Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review - Zen Camera

Zen Camera by David Ulrich is a series of six lessons for finding your own personal visual expression. David is a photography professor in Hawaii and a Zen practitioner. His lessons are derived from both. He explores six aspects of photographic expression in individual chapters with exercises at the end of each. The intent is for the reader to treat the book as a semester's course spending 12-13 weeks going through the lessons and exercises as if you were in one of his classes.

I will confess that I did not do all the exercises, in part because I am already an experienced photographer (not that I didn't learn from him, I did) and I find that my approach is already very similar to his. A number of his comments really struck a chord with me, particularly those concerning connecting with the essence of your subject matter.

There are no discussions of technique in the book but he does recommend shooting RAW (as do I) and learning to use editing software such as Lightroom and/or Photoshop. If you are looking for technical instruction, this is not a book for you but if you are concerned with finding your photographic voice, I highly recommend Zen Camera.

The photo above is mine, it is not in the book and is not related in any way to the book. It existed before reading the book. It heads the page because I like it a lot. It was made while walking the River Walk in Saranac Lake last year. A large print of it is currently in the Northwind Gallery's juried show (Woodruff St., Saranac Lake, NY) through this coming Friday, May 25th. If you dash over there before the show closes, the framed print is for sale or I can make you a print if you prefer to frame it yourself. Just post a comment to that effect and I will reply by email with the particulars.

Disclaimer: I was not asked to review the book, I bought the book from Amazon, David Ulrich is totally unaware of me or the review. I get nothing for writing the review. I only review and recommend things I truly believe have value to my readers. Please respect my copyright and do not repost any portion of this post without my consent.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Just playing in Lightroom

While going through my photos from the last 12 months to decide what to enter in SLCAC member show I got sidetracked playing with this one I shot while climbing the Saranac Six. I converted it to B&W with a modified version of infrared filtration.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Busy, busy day

I played delivery boy today, taking 4 of my own works to the Paul Smiths VIC for SAMFEST, two others as entries in the Northwind Gallery juried show and to Northwind entries for my friend Ron Larsen. I swung over to LPCA to see the current show there and revisited the "Maya" sculpture by Linda Howard that is in the overflow parking area across the street. That is the photo above. The other 3 are at Barnum Pond. Then I came home to work on piling 4 tons of wood pellets into the storage bin om the back of the garage. A day in the life of an artist.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Busy Time of Year

It seems like all the juried and invitational shows in my area happen in the spring. I just picked up work from one that closed on Sunday and this week I have two others to deliver work for, plus the deadline for the Saint Lawrence County Arts Council members show is looming as is the deadline for submissions to next year's calendar. At least it actually is spring now. It was still snowing most of last week, not much, but enough to make one wonder if it was ever going to stop. The sun came out on Saturday, the thermometer has been reading 60s and most of the snow is gone most places except in the mountains.

When I went to Saranac Lake on Sunday to pick up work from the closed show there was still snow on the summits so I did a side trip to get this photo of Whiteface Mt from Norman Ridge. I had made another photo from almost the same spot last year but there was no snow on the mountain. I like this one better. I haven't made any prints yet but I will. Reminder: I sell prints. I can print this one up to 12x24 myself. Any larger I'd have to send out. If you want a print of any photo on this blog, email me. The color version is below. I'm not sure which I like better.

Below are a few other photos from Barnum Pond yesterday.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tupper Triad - Winter Version

Last June I did the Tupper Triad in a day. The Triad is a hiking challenge issued by Tupper Lake, NY to encourage tourism. If you complete the specified hikes you qualify for a patch to put on your backpack or jacket.  When I did all three in June I was out of shape (my 1st hike of the year with no prep) and it was a bit of a challenge. I decided I wanted to do the winter challenge too but I was in better shape this time (I have been working out) and I broke it up. I did Mt Arab on March 1st. There wasn't much snow left. We were at the end of a thaw and I figured I would do the other two the following week.

Unfortunately, the very next day I came down with gastrointestinal flu that laid me low the entire week and to top things off, two Nor-easters blew through one after the other. but more about that later. On the way up Arab I found this nice ice wall but discovered that I did not have a memory card so all my Arab photos were shot with my phone.

It was an overcast day but the clouds were high and there were good views.

The whole hike took under two hours and I was home in time for a slightly late lunch.

Because of the illness and then the snow, I nearly gave up on completing the winter Triad before the 21st (the last date to count as 'winter') but when I got up this morning the sun was shining and it was 25°. On the spur of the moment, I decided to do at least one more, either Goodman or Coney, and decide on the way down (I live North of the Adirondacks) which I would do. I settled on Goodman because it was the longer hike, 1.6 miles to the summit. Someone had been in yesterday but parts of the track were drifted and I had to break trail in places. As I approached the top it clouded over and began to snow.

Since I wasn't sure how long the snow would last and the wind was quite cold without the sun I figured that Goodman would be it for the day and headed back down. On the way down though, the wind blew the clouds away and it began to clear up again.

After I got back to my car I ate my lunch and pondered whether to continue with Coney Mt and complete the Triad Challenge. I drove to the Coney trailhead and there were two other cars so I knew the trail had been broken and decided to go for it. The sky became almost totally cloudless and was incredibly blue, the kind of intense blue that we used to get using Velvia with a polarizer. The pictures don't really convey how intense and saturated it was. The following two photos are approaching the summit of Coney and the summit which has 360° views.

These three are photos from Coney's summit. I did not linger too long because although the sun was out again, the wind was very cold. I discovered when I returned to my car that the temperature had dropped into the teens. The pointed mountain with the open snowy patch in the middle of the second and on the right in the third is Goodman.

It was a good day in the woods, not a lot of photos but good exercise in very fresh air, my kind of day. If you are going to be in the Tupper Lake area and want a modest hiking challenge, give the Triad a try.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Winter and My Discontent

I have been taking a course in Mindfulness (the one by Kain Ramsey) through Udemy. In the past I have read several books on mindfulness and Buddhism, all of which recommend the practice of sitting in a certain position for a period each day and "following your breath", that is focusing your attention on each breath in and each exhalation as a way to develop mindfulness. None of the books I read really explained how that leads to mindfulness or even what mindfulness is. Kain's approach is much more pragmatic.

As a bit of background, I have several times had it suggested to me that my belief system was primarily Buddhist in nature. A couple of online quizzes placed me at 95+% Buddhist but I have always had a couple of major objections to what I read of Buddhist belief, the major one being the notion that "all of life is suffering."

Now I'm not exactly a happy go lucky bubbling with joy type of guy but "life is suffering"? Come on now. There is a lot about life, the majority by a long shot, that I really dig, and if that is suffering I say "bring it on!" As Kain explained though, 'suffering' is probably not the best translation of dukkah, the word that the Buddha used. A better translation would be dissatisfaction or discontent. Okay, I can see that.  Nothing in life is perfect and we are always looking to make things better. I'm reminded of the cooking shows Diane likes to watch where the judge says how delicious the pastry is but... the crust should be a bit crispier. I see it in the photos I make after I get home and look at them on the computer I often think "I should have framed that better." We humans are never quite content or happy no matter what, but I don't feel like I am "suffering" because of it." It's just life, just the way it is.

Longtime followers of this blog have probably noted that I do relatively less winter photography than other seasons. Winter is, for the most part, something I endure. We have had a rough week here in the far North of New York, frozen plumbing, vehicles that won't start, heavy snow to remove, etc. Lots of dukkah, things to make me think about warmer climates. But then I think about hurricanes, alligators, bugs, and sinkholes down South and decide I'll continue to put up with this. The frost patterns, like the one above on our garage door window are interesting and a diversion from the dukkah. I would never see them in a warmer clime.

To close I will throw in a winter photo processing tip for Lightroom users. Lightroom has had a "Dehaze" slider in the "Effects" section for a while now. It acts sort of like a polarizing filter on skies, separating close tones into more discreet ones by stretching lower end of the brightest tones downward. Because that also compresses the middle tones below them and that may be undesirable, the same slider is available in selection tools like the graduated filter, the radial filter, and the adjustment brush. That allows you to apply the Dehaze to only the portion that you choose.

Here's the 'winter' photo tip. Dehaze works on snow too. Too often, snow renders nearly monotone on the linear curve that is characteristic of RAW digital images, especially if you are of the "shoot to the right" school and you lose the subtle ripples and undulations of snow drifts. I tend to deliberately expose in the center of the histogram with snow scenes so that I have room on the right to pull the whites up and the highlight tones down but you can also do it with the Dehaze slider as I did in the shot below.

Happy new year by the way.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Seasons Greetings

Several years ago I photographed the sculptures on either side of the entrance to a cemetery om Ellenburg, NY. The one on the left of the gate depicts Hope, looking up and away with an expression of tentative expectancy. The sculpture on the right of the gate is labeled Faith but both were made of concrete which did not fair well over years of acid rain. The surface has been eaten away and the aggregate is prominent on both but Faith has fared the worst. Sections of the face have fallen away leaving a grotesque visage.

I see symbolism in these sculptures. Of the two emotions, faith is the more fragile, the one more easily destroyed. We are in such a time. Our faith in our institutions and the people who run them are under attack as well as our faith in each other. For a significant number of us, this has resulted in a retreat to tribalism, a turning inward to those we still see as being “like us” and against the "other". Sadly this distorts hope. It turns hope for a better, more just and equal world into hope for power over others who we feel threatened by. Hope remains but it is diverted and becomes negative.
My hope for this holiday season, regardless of your race, religion, gender and all the other “differences” we label each other with, is that your hope remains positive for peace on Earth, goodwill to men and that you are able to resist the corroding influences that damage your faith in your fellow humans. I wish you joy and peace.
Happy Holidays to all

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ampersand and Baker Mts. - Saranac 6 - numbers 5 and 6

Friday, September 29th, 2017. A day that will go down in Saranac 6er history. The day that the OMG (Over the Mountain Gang) finished the Saranac 6. Okay, it is only a tiny footnote, but hey, we finished. Two mountains in the same day. Not bad for a trio of over 6 decade old guys.

We started with Ampersand. We had all done it before the challenge started so this was a repeat trip, in my case I had last done it in 2006. Rick and Dave were not sure when they had done it. I only know now because I looked it up after getting back. I love that digital cameras record such things for you.

The lower trail was in pretty good shape. I was surprised because based on rumors I had been led to believe that it was pretty bad. We encountered an interesting tree early on that had apparently begun life on top of an old stump that later rotted away leaving it standing on stilt-like roots. It almost looks like it is walking.

As we neared the top there were long stretches where trail crews had done a prodigious amount of stonework creating stairs. Nearer the top we came to this section which I remembered because of the leaning passage between two large rocks.

 And then we came to this (below). That rock the tree is on is taller than Dave, the tallest member of OMG. I don't know what a trail crew could do to fix this. A ladder perhaps. The roots were stable and firm enough to pull yourself up by but that won't last forever.

Tucked in among the roots was this fungus that I thought was pretty cool. If you look at the photo above you can see it in the inverted V of roots directly below the trunk. Below is a close up.

Finally the summit. Ampersand's summit is wide open 360° thanks to Verplanck Colvin who cut all the trees back in the 1800s to erect a survey tower when he was conducting the 1st systematic survey of the Adirondacks. Later there was a fire tower there. All that remains of that are the places it was bolted to the mountain. It has a view of Ampersand Pond and the Seward Range on one side and the St. Regis canoe area on the other.

A puzzling feature of the rock at the summit are these parallel grooves that go right across the unusual V notch between where the tower stood and the real summit which is a modest round knob sticking up above the rest. The panorama at the top of the post was shot from the summit knob.

The Gang posing while a willing volunteer did the honors of recording our presence for posterity.

Five down, one to go. We had a discussion back at the car whether to go for the last mountain. Dave's knees were a bit sore but he was willing. Rick was fine (he's part mountain goat) and I was a bit tired but I took an energy shot and some ibuprofen and we went for it.

Baker is the smallest of the Saranac 6 and only .8 miles up but it is a very nice mountain. I will have to climb it again. It is wooded over but there are places that you can look out over the village and beyond. Quite a few who live in Saranac Lake climb up it in the evening because it is right on the edge of the village.

Rick let his wife know that we had made it (above) and then we had another volunteer, a local young woman with two dogs, recorded our climb for us with my camera. We reached the top at 3:35 pm according to my camera data.

One of the interesting features on Baker is this tree near the summit that was apparently knocked over and pinned down when it was small but has continued to grow, albeit horizontally. I admire the persistence of trees.

One of the places that you can look out over the village and the Saranac Lakes. I wonder what it would be like to watch the July 4th fireworks from there.

I spotted this group of fungi on a tree while descending. Unfortunately, someone had shaved off a bunch of the lower ones. I wish they hadn't. I'd have liked to photograph them unperturbed.

Time to plan a new adventure.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

St Regis Mt. - #4 in our Saranac 6 Quest

On 9/11 we (The OMG) climbed the 4th mountain in our Saranac 6 quest. We had all climbed it before, twice in my case, but we either hadn't recorded when or it was before the start of the Saranac 6 Challenge so it didn't count. The start of the trail was new to me because they had rerouted it since the last time I climbed it. The reroute is interesting as it takes you by some very impressive glacial erratics and through a beautiful grove of hemlocks before rejoining the original trail where the serious climbing starts. Even then it was not an overly steep trail but it had a couple of "interesting" sections.

When we arrived at the summit we were alone in spite of having dawdled on the way up. Shortly though people began arriving and we had quite a conversation with a retired policeman from NJ or at least Rick and Dave did. I left the conversation after a short time to go about my photography. I tried shooting a stitched medium format image with my Rhincam adapter and a 35mm Mamiya lens but the light weight tripod I had carried apparently wasn't steady enough plus I was shooting into the sun and don't have a sunshade for that lens. The experiment was a bust.

Two people volunteered to photograph us, the first shot is with the NJ cop and the second is the three of us in front of the actual summit.

I made another panorama from the actual summit that included the fire tower.

I made some photos of interesting rock patterns around the summit before leaving.

Dave thought this area looked like a lightning strike. The rock certainly has a burnt look to it.

I liked the web pattern on this one and the tiny white lichens that looked like snow flakes.

I shot most of the photos on this trip going down. On the last trip it was mostly fungus but this time it was large boulders.

This had a tree growing on it and Dave decided to climb up and visit the tree.

I had to take two photos and stitch them to get all of this one into the frame without a lot of trees in front. It looks as if it was once one rock that split and the upper part slid to one side. It makes a nice shelter for small creatures though.

Rick likes to be on top of things, like mountains and in this case a very large glacial erratic.

As always, it was a good day in the woods. I have to return to some of those erratics on an overcast day though. The totally clear sky and bright sun made for very harsh shadows with very bright highlights.