Sunday, November 30, 2008

Post Turkey Saturday

Because it was the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday, Reena was at work. I had brunch with my family as is our family tradition. Years ago we decided to end the conflict between who goes to which family's gathering each year, so we siblings and as many of our children (and now even their children) meet on Saturday. We meet at the Jet Room, the dining room at the General Aviation building of the airport. They do a pretty darn good breakfast, and reasonably priced. And the view is always interesting

Jet Room View
Jet Room View

After brunch, I knocked around all day. I made it to REI looking for bargains, and found a shirt I always desired, on sale from $52 to $20. In my wanderings, I simply assumed that I would find subjects to make me pull out the camera. I thought I would snap some good shots, then find a coffee shop with WiFi and blog it. Nope. As I was walking up State Street late in the afternoon to pick up Reena, I did take a few photos. This one is of the capitol building from about five blocks away.

State Street at 5:30 PM
State Street at 5:30 PM

It seemed a bit weird to be out, in the dark, when it was only 5:30. That means that winter is just around the corner. Since I still had a few minutes to kill before my sweetie was done, I figured the Overture Center would provide something interesting to look at. I was not disappointed. They had about 50 loooong strands of lights hanging down the circular shaft that is in the main entrance. I went down to the "Kids in the Crossroads" stage on the lowest floor and looked straight up it:

It's Full of Stars!
It's Full Of Stars!

I found myself remembering the bit in the movie "2001: A Space Oddessy" Where Dave has already fallen into the obelisk and is going somewhere else. Almost the only dialog in that entire twenty minutes of the movie is his line, "It's full of stars!" A family saw me taking photo up the display and came down to try it for themselves. The woman experienced profound disorientation when trying to look up to take this same picture. She tried laying down, but that too was disorienting. She ended up just setting the timer on the camera and setting it on the step facing up.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Tenney Park at Twilight

I was out of work today before it was full dark, and I knew just where I wanted to be as the sun set. Then, I did not go to that spot! As I approached Tenney Park, thinking I was going to get the sunset over the lake, I paused and shot a bunch of pics of the Marston Bridge. Then I turned around...

Tenney Park at Twilight
Tenney Park at Twilight

This is not at all what I thought I was going to capture this evening, but it is what I got. I like it. It was an 8-second exposure at f/36, ISO 200.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

an ermine wrap that offers no warmth

Monday's Snowy Trees
an ermine wrap that offers no warmth

Was it only a few weeks ago
the trees shed their flashy look?
Now they wear a new mantle,
an ermine wrap that offers no warmth.
They are beautiful to be sure,
despite foretelling the long dark
and our retreat to the hearth.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Circus Play Date

I went to a workshop today where I learned a variety of circus skills. It was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Among other things, I learned to walk a tightrope.

Tightrope Toes
Feet on Tightrope

Other things on the playful agenda included juggling (for which I have absolutely no beginner's talent), rolling on a circus ball (elephants can do it, so why couldn't I, dangit!), stilt walking (which seemed really difficult for about 5 minutes, then something clicked and it was pretty easy) and fooling around in a German Wheel. I have to say, if there is anything more fun that a German Wheel, I have not found it yet.

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Dang, do my legs hurt!!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

eyeDance at the Shrink


I ran eyeDance through a web tool - Typealizer - that is supposed to analyze my writing and reveal what it says about me. Apparently it is based on the Myers-Briggs personality profile instrument, though there is no real background info available. Here is what it had to say about eyeDance (me):

ESTP - The Doers
The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Those of you who know me will see the accuracy of that analysis. My past experience with Myers-Briggs showed me to be, at first, about 18 years ago, an ENTJ, and more recently, about 2.5 years ago, an ENTP. So perhaps this latest stint as an ESTP is simply part of an ongoing shift as I age, or perhaps it is situational as relates to this blog with its particular emphasis on photography. I guess that time will tell. Lucille Ball, with whom I share my birth date, was also an ESTP. So are Madonna, Eddie Murphy, and Bruce Willis.

The portions of my brain most engaged while I was writing are, in decending order:

- - logic
- - mathmatics
- - order
- - habit
- - details
- - spirituality
- - rhythm
- - harmony
- - imagination
- - symbols

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dissent of the Day

I have been taken to task in the comments for my Prop H8 post. Care to weigh in with your thoughts? Leave a comment, and please be courteous. I think Prop 8 is an important issue, so if I was out of line, let me know it.

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More of Don in Studio

Over the weekend I broke down and bought a fancy studio light. Just one (so far) and it was a kit light. The kit contained one studio light (not a strobe) with a stand and umbrella that also functions as a soft box. The light is variable, up to 200 watts; a nice feature. Don was over again last night and I was able to try it out.

Don Smiling
Don Smiling


Once again I back lit him because I wanted to set off the edges of the beard. The studio light was on his left, about 2 feet away dialed to about 2/3 power. The back light was raised up to almost head height and set at about 1/2 power. I had the "stained glass" bulb in a clip light aiming straight down from about 3 feet over his head.

I like the results.

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Monday, November 17, 2008


Another fun-filled weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. Friday night Reena and I joined a few friends and went to see the new Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace". It was pretty good, but we were stuck in the second row which is my second least favorite place in the theater. When the movie ended Reena and I went to the Mediterranean Hookah Lounge to listen to some friends play their first gig out. The two are past and present memebers of Pagee Go Go doing a side project to strip the music down to the essentials: Guitar and vocals. They had suggested that other known musicians bring their instruments along and maybe sit in for a bit. So we did, and we did. Reena played the tan tan, while I limited myself to adding a bit of shaker to some tunes.

Jeff and Ana Paula
Jeff and Ana Paula

Intense Jeff

With Passion
Ana Paula - In the Groove

Jeff and A.P. Shake the Hookah Lounge
Jeff and A.P. Shake the Hookah Lounge

As you might expect, there was some dancing. Jeff's wife Guta is Brazilian, and there were several other Brazilians in the audience. I shared a table with a delightful couple who are here as grad students. We ran into them the next day too at the anti-Prop 8 rally.

These Boots Are Made For Samba
These Boots Are Made For Samba

It has been a long time since I was out until bar time. I think we got home at 2:45 AM. Then, of course, the cat wanted breakfast at 7:30, the little jerk. Saturday we went shopping for new lighting equipment for me, but that is a story for another post!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prop H8

Like many other cities around the U.S, there was a rally yesterday protesting the passage of Proposition 8 (also referred to as Prop H8) which stripped same sex couples of their right to marry in CA. The group marched up State Street from Library Mall to the Capitol. I estimate the crowd at around 500.

Anti-Prop H8 rally on State Street
Anti-Prop 8 Rally Marches Up State Street

The crowd was less angry than expected, considering what a "fuck you" they had just received from the voters of California. Of course, here in Wisconsin, gays and lesbians had already been marginalized by a despicable state constitutional amendment (SHAME on you, Wisconsin!) so perhaps it was just another kick in the shorts rather than something personal.

Well attended Anti-Prop 8 rally
Anti-Prop8 Rally

There is more, so follow the link...

I suspect many are unaware of it, but the Mormon Church (LDS) coordinated and funded support for Prop 8 to the tune of $20 million. As far back as the late 1990's the LDS were coordinating this nastiness with the Catholic Church.

Pointing Out Mormon Hypocrisy

Signs of the Time
Signs of the Time


And where were Obama and Gov. Schwarzenegger? A few words from either of them might have prevented this travesty. Perhaps a few F-bombs could be reserved for them.

You would think that a group who were prevented from marrying whomever they loved only a few decades ago might have had a little more sympathy for this cause. You would be wrong. In CA, African-Americans voted almost 2:1 in favor of passing Prop 8. What up with that?

Allowing Blacks to Marry Whites?
Re-criminalizing Blacks Marrying Whites, For Example?

And here are the current scourge of America. The group that wants to ruin marriage for uptight straight people. Just look at them! Clearly they are hell-bent on destroying all that is Godly and good. You can see it in their eyes. They want nothing more than to completely destroy Western Civilization. Just what the FUCK are you so afraid of, America?

Enemies of the State
Enemies of the State

A final thought:
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. ~Martin Niemoller

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Studio Undergrad Work

I mentioned in previous posts (HERE and HERE) that I am experimenting with a studio setup in my basement. I have done this with essentially no cash outlay, using on-hand equipment as much as possible.

I bought fabric for a backdrop, and hung it on a cord with clothes pins. I only have one tripod, so my lights are mounted on telescoping tent poles. I secure the tent poles by extending them from the floor to small, shallow holes drilled every foot or so in my ceiling joists. The lights themselves are old 1980's clip lights with a variety of lightbulbs. I also have one $6.00 halogen spot lamp. My total investment so far is under $100.00.

Here is a recent shot:

Don Wearing Beanie

View this photo LARGE On Black.

The setup for the shot was the most complicated I have tried to date. I used three light sources:

1. a 75 watt compact fluorescant bulb in a clip lamp mounted about 18-20 inches away on Don's front left. I used a plastic tube from a dryer vent as a snoot to keep the light tight. A bit of white foam packing sheet softened the light, sort of my try at a poor-man's soft box.
2. a 25 watt "stained glass" bulb that actually looks like stained glass and throws blue, green, and red light. This was also in a clip lamp, mounted about 20 inches away on Don's right, maybe slightly from the front. I think it helped the beard stand out a bit.
3. a 65 watt halogen lamp sitting on a plinth (an old speaker stand) directly behind Don about two feet, aimed at the back of his head. I wanted to have his head rimmed on some of the shots. In this one, it lights up his right eye, and I am not sure it helps. In some of the other shots, it illuminates the edge of his beard perfectly.

I had one fairly dim ceiling light on behind me also, but that did not have much effect on the overall lighting.

The camera was on a tripod about four feet in front of Don, who was seated on a stool positioned about three feet in front of the backdrop. The settings on the camera were as follows:

Nikon D40 set on aperture priority. No flash. Shutter: 1/13th second. Aperture: f/1.4 ISO: 200 White Balance: Custom, read from a grey card held in front of Don's face. (With that crazy mish-mash of lights, that was my only option for white balance. Anything else would have yielded truly weird results.) The lens was a Sigma 30mm prime. And because I was curious and looked, this image was the 18,948th shutter release for this camera which was purchased new July 1, 2007.

All this goes to show that you can achieve pretty nice results without spending a ton of money. I'm sure that by spending a ton of money everything is easier. However, this process has been really rewarding, and I am learning a lot about what works (or does not work) and why. I try to think about it as completing my undergrad work at a community college. Once I have some solid basics under me, I will be ready for some grad courses in the form of a seminar or one of those cool spend-a-week-with-a-pro workshops in some amazing place.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Morning Habit Change

Frosty Morning, Better Scrape!
Frosty Morning, Better Scrape!

Morning habit change.
Fantastical shapes appear
then I scrape them off.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Photographic Kiaijutsu

Since I have begun posting my photographs, I have received one bit of feedback consistently. I am told in various ways that my candid portraits "have a knack for capturing people as they really are." I am not a trained photographer in any formal sense of the word. I have never taken a class or even a photography workshop (though I intend to). Rather, my pursuit has been intuitive and self-directed. I read the manual that came with my camera (RTFM is advice that always pours out of my mouth), taking a handful of key suggestions from it and creating a cheat-sheet that went into my camera bag. Several how-to books have also contributed to that cheat-sheet as well as to my overall sense of technical practicality. That does not lead me to having a knack, though it enables being able to capture the moment more often than not.

Modeling the Porcelain Slip
Modeling the Porcelain Slip

While on a car trip this weekend, I did a lot of thinking about that, and exploring why I might have this mysterious knack. Of course, this is not anything unique or special to me as an amateur photographer, but as I keep hearing the same phrase, there is something there that I should pay attention to.

“There is a brief moment when all there is in a man's mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record.” ~ Yousuf Karsh

In the martial arts world there is the kiai, or the "yell" that accompanies a blow. In my twenty years of martial arts training I met instructors who suggested using the kiai as a reminder to breathe, and others to use it as a distraction of one's opponant. Some combatants use variations of the kiai with each and every technique, and some almost never use it. In my own practice, I found that once I mastered breathing while fighting, the kiai became something greater. While I did not know it then, there is an art dedicated to the use of the kiai, kiaijutsu. Ideally, the kiai emerges from the hara or dantien, or one's center. The effect of a proper kiai is a unity of focus: The breath, muscles, and intent all become a single force. When sparring, especially at the full-contact level, I would experience moments of extreme clarity, absolute certainty that a specific technique would land. That moment of time would stretch, seemingly to last well beyond the half-second or so of actual time, and that clarity was accompanied by the kiai as my legs, torso, shoulder, arm, and fist united with my breath and intent, and I struck my opponant.

Celeste with Carinval Mask

I think there is something of that concept of the kiai in my knack, or any other photographer's sweet spot. It is that moment where everything comes into absolute clarity, with the awareness that the moment of decisivness is now. Frank Van Riper said something along these lines in an interview with the Washington Post: "Part of being able to capture the decisive moment is practice. It is no accident that great photographers tend to photograph all the time, developing a kind of intuitive muscle memory and hand-eye coordination that can recognize developing elements of a picture and grab them on film or pixels. I am convinced that, after a while, the effect is unconscious – you develop a kind of peripheral vision that becomes hyper-aware of your surroundings, especially when you have a camera in your hand, ready to use."

As I am writing this post, I learn that the term aiki, as in the art of aikido, written with the same two kanji characters as kiai, transposed, relates to the coordination of one's energy with the energy of an external source. Perhaps aiki is a more apt term for what I perceive as my approach, my knack if you will. I will have to think more on this: Is making the photo a projection of my effort - kiai - or is it my unified response to my subjects energy - aiki?

I enjoy people, and often find myself noting what a friend finds funny or delightful, repulsive or irritating. That observation, coupled with my famiarity with the kiai (or aiki), seems to give me a subconscious nudge that says Now!, and I make the photograph.


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Friday, November 7, 2008

Making Beauty and Throwing It Away

Late afternoon gold-Enjoy it quickly!
Late Afternoon Gold

I was inspired by the poem: "A Color of the Sky" by Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means To Me. © Graywolf Press, 2003. This portion of the original refers to a spring dogwood in bloom, but with a few changes serves the purposes of this image. Mr. Hoagland's poem is delicious, so if you do not like this, the fault is mine.

In the business park, between the convenience store
and the huge warehouses,
a little maple tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with radiant sun,
like an amber mug of beer;
like a spray of flung Mardi Gras beads,
dropping gold leaf flakes to the ground in clouds,

so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The electoral college line was just crossed: Obama is president-elect. GO 44!!!!

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Daybreak Voters

7:15 AM at My Polling Place
7:15 AM at My Polling Place

I arrived at my polling place around 6:25 AM hoping to beat the line that seemed so likely. The plan worked, as there were only about 40 people in line ahead of me. By the time I got outside and snapped this photo - call it 7:15 - there were at least 200 people in line, and more arriving every few seconds.

My fingers are crossed for the right results. GObama!

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Monday, November 3, 2008

New Lens, Baby

UPDATE: In June of 2010 this lens failed. It refused to correctly set an aperture (remained at f/0.0) and would no longer auto-focus. Repairs from Sigma will take three weeks and upwards of $150. So it lasted 18 months before it died. Buyer beware.


After months of lusting after this lens, and watching the price on Amazon slowly creep down, I finally took the plunge and bought it. It's another Sigma lens, to match my 30mm prime. While not anywhere near as fast as the f/1.4 30mm, this 18-200mm zoom has optical stabilization which testing reveals is worth three, or even four stops. It autofocuses with the D40.

Sigma 18-200 HSM OS
Black Beauty

I've used it just a couple of times so far, and am really getting familiar with it. The OS is a nice feature. I pride myself on having a steady hand, but this makes the moment of capture easier, no doubt about it. Here's one recent shot with it:

Shannon - close

This one was with my Nikon D40 at around 80mm, ISO 400, f/5.0, with a flash and red-eye reduction. I expect these two Sigma lenses makes just about a perfect set, replacing my kit lens (18-55mm) and the tele (55-200mm), as well as the 50mm prime that doesn't autofocus with the D40.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Savoring the Fall

It was another beautiful weekend here in Madison. I spent a lot of time outside enjoying the fall colors. While it is true that I neither raked the leaves in my yard, nor rid my gardens of dead plants, I did savor it all and got some things done around the house and yard.

Even the laundry seemed happy outside, blending right in with the yard.

Autumn Laundry
Autumn Laundry

Other bits of interest in the yard are now visible too, since some of the taller plants have died back. This bit of sculpture is almost invisible for August and September, but now is standing tall above the wilted plants.

Wire Blossom
Wire Blossom

A side trip to the Olbrich Gardens seemed important, so Reena and I took an hour or so to walk the grounds. There are still a lot of colors to be taken in, though most of the blossoms are done or frost-wilted and fading. If this weather last a few more days there may be a rally. A friend told me she has new shoots coming up in her gardens. Bad timing!

Olbrich Scenery

Olbrich Reds

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Subtle Fall Color

Things may be dying off in the yard as fall marches inexorably towards fall, but that does not mean that there is no beauty left to be found in my garden. The colors are generally more subtle, but when one looks closer, there really is a lot of drama remaining.

Fall Color
Fall Morning Glory

I am wasting time avoiding some inevitable yard work such as cutting back dead stalks and lifting canna lily rhizomes out for winter storage in my basement. Some tidying up needs to occur in the garage as well, bringing the lawn mower in, as well as my bicycle, and sweeping out a summer and fall's worth of dirt and leaves. We also need to stash one more motorcycle in the shed so that we can crowd the remaining bikes and the car into the one-stall garage for the winter. Fortunately it is 60 (f) and sunny so working outdoors today is a treat.

It seems the morning glory is not quite dead yet, and is still making a Herculean effort to grow.

Final Quest

I think I will take that as a lesson of the Never Give Up sort. Never stop growing and seeking new ideas, places, and people in your life. As Warren Zevon sang, "sleep when you're dead." In the meantime, LIVE!

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