Thursday, March 30, 2017

Off Topic - Kickstarter Project I have supported

A while back (2013) I did a review of "Small Island, Big Pictures" by Alexandra de Steiguer. She is now doing a new Kickstarter project, a CD of her music. Based on the samples on the Kickstarter site this promises to be as wonderful as her photos. Here is a link: Check it out.

BTW The last time I saw a copy of "Small Island, Big Pictures" on Amazon the price was $320. There are none available now.

I have been lax about posting again. Sorry. Spring is finally arriving and hopefully, my inspiration for posting will be blooming along with the flowers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Perception and Reality

Over the past year, I have repeatedly encountered the notion that our perception ‘creates’ reality. The idea is based on the fact that in addition to the empty space that separates the stars and planets, there is a lot of empty space even inside things we think of as solid. Essentially everything that exists is made up of energy and its solidity is an illusion according to this view. Those things we perceive as solid are actually made up of atoms that have a good deal of space between them relative to their size and even within the atoms which are made up electrons, protons, and neutrons which in turn, it is argued are actually energy, not “solid”. From this, some writers, notably Robert Lanza author of Biocentrism, conclude that it is our perception of energy patterns that brings things into existence. The idea is that before we observe them, objects are merely potential and that when they are removed from our observation, they recede to being mere potential again.

Lanza’s book is not the only place I have encountered this idea. It also appears in the writings of Eldon Taylor and in at least some strains of Buddhism. It is an extension of the old question “if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. To those who believe “perception creates reality” the answer would be “no” but I believe that is a semantic distinction. What we perceive and interpret as sound is a series of waves in the air and vibration in the ground and those would exist whether any sentient being that had ears was there to hear it or not. A blind and deaf person could still be aware of the tree falling by sensing that ground vibrations through their feet or even their skin from the changes in the motion of the air as the tree fell if they were near enough to sense the resulting draft.

But this notion carries the idea even further to suggest that even the tree does not exist (or the forest or anything else) until we observe it. That strikes me as a rather egocentric view. Obviously, you exist whether I am actively observing you or not, and I exist whether or not you are observing me. Likewise, the tree had to exist as more than just potential before it could cause the sound (vibrations and waves) that alerted us to the existence of the tree and the fact that it was falling. If you were deaf and had your back to the tree as it fell on you, you wouldn’t be any less dead for not having observed or heard it as it fell. Thus the distinction of what is reality is a semantic debate over what constitutes “sound” rather than a question of the existence of the tree as more than just energy that is a potential tree unless it happens to be observed. One only has to look at archeology, geology or cosmology to realize that lots of things existed as more than just potential long before human perception was around to ‘create’ it by observing it.

In reality, all of these things exist in potential simultaneously with the physical existence that our limited senses allow us to observe and even the physical existence has aspects that we are unable to see or that we routinely overlook. An insect or a bird or other creature with a differently constructed sense of vision will see the flower very differently than you or I but they are not ‘creating’ the flower by their observation of it any more than we do. The totality of the flower is greater than we are able to perceive. Our “creation” upon observing a flower is not the flower itself, but merely our limited impression of the flower and, if we photograph it, an artifact of that impression. This is what Minor White was referring to when he said “Don’t just photograph what it is. Photograph what else it is.”

The role of the photographer (and other artists) is to stretch beyond merely seeing the obvious and to present in their creations an impression of the greater reality of the subject. So how do we do that? We must cultivate a mode of observation that does not merely see and label what we see but sees beyond labels. As Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We cannot show the smell in a photo, but there are many other aspects to the rose that we can relay to our audience. That is our goal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Double Self-Portrait

I shot this yesterday morning as part of a series I am working on. For the purpose of the project it wasn't intended as a portrait but in retrospect, I decided that it is (in a sense) a double portrait. Not only do I appear in the mirror, but I am the creator of the mirror. If it is true that an artist reveals himself through his work, then I am in this photo twice.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Favorite Images

I'm borrowing an idea from William Neill and posting my personal favorites from the photos I made this year. At least they are/were my favorites when I made the choices. Since there is no particular rationale for the choices I might choose differently tomorrow. I'm posting them in chronological order because that is how they appear in my Lightroom gallery. The one above is from the East Stone Valley Trail which is just down the hill from my house. a tiny hemlock struggling through the winter.

The next four are all from a very frosty morning (-15°F) on the West side Stone Valley Trail.

Next is a stitched panorama of ice covered Barnum Pond along Rt 30 in the northern Adirondacks with Jenkins Mt in the background.

Just down the hill on a foggy spring morning, this lone birch in among a pine plantation stood out.

Spring is an on again off again affair here and during another cold snap, I spotted this ice pattern.

The lone patch of ice clinging to a fallen log was at the Paul Smiths VIC (Paul Smiths College).

This pair is from Greenwood Creek, a day use state park area near Pitcairn, NY.

And this one was made from my driveway looking back at our woods with the moon and clouds.

This group is selected from a three day "Shootout" I participated in at the Paul Smiths VIC in September.

And last are two photos from my last lean-to adopter hike. The first is at Heart Lake on the Adirondack Mountain Club property and the final one was at Scott Pond just upstream from "my" lean-to. Next year it will be someone else's lean-to to maintian because I retired after 25 years of adopting (11 at Feldspar Lean-to and 14 at Scott Clearing).

I have other photos from the year that I like and I may post more in between other posts.

As always, the photos are copyrighted. Please respect my copyright and do not copy or repost elsewhere. Give the URL to this page if you wish to share them so that your friend(s) can see them here. Happy New Year all!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I'm Baaack! Thoughts on Portraits

Mark Kurtz - Photographer

After a full year of not posting, I am back at it. Why did I stop? I just tired of posting and then inertia set in. I posted photos to Facebook in the interim <> but that isn't a good forum for lengthy posts IMO. On my personal page I have a lot of friends who are not interested in photography and my Jim Bullard Photography page is more a gallery and marketing venue. Why am I back? I've been playing with some portraits lately and I decided I wanted to talk about portraits at a length that I think is more suited to the blog.

Portraits have always been part of what I do, but a minor part after I left the army. In the army, we shot a lot of portraits from the ID photos for ID cards (shot in a photo booth machine minus the curtain and coin slot) to chain-of-command photos from which we printed hundreds of 8x10s to be hung in every building on post. The lighting for all these was simple and uniform, two flood lamps placed high (above the head) and equidistant from the subject at 30-40 degrees on each side and two more at or slightly below the head directly below the higher lights. In other words, FLAT LIGHT!

Hey, the military has never been known for creativity. This was in fact, the same lighting we used for copy work and well, everything we shot in the studio. Basically, the lights rarely moved. Occasionally they were pushed closer to the backdrop when we were doing copy work but otherwise it was two lights high and two lights low, all equal in intensity.

I have been looking at portraits lately, both mine and others and wonder if the sort of photo we made of commanding officers can fairly be called "portraits' or whether in fact, they are really just large ID photos. I'm going to get myself in some hot water here and suggest that a lot of "portraits" shot in commercial chain studios are pretty much in that same category. Yes, they have a bit more imaginative lighting that reveals the contours of the face better, but they are basically formula portraits. It doesn't matter who is in front of the lens, this is how they do it. It is photographing bodies rather than people.

To me, a portrait is more (or should be) than just a "photo of" the sitter. It should reveal something of the person beyond 'he/she looks like this'. I tried to do that with the portrait above of Mark Kurtz, a fellow photographer in Saranac Lake, NY <> during an open studio event when I stopped by to see him. We had talked for 15-20 minutes about current affairs before I asked to shoot his photo and it was done with available light and handheld. The light was more harsh than it appears. I had to open up the shadows considerably in Lightroom.

For those interested in technical information, it was shot with a Canon EOS M3 and the 18-55mm Lens at 55mm and f/8, with auto ISO (6400). With the APS-C sensor, 55mm is an 88mm equivalent (to 35mm full frame) which is a good focal length for head shots. The perspective at that length neither flattens the face too much nor distorts features like a shorter lens would. The subject appears much as he/she would at normal conversational distance.

Mark didn't automatically smile and commented after, so I shot another with a smile (below) but when I am shooting portraits I never ask the subject to smile. I prefer to spend some time talking (as we had) to put the person at ease with me and the process and photograph their 'natural' expression. Some people smile often and easily, others not so much (me for example). If, when I am making the photos I feel that the subject needs to 'loosen up' I may ask them to think about think about someone or something that makes them happy. The last thing I would consider is asking them to "say cheese". That IMO is a guarantee of a 'cheesy' portrait. Maybe that is where the expression "cheesy" comes from?

Mark Smiling

My preference is for the unsmiling image of Mark. From the limited time I have spent with him, I think of him as a fairly serious guy. OTOH the current events we had been talking about were enough to make anyone serious. I haven't asked Mark which one he likes better. I did ask permission to use the photos here and he agreed so I don't think he dislikes them. The ones I sent him though were in color. For this series of posts, I am converting the portraits to B&W. Did I capture him? Is it a true portrait rather than a glorified ID photo? I am not unhappy with it. With more time and as I get to know Mark better perhaps I can improve on it. More on 'why B&W' and the connection between photographer and subject in future posts.

As always the photos are copyrighted. Mark is free to use them as he wishes but anyone else needs to get permission from both of us for specific usage. Aside from copyright, it is just the polite thing to do.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Waterlogue for Windows 10 Again

I should call this Waterlogue Plus. I'm revisiting Waterlogue to correct a few things and to show how it can be integrated with other filters as in the image above.

In my previous review, I complained that I didn't get the controls other reviews mentioned (brush size and lightness). With further exploration, I find they are there. The problem is one of clear menus. Many years ago I took a course in web design. One of the things that stuck in my mind was the admonition to avoid "mystery meat" menus. Mystery meat is the meat you get in a high school cafeteria line that is drowned in gravy so that you can't tell what it is. The authors used that as a metaphor for 'clever' menus that require the user to figure the menu out in order to do something. There was a trend toward image mapping on websites at the time and on some sites it was necessary to  move the cursor around an image to find the mapped parts for navigating the site. Waterlogue's menus aren't that vague, but the sideways scrolling of the bottom eluded me until I accidentally discovered that rotating the mouse wheel up and down moved the panel left or right. I have a mouse that I can scroll sideways with by pressing the wheel left or right and that didn't work so I had missed the scrolling before.

Aside from that I have to say the brush size control really makes only a minor difference anyway. For example here are two conversions of the same image, the first at the Giant setting (which should be more detailed) and the other at the Small setting (supposed to be less detailed) (the border effect is turned off in the Small version and the lightness had reset to medium).
I don't see much difference. Of course, I'm accustomed to Photoshop controls that have a huge range and this in only a 4 step scale, but I expected to see a bigger difference between the extremes.

Remember that the Small vs Giant does not refer to overall image size. Rather, it refers to the "brush" size with Small being more generalized and Giant being more detailed. As painting term however, they have them reversed. A painter uses bigger brushes for broad generalized areas and small brushes for details.

There are several image size settings, small, medium, large and original, but original will be the same size as the original only if the original is no larger than 3584 pixels on the long side. That makes it awkward to integrate Waterlogue filtered images with images processed in other filters. It becomes necessary to resize the other images from the real original size to the Waterlogue "original" size before layering them The image at the top is such a layered image. I really like the way that Waterlogue imitates watercolor but the detail part (underdrawing) leaves a lot to be desired so I created a new layer using Topaz Detail 2 (lithography) and layered it over the Waterlogue image with Luminosity blending mode and slid the transparency back to 60% in order to add back in a bit more detail. This layered filter effects technique is something I use fairly frequently. I think it adds significantly to this image.

The Waterlogue App was originally designed for iPhones and iPads so I understand that the developers are designing for devices of somewhat limited memory and processing power compared to PCs but when they jumped to the PC version they missed an opportunity to increase the usability to match the new platform. I'm hoping they upgrade it to a real filter, perhaps even a Photoshop plugin.

P.S. 12/14/15: The diagonal white line problem seems to have resolved itself. I didn't do anything to fix it, but they aren't appearing on any of the new images I've made. How, why, what fixed it? Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Waterlogue App Review

This will be a short review because the Waterlogue App is pretty small. There is not a lot to it, so there's not a lot to say about it. It runs on PCs under Windows 10. I don't know if it will work with Windows 8. What it does is turn photos into pseudo watercolors. There are 12 presets and there isn't much you can do to alter them. Actually I haven't found any way to modify a preset. The "It's Technical" preset adds a grid to the image so it looks as if it was painted on graph paper. They need to lose that feature IMO. The pseudo graph paper adds nothing to the image. Also (at random,) diagonal white lines appear onsome images as if they are trying to emulate some kind of paper texture. They appear randomly on different presets. Some time it shows up on a preset, sometimes it doesn't. The effect doesn't seem to be tied to any particular preset so maybe it's a bug. Also the App tends to crash fairly easily In the time I played with it this evening it crashed 4-5 times while processing 18-20 images.

Points in the Apps favor are that it is easy to use. You can set the output size to one of several settings including original. The results with some photos are quite interesting. I'd prefer a little more control (along with ditching the grid & diagonal line effects) but for $2.99 you can have a lot of fun with it. There's a basis here for a really good little program if they work on it a bit more.

The annoying diagonal lines.

More annoying diagonal white lines.

Annoying white lines plus annoying pseudo graph paper grid.

Al images are copyrighted. Share by giving the URL to this page.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pitchoff Mountain

On the 21st I went to the Adirondacks to climb a mountain. I had planned to climb Hopkins in Keene Valley but I started later than I intended and decided as I was driving through the Cascade Lakes area to stop there and climb to the Balanced Rocks on Pitchoff. I had two guide books with me and discovered that there is a discrepancy in the name, one calling them Balanced Rocks and the other calling them Balancing Rocks. I would not call them by either were I the one naming them, but we'll get to that. Starting out on the trail I was truly sorry I hadn't gotten around to climbing Pitchoff sooner. It has a varied and interesting trail, some stretches quite steep,  others nearly level and some mildly adrenalin pumping close to the edges of sheer drop offs with only a few small trees between the trail and empty space.

The guidebook I had taken with me said the turn to Balanced Rocks wasn't marked and that was correct so sure enough, I missed it. There was an obvious trail on the right at one point but the guidebook cautioned hikers to avoid the "old trail" on the right because it was unsafe and I thought that was it so I continued on. By the time I reached the summit of Pitchoff I realized my error but decided to continue on to the secondary summit which, although lower, has a better view.

While there I shot a two frame panorama (above) before turning back to find Balanced Rocks. It turned out that my error was fortunate because I arrived at the Balanced rocks area just as the sun was lowering into the warm evening light zone. The light was especially good for the Mountain Ash  which was prolific around the ledges there.

I came upon the namesake rocks from a lower ledge. I have to say here that when hearing the name Balanced Rocks I envisioned glacial erratics precariously positioned and in danger of tipping off the mountain without much provocation. Calling them Balancing Rocks gives rise to an even more precarious state in my mind. These rocks however, are neither in my estimation. On the contrary, they are extremely stable on a mildly sloping open ledge. They aren't even on the edge of the ledge. They are very picturesque though as the following photos demonstrate.

As you can see the rocks appear to be on the precipice from some viewpoints because they rest on a ridge in the ledge but in fact, there is ledge all the way around them. The actual drop off is some distance from them and the precariousness is an illusion. It was a great day in the mountains and Pitchoff has made my short list of favorite mountains. I will return another day, probably several times.

Monday, September 14, 2015

At Last I Did It

I spent most of the last two weeks under the weather as they say. Today I am feeling much better and I finally got around to building a scanner box for making images from 3D objects. I have been meaning to do that for a long time. Today was the day. I made it from black foam board, large enough to cover the entire glass and 6" deep.

These are a pair of spent sunflowers. I scanned some other things, but I have a lot of cleaning up to do on the images. Every time you touch the dry flowers, they drop pollen and dust on the scanner glass so it is impossible to get a clean scan. Lots of work for a clone tool but it is a fun thing to do and I can see me getting more use from the box in the future.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jenkins Mountain Hike

I had climbed Jenkins Mt. about 25 years ago at a time when the Paul Smiths VIC was run by the state (it is now part of Paul Smiths College) and my memory of the hike was rather foggy. I remembered that the trail started on an old road, but I didn't remember that the road part was as long as it is. I remembered walking along a couple of eskers and I thought I remembered being able to see the lower summit of the two-humped mountain from the higher summit. I was totally wrong on the last memory.

The road part has changed since my hike of yore. The road is no longer in the process of overgrowing as it was when the state ran the VIC. Paul Smiths is a forestry college and they call it "Logger's Loop". It winds gradually uphill and there are several demonstration plots along it showing different methods of forestry management. Not too far up I spotted a patch of Bergamot (Bee Balm) alongside the road. I don't know if it is natural or whether it was 'encouraged' to grow there, but it warranted several photos including the one above. Another subject that presented itself along the roadside near a culvert was this fungus.

Over the years I have collected more than 400 photos of fungi, a large proportion of them at the VIC and this trip was no exception. I spotted several more to add to my collection.

After leaving the road which had narrowed to an AVT trail (motorized use limited to the college's staff) the walking trail follows the ridge of an esker (deposits of glacial till) between two low wet areas. The one on the side toward the mountain contained two beaver lodges and offered a view of the lower peak of the mountain. I was fortunate that the raspberries and blackberries were in season. There were patches near the point where a stream cut through the esker to the opposite side.

There was very little climbing to the trail so far but that was about to change although none of the trail is very steep. After leaving the esker you begin climbing the mountain itself through pleasant woods. I had thought perhaps I was alone because it was mid-week and hadn't seen anyone but nearing the top I met a couple descending and at the summit a young woman, her son and their dog were enjoying the view. They soon left however and I ate a late lunch in solitude. I saw no one else the rest of the day. I made a 5 frame panorama from the summit and photographed some other views including a birch tree that was growing next to the summit ledge. The mountain peak in the panorama is St. Regis Mt.

I left the summit around 3 PM and made some photos along the trail as I went back down.

All the data I could find on the web about this hike indicated that it was 4.5 miles to the summit, but my GPS only came up with 8.2 miles for the whole trip which started at the gate by the beginning of the Logger's Loop road. Perhaps the others were using a starting point near the VIC entrance on Rt. 30.

Please honor my copyright. Do not repost the photos without permission. If you want to share this with others, give them the URL of this page.