Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mandatory 2014 Year End Post: Happy New Year to Ya'll

I don't have any genuine topic of substance upon which to muse and rant and bemoan. Consider this entry a generally exhausted sigh, undercut with optimism and an air of indifference to coming challenges and the concept of setting goals as we collectively march into the new year.

Without question 2014 has been a bizarre entry into my pursuits, personal and professional, and it has seen me grow in abrupt ways to very "adapt-or-die" scenarios. It began with nearly dead business, but strong motivation toward a time lapse side project, then quickly swept into a machine gun beat of business, networking, expanded offerings and pretty much zero time for personal projects. Even despite the lull of 2014's opening months, I've had significantly more business in photography this year than in the previous 2 combined, and even now, a day before 2015 officially stamps itself on the calendars, enthusiastic clients are vetting my bids for awesome photography projects that will immediately thrust my business into the positive within the first 2 months of the new year. The dream of making my living entirely with photography is real, it has developed into a self-sustaining thing only held back by the time I have available outside a hindrance of a day job. And that feels great.

Let's look at the process of progress that was this year in the photos through which it was taken. I can say now, looking through these archives, the photos I've taken feel like they were just taken yesterday, so fast this year has moved.



Cold. I definitely remember January being cold. Polar Vortex and all, creating ice flows down the Susquehanna River that were hypnotizing to watch despite the dry, skin-cracking chill of arctic wind. I made many frequent trips up to Sunbury, PA to visit my friend Kyle, hungrily photographing the many landscapes of the so aptly named "Pennsyltuckey".



February was slow. February, thus, was for time lapses, which are inherently slow. My brain was in the thick of learning video, and I must've manipulated recycled time lapse sequences into a hundred rough draft videos in attempt to learn proper timing and cadence to create appealing music videos. It was a project that was exciting, a new talent to develop, and it commanded my attention as such.



March was no different than February prior. Time lapse was a persistent focus, and easily overwhelmed my baser appeals to photography for the novelty of motion. I attended a local convention and produced this short time lapse film for them. It was/is shoddy, poorly assembled with mediocre shots, all of which I am comfortable with and was comfortable with in delivering this unpaid product. I only cared about the opportunity to learn more of the video process, of which I hit a very hard brick wall in the post process and assembly. It would mark the beginning of my greater frustrations with the video post process (and given how begrudged the photographic post process already made me feel, it should have been no surprise that this wall would eventually arrive).



April was marked by infatuation with alternative photographic processes. Having rarely used my Nikon V1's overwhelming speed to any advantage since acquiring it, I found myself inspired by DigitalRevTV's spot on alternative format in photography, specifically the 6:2 panoramic format using 35mm film. To boot, Microsoft's investment in Photosynth software technology came onto my awareness radar, and I couldn't help but use the V1's deep buffer  and high frame rate in RAW to my advantage in the creation of fun, casual Photosynth productions.



Another of those slow months, May was marked by experimentation with stacked squares and wide panoramas. Although my end goals in what I would like to have created in time lapse finally broke through clearly, my motivation to continue the pursuit waned tremendously as the knowledge barrier of video post processing became too much of a stress in the midst of increasing real estate business work and a sudden promotion at my day job from lowly administrator to impromptu graphic designer. Months of limitless free time were quickly coming to an end, and my life would be completely engulfed in a relentless beat of business considerations.



My first major assignment as a newly crowned graphic designer for proposal work at my day job began a bum rush of travel. For weeks at a time I would be passing through the east coast at large, by train, by plain, in more hotels and different rental cars than ever before in my lifetime of traveling. It was fun, I enjoyed the huge change of pace from the drab day-in, day-out otherwise constituted by my daytime work. Finally, I was producing art not only for myself, for my own business, but for another business, one that saw the value in and sought to capitalize upon a rarely lauded skill set. While on travel, I made it a habit, a ritual, to photograph and time lapse my adventures to share. It was a grand time.



July bore the brunt of my time lapse project's death knell. I had resigned myself to the futility of gaining any greater traction in understanding the process of video construction and simply enjoyed creating time lapses for sake of the footage itself. I abandoned all efforts to assemble it into competent music videos, opting to host the last couple sequences I would make, taken on a road trip through Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive just before photo work would consume all of my time, on their own in my portfolio as nothing more than moving photographs. Still, some day I would like to revisit time lapse, even if my prior ambitions are largely deflated.



Real estate photography. Nothing but real estate photography. Job after job after job. I was noticed by a private investment firm which saw fit to hire me not only to photograph completed renovations for sale, but also baseline "before" photos showing off the dilapidation and wreckage of the properties prior to their reconstruction into high dollar homesteads in Baltimore City. After years of sneaking into abandoned properties to photograph their decay, I was being paid to do it with zero risk outside of falling through the floorboards. I was so well off I splurged and purchased my first professional grade camera body and lens.



A time for experimentation. It had been years since using a camera of a more traditional SLR-style construction, ergonomics that were foreign after 5 years spent shooting with diminutive, rangefinder-alike bodies in the Micro Four Thirds system. Having the capabilities of a new Olympus E-M1 in my hands was baffling enough compared to the constraints of the E-P3, with the handling characteristic changes (especially with a vertical grip) it became a bear of a thing to acclimate to. I shot many nights and many weekends, just photographing any random thing, to develop a proficiency of use with the new workhorse machine. I only had one working job in which I let slip my unfamiliarity with the mammoth camera.



Too much work. But with a few random days peppered in over which I could indulge random muses. For the first time all year, I worked away from a preset-based process of hazing every single image I ever took. I also learned the power of the new MFT sensors in some candid ISO 6400 shooting. Never before had I ever used a camera so capable of rendering such high ISO values in a usable fashion. I'm still flabbergasted.



My relentless pace of unending work for flooding clients took an abrupt hold for sake of a family-required bit of travel. My partner and I flew out to MO, and over the course of a week I would remember what it meant to relax and be truly disconnected from the hustle and bustle and immediate demands for my attention. I took pictures but did not care. It was a trip spent engaged in experiences first and foremost. If there was time for photographs later then they may or may not have happened, it simply wasn't important. It was a trip, a vacation, sorely needed. I had done twice as much photography work at this point than I had done the year before, and per my recorded metrics, nearly all of that business had been done in the past 3 months.



The last great rush. I spent my accrued paid time off from my day job to accommodate more shoots during the week, trying to race them to completion by the end of the year. And I was successful, closing the year out at just over 220% higher than the year prior. It was harder now than ever before to think of photography as the simple hobby it began as. It was something else now, something in demand, and something burdensome in a bittersweet way. Work I would always love to do, but would so often feel broken doing.


Today I'm learning to find more and more value in forms of photography lower in the stress spectrum of expectation. I've begun carrying my E-P3 again on trips out to real estate jobs, with a 45mm f/1.8 lens mounted so as to photograph clearly the scenes out my car window on trips through DC, Baltimore and Annapolis. Instagram has become something I respect in an unexpected way in that its relatively instant nature in both sharing and processing (with a welcome limitation of canned effects) allows me to simply enjoy the process of photography without the weight of pixel peeping expectations of ultimate image quality. I easily see both of those trends continuing, possibly the acquisition of a more advanced PEN-alike camera, possibly not.

My end goal, my resolution, of 2015 will be to always keep focus on the work/life balance. I let it get away from me in a huge way in the latter third of 2014, and it has left marks on my daily life that I don't think will soon go away. In regards to business, I am confident that I am self sustaining, and will continue to pursue expansion of the business as I always have. But I will also be sure to schedule mental health days where and when necessary, and not bend to self-imposed expectations to cater to the whims of every client, every contractor. A certain quality of life is necessary to function most optimally in ones practiced skills. Through 2015, I will identify and ride that line between bumming and burned out.

So after a long year in 2014, experienced in what feels a split second of happenings, from one photographer to another, hell, from one creative to others, I wish you all a happy New Year, and may your 2015 and all years thereafter be marked as memorable by your successes, whilst also comfortable and fond to think upon for sake of your sanity. Be well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Dog Chasing Cars

Or perhaps a dog chasing squirrels, or rabbits. When I was young, my dog at the time, Buddy, chased a rabbit down and actually caught the thing. Broke its leg in his teeth, eliciting a glass-shattering scream from the little ball of fluff. Buddy carried it to the door and started whining - he'd accomplished what he'd sought out to do for so long, but now didn't know what to do next and was clearly upset by the consequences of his pursuits' success.

Who knew that analogy was ever so applicable to successes in general.

This year has been ridiculous. Some time in June, for reasons unknown to me, it seemed the big firm I'm on contract to do real estate photography for had let go of all its staff from Baltimore to DC and dropped all pending work in those business areas in my queue. A no-joke quadrupling of photo work.

Here in December, there doesn't appear to be a relaxing of that burden of work in sight. I refer to it as a burden, which may stir up negative connotations, but my regard for it is more complex. Success and notoriety in my local communities as a photographer has always been an end-game goal, and without question, both with the influx of contract work and my adoption by the communities in which I've worked for private photo work, I've become something of a household name for anyone in need of a reliable and skilled photographer.

Despite that, however, I don't entirely feel as if my goal is at all accomplished. My notoriety is, at best, that of a trusted barber, or reliable plumping service. My desire to become known was based on the pursuit of the arts, which are all but unnoticed through my dealings. Given that my function is akin to a service industry role, my notoriety has only come through reliable, respected results of many hundreds of jobs worked, and the time spent on those many hundreds of jobs has precluded any and all personal, artistic pursuits of photography. Essentially, I've traded in my aspirations of artistic renown for the blue-collar-ization of the photographic medium. And I'm simply not sure how I feel about that.

I enjoy the income. I'm in the position to indulge a lifestyle that is nearer to idyllic in its lack of need for concern over money. And I appreciate the compliments and immense respect received from clients, both new and repeat, who find my offerings a boon to their own quest for success in local sharing economies. But I do feel compromised. Compromised, ragged and worn out. I work a 9-to-5 day job every week, matched by 9-to-5 weekends spent shooting photos for people in my contract queue. Every time I complete a job, my contracted company has 2 or 3 more ready to chase it up. I don't travel anymore, venture out on holiday weekends to see friends and family. I work holiday weekends, cramming in more photo work. Sometimes I use accrued PTO from my day job to sneak out and do more photo work, and so my time off available for vacations (were I to ever try to take one) is largely unavailable to begin with. Like wage slavery, only voluntary self-abuse. It is completely within my power to refuse further photo work, or to reserve a weekend for myself, but the bug in my ear whispers that letting up on the machine gun pace will invite the work elsewhere and thus end my perception of success altogether.

I feel my only option is to conjure non-existent stamina and enthusiasm, march onward and keep up the pace because the work will subside eventually, give me room to breath, eventually. But if it doesn't, I will continue the pace until an unrelated personal tragedy breaks my stride, because I want this success. Even if it's not quite the same success I had envisioned when this pursuit first started.

Call me an optimist, but I'm hoping this is simply a brutal early first step to the "real thing". I have a very limited concept of what a rational next step is in my position, especially given my propensity for only riding waves passively. If this phase in my career as a photographer requires an active effort to dictate my own direction henceforth, I fear I may sit in this relentless quagmire of rinse-repeat activity for too long and ruin what aspiration I may have left. Nobody wants to become the beleaguered, weary, broken artist, who came so close to realizing dreams but was never able to get out of his own way.

I must ruminate on how to retake command of my life gone completely out of control.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fit of Nostalgia

Arguably, I'm more prone to the bittersweet pangs of nostalgia than a 27 year old should be. I've wrestled with the longing of more innocent, naive younger years ever since turning 21, often in the dangerous position of finding more contentedness in a bottle and memories than active continuation of my life. To a degree, I blame what I perceive to be a hyper speed pace to change and progression with the advent of the 21st century miracle of the internet, a thing that has commandeered traditional concepts of nostalgia from post-millennial generations and replaced it with the allure of viral fame and immediacy (not at all intended as a chide against this new generation, mind you, but certainly an observation of a critical cultural divide).

When change and progress come about faster than is necessary for the human brain to develop the kind of fondness and familiarity required for a nostalgic relationship to a thing, place or period, it is unsurprising for a cultural shift to ensue that adapts future generations for the new state of things. Being of a "tween" generation caught at the cusp of that change, it's sometimes difficult to reconcile an internalized sense of nostalgia with active recognition that never before has nostalgia ever been so largely irrelevant in society. So when I stumble upon articles written by the last genuinely nostalgic generation, the Gen X 80's children-gone-adults, I take it as something of an excuse to allow for some personal indulgence of my own fond memories of places and consumer archetypes long abandoned for the improvements and efficiency of EBay and Amazon.

To preface my personally framed ramblings and photo share here, the article which spawned this tangential sidebar to the usual photography talk was The Surfing Pizza's "Though Some Have Changed - A Look at My Hometown Through a 1980s Lens". Though an older article (ancient by 2014 terms), it details many places I also remember in my hometown, specifically a deep reflection on the traditional toy store and the sense of awe and magic it inspired in the young, imaginative mind. It details in a frame of reference stretching back prior to my own the movie theater in which I first saw Mortal Kombat (my first video-game-gone-movie experience as a kid), the mall I often visited with my aunt on days she took me out for pizza and a toy at the local KB, and the parking lot I'd wait in with my Dad over a Wendy's kid's meal while waiting for Mom to get out of the gym (a location now occupied by a grocery store). The article is not shy about denoting Glen Burnie's state of "... changing, fading in sections and crumbling in others", and even in the relatively short 4 years since its original writing Glen Burnie continues to morph into an all new unrecognizable shell of a town.


Our experiences of nostalgia are dictated by vivid memory of events in any given place. That fit of nostalgia grows only more cemented into the psyche by loss, either of the person or of the place fitting a specific recollection. Without a place or individual to spur retrieval of nostalgic memory, it is easy for that specific flavor of sentimentality to be lost in the cavernous web of a brain saddled with innumerable recollections and experiences from which more active references exist. Perhaps not in full, but absolutely in part, a motivation of mine in the practice of photography is the retention of memories, to provide a frame of reference from which to draw upon the cataloged sensations of the experiences themselves. I find it one of the most powerful tools to maintain awareness of who we are, where we come from, and how we've changed.

Something monumental happened to me this year, a scary sort of thing that has metastasized in the wake of relentless rationalization of events, my self-defense mechanism against subtle brain games of post-traumatic stress. My idealism and romanticized concepts of people and the progression of events wilted. Fight Club became less a bible volume feeding irrational resistance to all establishment and more a logical criticism of extremes of both consumerism and mindless revolt. Zeitgeist finally sank in as being that crazy, and cameras became recognizable as tools instead of definitive elaborations upon the personalities of the people that used them.

I grew up, basically.

My period of tireless exploration of new things and ideas settled into a reliably shaped mold of comfortable character traits and belief systems less apt to reform on the whims of the preacher's sermon. An accomplishment for all, really, but inherently the end of a period for which I now have nothing but endlessly fond memories, be they grimace-inspiring or laden with restrained tears. Inasmuch, I am now nostalgic toward what I recognize as the lost period of youthful naivety.

I hunted people down for their perceived charisma. Validity of their decided ideologies and character traits were unimportant, it was their confidence I pursued, to bask in awe of the gall they possessed to define themselves so readily, unflinching to opposition. In glorious hindsight, I can recognize the falseness of it, the fallacy of their brandished skin-deep personalities - their "charisma" was their chosen coping mechanism for the same uncertainty of self I was experiencing. We were all amorphous, though.

We met regularly in conflict-ridden social climates. Garage band practices replete with arguments over a lacking "seriousness" to how certain members regarded the dream's pursuit. Alcohol and bonfires and black powder fireworks (and on one occasion, drunken cooking of Beefaroni on a filing cabinet filled with wood and lighter fluid, set aflame). The location most specific to a majority of these social conflict practice sessions was, to Tyler Durden's dismay, a Starbucks. THE Starbucks as we'd come to refer to it, where circles of friends would meet and relationship stresses would be bared like an afternoon airing of Maury or Jerry Springer. For others it was an event to which they ventured, but I lived in the apartment complex behind the shopping plaza into which it was nestled, and so it behooved me to indulge my observational role among all social groups and bare witness to the unfolding of peoples' lives as we stumbled through youth with sloppy sexual experiences and the coarse words always trailing alongside.

Our capacity for social interaction nearly required a trip to The Starbucks as a more comfortable ice breaker than "I'm lonely and depressed and need to talk to someone". Even as we inevitably branched out upon entering our 20's, learning such painful joys as karaoke nights and costume parties, that building remained our hub, the pivot point of our axis. Though the shop would close up by 10:00pm every night, the entire strip mall devoid of customers and employees by 11:00, we would frequently remain cemented at the tables in front of the coffee shop well into the morning, on once occasion long enough to greet the morning crew as it rolled in at 5:00am. They didn't mind, needed no explanation - they knew our faces and at least our first names, this gaggle of 20-somethings interchanging shifts on the steel seats at all hours of all days. I'm sure we were a live action sitcom to them.

I always brought my camera. This was a period in which I hadn't yet developed a confidence in my craft, didn't always know what subjects I liked to shoot and certainly didn't know how to shoot them outside the confines of JPEG and an initial-reaction sense of composition. In 2009 I hungrily snatched up my first prime, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 (I was a Nikon boy in those days, a Ken Rockwell devout shooter of the lauded D40). There could have been no better time to be introduced to the magic of the prime, delving into candid portraiture with a documentary fervor. I carried the camera everywhere, all the time, a new concept to a brain that once relegated use of the camera to specific times when the capture of photography for art was the deliberate and direct intent. Photography changed, and it would never return to a once-in-a-while thing. Photography became a reason, not simply a thing to do.

I've tried more than a few time to conjure The Starbucks Crew through desperate appeal to assuredly mutual senses of nostalgia. Success, however, has been largely unattainable - alas, we all appear to have grown up after all. We work incessantly, not a one of us of the privilege to survive on solely a single income. Most of us have our own homes to return to, however, and that is enough import to drive us onward through the frustrations of limited personal time. To that end, the majority of us are single and not looking, blessed with neither the luxury of time nor care for the added stress endured for sake of maintaining relationships. We are inevitably bored and lonely because of it, however, and have found a common weeknight savior in solitary drinking.

My home is no longer front row to the nightly Starbucks Show. In fact, it's nowhere near it, and I begrudge myself the effort required to drive anywhere for coffee I can make for myself, better, at home. But I still gravitated toward it on off-Fridays or bored Saturday mornings, hoping for the chance encounter in which a familiar face stopped by for a frappuccino and ignited fond musings on old times. It never happens that way, though. What is impossible to orchestrate by intent would never occur by chance.

But I still stop by sometimes. For nostalgia's sake. It's simply too comfortable not to bask in.

Monday, September 8, 2014


I hear people speak anecdotal-y about mental breakdowns often enough. My own mother would recite the words on the regular in halfhearted jest. Last week I'm pretty sure I experienced the actual thing, though. No, not just pretty sure... I broke.

The sense that I've been out of control of my own life for a few months now culminated in a fantastic series of questionable decisions and poor time/self management. Competing 9-to-5 office work and whenever-the-hell photography jobs, personal obligations mounting into a stacked mass of discomforting expectations, day to day life was dictated but a painfully tight schedule of events planned out weeks in advance with no room to breathe and no time to decompress. It was my own damn fault for letting my schedule get so obnoxious, the jet fuel motivation to earn more money and cater to every clients' whimsy grew massively powerful with the influx of new business in late May and I let that drive push me too far, into the realm of maddening.

I cannot impress upon those who may seek to pursue photography as a business in the future the grand importance of the work/life balance. We all have different thresholds, but once you push past yours you won't realize it until you've already saddled yourself with obligations galore and all life seems such a misery to endure. Please, take time aside for yourself... it really is necessary.


Friday of last week was the breaking point. Impulse told me to either rebel against the confines of the month's long mental tax of a schedule or resign to a state of permanent misery. I rebelled. Despite obligations and duties and expectations, I lifted a generous helping of middle finger to the overlords (both real and conjured) and eloped with my wilted muse to "Pennsyltuckey" to photograph things and in a fashion that might barely be able to rejuvenate a dying passion.

The drive North felt surreal on its own. Lots of time to ruminate on choices and the momentum of my life, its direction and how much say I ever really had in its current state. I may have continued falling victim to self-imposed stresses were it not for Kyle, my photographer friend whom I drove up to visit in my act of rebellion. There are precious few with whom I feel creative wavelengths fittingly pair up to, and Kyle happens to be among the few. We wasted little time, quick to pack up camera bags at 10:30 at night and rush out to capture however many stars would manifest themselves in the presence of the moon's bright glow.

Something I hadn't done a lot of since the battery of photography-as-business transactions had been genuine exploration. Traveling not only to places which were new, but where I probably wasn't supposed to be. I understand now more than ever the critical nature that feeling of risk plays into my enjoyment of photography, and more than that, how critical a thing that risk is to finding those opportunities to create images that speak to me. Inherently it is because of the experience attached to them that they impact me so strongly, which can never be conveyed to others and therefore they don't stand out one way or the other to the casual observer. But to me, they encapsulate and romanticize an experience that I can recount as if it had happened yesterday no matter how many years have passed since the photo was taken. In this instance, we found an abandoned quarry, filled with water, surrounded by trees, isolated from the city lights. It was our trespass, and it was good.

Since picking up the OMD E-M1, I'd yet to really put the camera through its paces. The only miles clocked on the camera were sloppy real estate jobs I'd dragged the thing to, trying to learn its intricacies in completely the wrong way. With the expectations of working shoots, the freedom to screw up wasn't there, and I simply reiterated the rigid shooting practices of my old system. Out there, in the low light freedom of that quarry in the middle of nowhere, I was free to push the machine, to test the limits of its high ISO capabilities, see how well it would play with my bag-o-lenses, experiment with its new Live Bulb feature, actually develop a second nature with the controls... so many crucial things to one's relationship with a tool. Much to my pleasure, the E-M1 developed a second nature feel remarkably fast, especially with the efficiency of its dual function twin dials (made playing with night exposures magnitudes more direct than any experience I'd ever had with the E-P3). In general, the experience was still slightly hit-or-miss given the guess work require with composition, but following the digital level and at least having some context of the sky made it world's easier than any experience prior (even if only by a fraction over the E-P3).

One night in and I could veritably feel my body and mind release pressure. Like a steam valve that had been in the red for so long, finally whistling with sweet release.

The next morning we slept in. No point in waking up early to catch the first light of an overcast sky. Morning rise was just another obligation, another expectation, and this rebellion wasn't going to be commanded by self-imposed photographic deadlines. Instead, we had a leisurely breakfast at a classic diner with probably the best omelettes and home fries I've ever tasted. Exquisite coffee, too, not weak nor burnt, but fresh and perfectly creamy. A good start. And in the vein of the prior evening's exploits, we engaged in the thing that drove both our muses - a good trespass.

Kyle had just moved into the area in the last month and was cataloging a host of new locations well ripened with age and yet to be explored. The mark of the day was a steel production plant that fell on hard times in the last year and was up for sale. Alas, upon arrival the main plant itself was already undergoing demolition, but several outer buildings were still available to the perusing curious.

Of primary interest to us was a large, empty warehouse, likely used to store completed product during the plants heyday. Like any large, open space, photographing it was less a study of direct objects, of things, and more a study of light and how it permeated the space. In waiting for the light to change periodically, however, I had the opportunity to test another of the E-M1's touted features which caught my interest particularly - WiFi remote operation of the camera.

Joke about how awful "selfies" are all you like, I hate them myself. But in the practice of exploring places most people simply don't go, there is an inescapable allure to capturing a photograph of you and your crew in whatever amazingly alternative environment you find yourselves in.

Much to my giddy excitement, operating the E-M1 via Olympus' OI Share app on my Nexus 5 was a seamless experience, with lag in live view output minimal (not good enough for action, true, but more than sufficient for any number of more realistic uses). It was such a wildly new thing, to operate a camera, live view and settings included, with a remote nearly 50 feet away, that I found myself testing it over and over again, trying to find the boundaries of its usefulness and, barring fast action, coming up short of ways in which it wasn't the loveliest thing. With a series of shutter delays available, the ability to exclusively focus the image without triggering the shutter, full control over ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance... it was the greatest thing ever. Of course, only later that day would I discover its crux - it eats batteries alive. All in all, however, a small price to pay.

Perhaps 2 hours later we opted to hike around more of the heavily wooded lengths of the property in search of more hollowed buildings to explore, running into little more than extensive cobwebs in the trees which would agitate us for the rest of the day. By the time we decided to trek back to the car, however, the demolition staff tearing down the former plant had left for the day and we obliged ourselves the opportunity to investigate the large heaps of rubble. Overcast skies still dominated exterior scenes, pockets of sunlight growing rarer as our exploits unfolded. Out of morbid curiosity I set the E-M1 to one of its multiple HDR modes, HDR1 specifically, which bracketed 4 shots, kept a RAW file at even exposure but produced a JPG on the side composed of the exposure gamut made available by the bracketed exposures.

Continuing to impress me in unexpected way, the HDR processing built into the E-M1 surprised me with how responsibly the JPG files were rendered. HDR1 specifically kept contrast high and leaned more toward retention of highlights than worrying about full exposure gamut retention. The files may not have been my cup of tea, but it was pleasant to get an idea of the breadth of information available in the captured RAW file with the compiled JPG render, and I wouldn't have hesitated to upload the HDR JPG files had I been aiming to upload content on the fly. There was also something to be said of the weird sense of power in ones hands with the full speed of the E-M1 shutter firing off 4 shots in less than half a second (with the HLD-7 battery grip attached). I'd been on the fence about the mushier sound of the E-M1's shutter after years spent with the sharp click produced by the E-P3 and GF1, but the sound of the thing in full on rapid fire was strangely intoxicating.

Our explore concluded when our stomachs grumbled angrily for sustenance. We drove back to Kyle's place to drop off our bags of gear, kept cameras in hand and walked the main strip of his new home town both to photograph its lazy transition into nightfall and locate an ideal eatery at which to indulge our appetites. We settled on a very "Jimmy Buffet" tiki bar & grill just up the street from his new abode, ate burgers, drank beer, and once settled and content with ourselves, resumed out walk of the main strip, capturing the homely small town storefronts in the twilight.

I played with the HDR mode some more, wondering how well it would perform in both dealing with motion in a scene and the randomness of hand held long exposures. Remarkably it resolved both without falter, not a ghost to be seen or hiccup in rendering despite speeding cars and the shaky hands of a tipsy photographer. In keeping with the trend I'd set earlier in the rubble field, I continued to shoot in HDR mode for the rest of the night, only wishing the gamut captured in the JPG files could somehow be pre-baked into the RAW files themselves (alas, that task remains relegated to the post-process).

Walking off the beers from earlier, we wandered past many highlight locations, and I found myself quickly developing an affinity for the atmosphere of this little town in Pennsylvania. Being both a college town and located excruciatingly near to a popular tourist magnet of a theme park, it was simply in nice shape compared to the other small towns I'd grown used to frequenting on excursions to the North. Cute small businesses specializing in antiques and floral arrangements, not afraid to leave their displays sitting in the street all night, populated the main strip. Monuments and plaques dotted special constructs on many street corners commemorating local history, inconsequential on the grand scale but advertised with pride.

During the entire foot tour of the strip, I couldn't help but ruminate on the idea "This is aging with grace". Starkly different from the likes of my own home town, which has been rotting for over a decade and showing it nakedly with homeless increasingly present and visible, storefronts not only closed and empty but vandalized, and clearly broken people wandering from place to place in a zombie-like autopilot shuffle, scarcely aware of themselves, let alone each other. The sagging spirits of my home community are as much a weight as the socio-economic downturn itself, and the density of our nearly-urban population breeds a kind of dog-eat-dog mentality simply not encountered in similarly dense population centers spotting the Appalachians. It will always be a thing that bothers me, regardless of whether it is an actionable problem or not. And I will always wonder if such an environment of the small town now called home by Kyle would see me thrive or suffer. Mentally thrive, most likely. Financial suffer... unfortunately. Oh, how I want to not have to worry about money.

A little hike around the college campus, quick stop in the beer outlet (for his sake, I had to drive home) and it was a done day. But it was a good day, ultimately, and exactly the kind of day I needed. No expectations, no obligations, no schedule or set hours of operation. In four months it was the first day of its kind so far as it was rationalized by my (oft strangely wired) brain. Amazing what one single day of unabashed freedom can do.

In the future, I aim to take one at least... oh... every other week. Bare minimum.