  

"My date just kept droning on about his job and..."

Today, (some) folks find them interesting.   Even on Big Bang Theory last night, while I was taking this photo, the sitcom poked fun at a wayward DJI Phantom, gone awry from the characters' need to tinker with the internals instead of following the calibration steps accurately.

For the camera drone / quad copter enthusiast, these becoming popular can be both good and bad.  On the good side, popular things are harder to out-law or regulate.  

On the bad side of things, I'm finding it harder to shoot landscapes with one without drawing a crowd of interested onlookers with questions about their capabilities.

Stellar Nursery

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Here in the Orion Nebula, countless newborn stars are soaking up the surrounding clouds of gas and debris to become grown-up stars that may one day coalesce solar systems like ours.

Speaking of stars, today marks the beginning of my 36th trip around our own star.   I don't know, 36 years ago, if my own nursery was stellar or not but I do know my parents were stellar people, just trying to do what they thought was best in their own Journey around the sun.   It wasn't perfect but I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything. 

During the good-times you learn trust and experience Joy.  During the bad stuff you gain independence and build mental strength. 

Kinda like the elementary particles colliding in the cosmic crucible pictured here. :)

Space is freaking awesome.

Summer Blooms, in Spring

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The Hibiscus Plants in the back yard had some pretty great colors for Easter Weekend.  Normally we don't see these sorts of blooms until summer!

Handheld Moon Exercises - Learning to Play by Feel

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One of the things that I recommend to folks who ask me for photography advice is to 'know your camera.'  

While I feel that menu navigation and feature control are important, I feel it is much more important to learn a 'natural feel' of how the camera operates.

Think of how a skilled musician is with their instrument.   The guitar player can feel the fret position without looking at the neck, he or she 'feels' how the tone will travel across the pickups based on where the strings are strummed.

When I hear photographers debating shutter speeds and f/strops for a given situation, my eyes roll.

It isn't that these things aren't important - they certainly are but they shouldn't be intimidating obstacles to the new photographer, though they often are.

There is a little exercise I developed for myself a couple years back, meant to improve camera handling and control.   It goes like this:

On a night with an interesting moon (scattered, moving light cloud - cover preferred because it changes the metering situation)- start by propping yourself against something steady.

A tree, a house, whatever -- the goal here is just to limit the natural body swaying position of standing.   By anchoring yourself to something solid, you can turn yourself into a bi-pod of sorts.  Useful when out without a tripod and the need to capture something that would usually call for one. 

Using Manual Focus most modern cameras have a feature for Manual-Focus assist that will show a 1:1 pixel peak of your object while manually focusing on an object.   This is pretty crucial.

Start with highish ISOs, using a long telephoto, start shooting the moon. I started in Aperture Priority but your mileage may vary..  Adjust down your f-stop (the lower number which is larger aperture) and start to walk down your ISO between shots, continuing to manually focus, shoot, adjust..   Listen to the shutter.  Develop a 'feel' for the shutter times the camera metered based on the light situation, your aperture, your ISO.
Sensor size, sensor capability, lens aperture all will vary this feel from camera to camera.

As your ISO drops into the less sensitive ranges, the difficulty of the shot will increase.   Continuing to work on manual focus and keeping your hands steady, you will be forced to work on your breathing.   Just like shooting a rifle, your breathing is essential for steady shutter clicks at these long tele / low ISO shots.    You may want to exhale during the shutter press, you may want to hold your breath during the shutter press - different strokes for different folks..

Once you get a feel for the shutter speeds, jump on over to manual mode and keep going, anchoring to a large aperture and tweaking the shutter speed to the get the right exposure.   Don't settle necessarily for the right exposure according to your camera viewfinder's meter but the right exposure according to your brain and eye.  What 'feels' right?   Shoot that.

..Anyway, this may be 'hoo-doo' but for me I found it to be a useful exercise to acquaint myself with the light collection capability of a new camera, not to mention the natural proficiency of the menus and dials that you will gain along the way..

So, this isn't my best moon shot ever but experimenting with the FE 24-240mm, I propped myself against the house exterior and started shooting the moon hand held, trying to find the right balance of shutter speed, manual focus and ISO for this reasonably slow f6.3 lens at distance.   

The result is 'okay' but I do think the exercise itself is worthwhile and wanted to share it with you!   

Happy shooting..