Friday, July 21, 2017

Dead But Still a Darling

Nik Software may be dead, but it's still such a joy to use, especially to someone like myself who did not toy with it until Google released it as freeware.

It's been a busy past month. With some foundation-building contracts dying in the business, I've found time to invest my energies in event organizing. And, without the relative, persistent burnout of constant photo work sapping my more experimental creative energies, I've found time to invest in attending conventions apt to bring along photogenic people, and the drive to exercise latent business-minded muscles in running photography "work" for a much more fun-loving clientele.

I bring up the Nik Collection on account of my current state of enthusiasm for use of the Color and Analog Efex packages, specifically, in editing some stragglers in a collection of photos from aforementioned conventions and the events I'm running. With some (actually, quite a lot of) help from friend and business partner Rob, I've been able to experiment heavily with reflectors and high speed sync flash (which has me yearning for a leaf shutter more and more every day). The look of the image files alone are incredible, a cry from my usual available light work. Tossing in color and light bleed through Nik's aging collection of algorithms, however, ads the extra spice I'm looking for every time.

Admittedly, I've always been a sucker for faux film looks, however resistant I am to the alluring pull of modern methods such as VSCO packs. I enjoy the added elements in subtle doses available through the Nik Collection, though. In particular, light bleed effects function well for augmenting extant bloom lighting, or at the very least throw in the character inherent in color bias in an interactive fashion. The same applies to vignetting, which doesn't simply darken areas, but reads some measure of luminance and saturation data and applies itself dynamically. How nobody else has incorporated such intelligent manipulation with otherwise basic features is beyond me - I'm absolutely addicted at this point.

I find myself going back and wanting to retouch photos of yesteryear, see what sort of character I may have envisioned in the images originally but was unable to produce. Paired with fondly revisiting Photoshop-based methods of skin softening, especially. Lightroom had me quite lazy for the longest time, but today I am driven to attentively massage files I'd otherwise slapped with a preset and called them "finished".

Most poignant is the photo below. A moody, scenic portrait of Kevin on a trip to Boston this past January. I was unable to come to a processing style that satisfied my vision of what the image should evoke tonally. Some time in the Nik Suite after initial Lightroom processing and I'm actually quite thrilled with the result.

I feel back in touch with my art. Not simply photography-as-art, but in general. I'm even drawing again, vectoring sketches into quality pieces. It's a great feeling. And for a change, I'm not afraid of it leaving this time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Long Exposure Love and Random Updates

After far too long, I finally replaced that little 10-stop ND filter that was stolen with the bulk of my PRO gear last year during the gallery showing. Should've replaced it much sooner, I forget so easily how much I love long exposures.

Ended up grabbing the Olympus branded grip/plate for the PEN-F as well. The tripod thread is in such an atrocious spot on that camera it never made sense to use it on a tripod. With the grip equipped with an arca-swiss rail, it goes great with my MeFoto Globetrotter (expected the combination to to look poorly weighted and generally off, but to my surprise the pair work well together).

A couple weeks back I ran into the nightmare scenario of a camera experiencing shutter death during a paid shoot. I was lucky, having gotten all the necessary images and the shutter crapping out on the very last shot. So, after a good 3 years in service, my E-M1 is dead, now but a decorative mantelpiece on my desk shelf. Made a good run well over 100K frames (a whopping 20K of which were apparently shot in the last 3 months alone, or so my backup drive tells me). I have a second E-M1 body in use as its current replacement, but this is the sort of event to push me more quickly than usual into the Mk. II variation of the same model. It's a justifiable upgrade regardless, 4 years is more than enough time to see real progress made in higher end camera models. The battery synergy being lost may be my only regret.

Still trying to figure out what to do with broader sharing of content these days. The catalog nesting on my phone of Snapseed edits is quite huge, but they typically don't see the light of day outside Twitter. Then again, I'm not necessarily sure it's something I care enough about barring those idle nights when I have nothing to do but think about these things. Been enjoying myself far too much lately with distractions such as billiards and, soon, biking. The Summer months bring a different flavor to one's sense of adventure and accomplishment. Definitely need to get that content off my phone, though... single point of failure and all.

Booking more shoots than usual this year outside my big contracts. Rather happy about that, independent clients are people who specifically choose me for my style of communication and (of course) work. Certainly affords me more freedom to produce a stronger product than the bounds of corporate style guides. Not that I don't appreciate the contract work, but it's nice to have the freedom to try new things (such as underexposing for the view out a window and blasting flash at full power to light the room - HDR the old fashioned way).

Generally clueless as to what I'm trying to accomplish these days, but enjoying the cadence of things right now (after a couple months of consistently low head spaces). I'd like to do more "candid" restaurant and brewery work, I think.

I like marketing things. Hell, I like marketing in general. Been doing quite a bit of that recently as well, hosting furry nights at the new Baltimore Eagle. They afford me an enormous amount of latitude in crafting advertising material to promote the monthly event, and they've led to their own string of uniquely fun images.

It's been neat running series of little photo projects to produce new ads. The caveat is the material isn't necessarily strong on its own what with attention paid to necessary copy space for text - Very empty images, really. But, as I said, fun to work toward as an end product, and the photography is just one part of the whole. That may very well be the driver I need to keep motivated in general... the conjuring of contrived but finite end products. Beats trying to piece together random, disjointed work into anything closely resembling a solid body of work. That's probably something they teach art students in college, I skipped that step.

I really need to get back into the mountains soon.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Private Struggles

This was written earlier today in an unstable state of mind. I'm reticent to share it, the subject being what what I imagine to be both a common woe and possibly even too typical to merit such complaining. But I felt the need to complain, and therefore apologize for such failure to appreciate the privilege of my lot.

I am finally succumbing to complete madness after nearly a decade of policy-enforced social isolation by which my final, desperate, avenue of escape and/or mental outlet is the angry mashing of keys in my office chair, a hopeless channel by which to scream into the proverbial void in the least constructive of fashions, hoping to high hell that my better self does not squelch this ranting and raving but rather permits this exasperated outcry.

I confess and accept all responsibility for my plight, having traded in a thirsty adaptation to risk for a safer harbor whose consequence is the voluntary sacrifice of all voice, influence, and reason. I am well compensated to the end that I commit to no less than five whole business days weekly to insurmountable boredom, left to marinate in the stink of my own head space as it is permitted nothing but a steady stream of news cycles so emotionally exhausting every sweet scent of inspiration is scrubbed clean off my body, a thin layer of silk skin coarsely brought down to the grissly rough texture emblematic of modern black and white portrait cliche.

This is the state of mind I am driven to on a near daily basis, although in reciting the monologue privately in my head I feel better having finally allowed myself to complain.

Bill Burr made a fantastic rant on the topic of my woes, recently brought to attention through an acquaintance similarly reminiscing:

"Realize that sleeping on a futon when you're 30 is not the worst thing. You know what's worse? Sleeping in a king bed next to a wife you're not really in love with, but for some reason you married, and you got a couple kids, and you got a job your hate. You'll be laying there fantasizing about sleeping on a futon. There's no risk when you go after a dream. There's a tremendous amount of risk to playing it safe."

His stand-up monologue does not resonate with me in the direct sense. My life has by and large been middle-of-the-road, safety plays in conjunction with riskier maneuvers. But there is one literal parallel, or at least one that has morphed into a state of being miserably untenable miserable on account of boredom and an aggressive choking of outlets. Once upon a time, let's say in more progressive days, I was empowered to execute my personal business, cultivate and manage my ambitions given the assumption those pursuits had no impact otherwise. Today, under the pressure of a new culture, I am not empowered, and my personal ambitions, my goals, my dreams, are an object of scorn in the face of what are deemed "Greater Goals". My growth and direction of development have been violently shifted to focus on these Greater Goals, however only when most convenient, thus frequently all momentum and investment in my own achievement is suddenly halted until it is once again relevant to the realization of these Greater Goals. Self actualization, even as pursued on my own time, is hamstrung, defeated by the perfectly random incursion of momentum shifts and false promises to achieve an unknowable, tiny piece of the greater puzzle behind these Greater Goals.

All joy is lost. I cannot take this predictably repeatable transgression anymore. And yet I do. Because in the greater scope, it is the safety play, and I realize I am in such fragile mental tatters that I am no longer capable of handling the rewarding thrills of risk. This is the trap. And I am now broken.

I should be thrilled at the pending milestone of my photography business. Such a profit marker met in only 5 years is a success story not often realized. But I can't be bothered to care. I see my business' income trends dwindling, and I rationalize that it is the early indicator of a dying business model first and foremost. The idea that it is atrophying because competing Greater Goals are, whether actively or passively, derailing its success, cannot be parsed as realistic or rational. That would suggest actively denying the Greater Goals of that safe harbor to recover the atrophied dream, a risk, and I do not have the stamina for risks anymore. It is a doomed dream. It is broken. It will die.

I should be comfortable, and I should feel safe, financially secured and able to invest in my own happiness. But the obligations of the Greater Goals beckon erratically and without warning, therefore I remain in place. I cannot travel but an hour away from my home without weeks of parsed and vetted warning, lest my absence introduce an unacceptable single point of failure to those Greater Goals. I wish to drive West and think nothing of the consequences of such a random journey. I wish to travel North with my boyfriend and breathe crisp air amid the loud crashing of foreign waters. But I remain in place. I cannot leave. I must be complacent, and I must stay.

I should be happy to be compensated so handsomely for challenge-less effort. Is it not the theoretical goal of all men to reap rewards for doing nothing? The trade requested is that of time. Time dedicated, time committed. I am not permitted any creative use of this time. It must be spent behind thick walls and absolutely committed to the endlessly incremental steps toward those Greater Goals, be those incremental steps hours, days, even weeks apart. Those incremental opportunities come suddenly and without warning, and all time not spent making progress toward those Greater Goals must be spent sitting and waiting...

... Thus here I am, typing an uncontrollable thought train into Notepad (of all the basic things), hoping to smuggle out the day's metastasized sense of doom. The last avenue for desperate outcry. The last method of expressive, creative outlet available as I sit and wait for another incremental opportunity toward those Greater Goals.

And I genuinely cannot read another Donald Trump news article today or I may drive, defeated, into the 173 Northeast Regional.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Time Lapses of 2016

It's been far too long since I've assembled one of these. Showcasing a few choice time lapse pieces shot in the last year, mixed to some great chillhop by Drake Stafford. It's compilation like these, relaxed music videos of sorts, that make even the most assorted assemblage of time lapses really shine.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Philly and The Human Muse

Among the variety of things I've been up to over the last couple months, I made a trip up to Philadelphia to spend time with an old friend who moved to Colorado some years back. Otter, I'll call him. We did quite a bit of urban exploration in my more active years, and since he moved out west I've missed him dearly. Having just two days to wander the streets aimlessly and without care was a wonderful treat.

Much as we were always apt to do, once my car was parked we quite literally just wandered, not knowing what we'd walk into. By virtue of where our walk started, we passed through Dilworth Park, enamored by the commotion and ever entertaining spray of the plaza's fountain setup. It was cloudy, so a great day for strong, contrast heavy black and white images.

Approaching the new Comcast high rise, a monster of a tower still under construction, we came across a pair of skateboarders grinding rather brazenly in an alley along a rail that led right into the street.

Naturally, it did not take us long to wander into the ghosts of days past, rail yards and destitute infrastructure.

We stopped in the Amtrak station for a quick drink and to go over mobile photo editing paradigms. Something that seems to be in common among all my photography enthusiast friends is the migration to mobile workflows. Quite simply, for those of us with any history in the trade, we're tired of desktop processing, ultimate image quality be damned. When exercised as an experiential pursuit, a hobby to be lost in, we'd rather craft art in the moment than see our work succumb to the inevitable hard disk graveyard.

We ended up playing poker and pool and the startup office of a friend of his, eating into the night with scotch and general merriment.

And after an artfully crafted coffee after some enormously invigorating sleep, we parted ways once again.

Till next time, dear Otter. I miss you already.

Pixelstick Studio Work

It may also be worth mentioning that I actually put that earlier mentioned Pixelstick concept into play over Fur the 'More for the Photo Suite. It worked out, more or less, exactly as envisioned, with the caveat that there are a few technical elements I could do better with next time around (and I'm likely going to be doing this again for next year's convention).

Unfortunately, there were some shortcomings using Olympus' live composite shooting mode with the Pixelstick, but the end results looked great printed on a Canon Selphy that I picked up to pump out prints exchanged for donations to Friskie's Animal Sanctuary. Raised $600 in about 2 hours, so I'm rather proud of that.

If I remember to revisit this post when next year's event comes around, improvements would be:

  • Use Live Time instead of Live Composite, just stop the camera down further (maybe f/11)
  • Dial down the brightness on the Pixelstick so the light doesn't clip so aggressively on overlapping patterns
  • Now that it exists, try using the Profoto monolight system for more reliable wireless flash triggering and shorter recycle times to keep things moving fluidly (had a couple technical interruptions on account of slow flash recycles when one set of batteries was dying while the other was still running strong)
I also have a fun vaporwave-inspired concept in mind using colored gels on flash/strobes with a white background. Or at least it was sort of inspired by one shot I got that had a very vaporwave feel to it with a mix of purple silhouetted light against some mint green and white patterns.

That's a whole other concept to prove out some time, though. Not completely sure I know how I'd reliably cast colored shadows to develop such hard shaped outlines while still keeping the subject in their original color structure. I'm sure I'll get a chance to set up the white backdrop and play that out, though - I have the equipment, it's just a matter of proving out the concept prior to employing it.

In the end, people are happy with their photos from the Pixelstick experiment, though. The most common thing I've heard is "How are you going to upstage yourself after this one", which is always a nice thing to hear when you already know where your flaws are and how to improve upon them.

Looking forward to doing this again, maybe even sooner rather than a year later.

More Album Covers

In keeping with the fun of mobile editing, and the mass of marketing work I've been engaged in lately, I dipped my toes into minimalist album covers again. These things are always quite fun to create given the reckless abandonment of ultimate image fidelity they inspire. No worries about degradation when there's text to distract attention.

The snap above was taken lackadaisically at Fort Armstead while compatriot Rob was shooting a time lapse. There's always a number of fishermen and "tourists" wandering the area, but this car happened to remain isolated from the main group and had a great view straight out to old Sparrow's Point, site of the abandoned/being demolished Bethlehem Steel plant. With knowledge of the context, it works well as a sort of post-manufacturer's echo.

This one, however, is just generally silly. I've been photographing the pigeons and starlings around my apartment building quite a bit as of late, and this fellow was more determined than the rest to remain in place despite human interaction (i.e. me walking up to it clunky and clumsily). A fantasy routine played in my head wherein he attacked my face and shat on my head for good measure.

Then there's this fellow. This one struck home a bit in various ways. In fact, there's a bit of a story behind him I may as well share while internal narratives are venturing quite fluidly through my fingers. First, the original image (or at least without the intense processing):

Walking to my car a couple Friday mornings ago, I noticed a small gaggle of starlings pecking about at something laying behind my car, figuring it was trashed food, maybe something in a wrapper they were struggling to unravel. Stepping closer, they of course scattered, and leaning down I quickly identified the subject of their aggression as this juvenile bird. Not sure of the species, possibly another starling. Not an infant, but certainly not developed to the point of flight just yet. Quite possibly, it fell out of the nest and was deemed easy prey.

Its neck had been expertly torn open, blood soaking the pavement in vivid crimson. A sad sight, much akin to every bit of roadkill passed by on the road, but with the available time to study and analyze the more brutal side of nature. As one with photographic proclivities is wont to do, I grabbed my camera to photograph the poor thing, and whilst framing low for this shot its mouth began to move and a shallow gurgle like a drowned cry sputtered forth, more from its neck than beak. It was not yet dead, but certainly working toward the end. A slow death, laying alone on the pavement behind my car on a rainy Friday morning.

I grabbed a small wad of tissues from my car, something soft with which to pick up and cover the poor bird while it tried to simply die. Delicately, I carried it to the front of my car, still trying to keep it out of the battering patter of rain, and tucked him in a concrete corner where he could pass without the continued agitation of the ravenous starlings. I kept my hand over his body to feel his struggling lungs, waiting for them to cease movement, bright red soaking through the tissues the whole time. After perhaps 15 minutes, assured that his transition to nothing was complete, I carried him out of the garage and set his body under a tree, preferring that he not rot on the asphalt and instead decompose more naturally, consumed by insects and otherwise decomposing where the nutrients of his carcass might feed the tree in a more dignified sort of fashion. I checked on the process of his decomposition over the next week to ensure no interruption, and today I am satisfied that he is, more or less, a part of that tree I cheerily study each morning (often on the hunt for "morning birds" to photograph before my trip into the office).

To a degree it sounds silly. I have no shortage of experience with the dead or dying, and most critically my experience "hunting" a bird certainly impacted me with more trauma. This is the way of nature, and it is not to be interrupted. Perhaps it was a symptom of "morning brain", not quite awake and rather influenced more heavily by emotional sways while the hard logic centers still kick back into gear to rationalize the experiences of the day. Regardless, my morning coddling this juvenile bird in his dying moments felt and continues to feel relevant, and its memory continues to hold influence on my day-to-day. Not relevant by virtue of consequence, but certainly a brief experience I don't suspect will soon be ejected from the litany of daily thoughts that cycle my conscious before bed each night.

Rest well, small bird friend.

Old Words (Still Relevant)

Note: I wrote the majority of this some time ago. It still resonates, but a large mass of the body text was lost and I can't remember for the life of me what it was that constituted the last bit of introspective pontification. Regardless, I'm posting this because it's been too long since publishing words.

Some days I don't know what I'm actually focused on.

Keeping in line with my arbitrary commitment to "self care" as this new year's resolution, I treated myself to something of a vanity item for my birthday (the big 3-0). Olympus' Pen-F, potentially the most hipster-attuned digital camera to come out since Fuji's original X100. Having been in the market for about a year, Olympus finally had some refurbished units at a decent enough discount to supercede my otherwise frugal gear-buying habits (well, perhaps less "frugal" and more "utilitarian"). It is no more and no less than exactly what I expected it to be - As comparable an imager as any current Micro Four-Thirds camera, with the subtle twist of a very fluid (and JPG centric) workflow. Essentially, it's exactly what the more spiritual side of the underlying artist in me needed, needs, and would do best not to forget.

I'm not going to deep dive into specifics or quantifiable analysis of the camera. Having fiddled about with so many different cameras by so many different manufacturers, they're all just goofy little boxes with expensive bits inside. While the Pen-F is just fine to hold, the E-M1 still fits my hands better. The differentiation comes back, as it always does, to abstracts of typical use cases, the "feeling" of the camera. I'll never be able to escape the emotional assignment of the E-M1 to work. The Pen-F is just the right amount of different in that regard. And with the fine controls available with the creative mode dial on the front of the camera body, it's a camera I want to shoot in JPG and never give a second thought to loading up RAW files in Lightroom. This is a camera that compels me to relax. To just do things absent elaborate considerations. In its use, I've felt closer than I ever have before to the mysterious zen state of legendary street photographers (primarily noted by a marked lack of giving a shit, so long as it felt right to take the photo... perfect hedonism).

With a smaller body back in play, I'm back to running around with a couple small primes once again, namely the 12mm f/2.0 (which is still soft in the corners after servicing), 17mm f/1.8, and 45mm f/1.8. Rob loaned me his Lumix 20mm f/1.7 II pancake, which is fun given my history I have using the original variant of that lens on the Panasonic GF1 back in 2011. Curiously, I've been heavily considering a mid-grade zoom such as the M. Zuiko 14-150mm f/4-5.6. As I type this, there's an M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-5.6 in my bag. Honestly, I don't much give a crap about ultimate lens sharpness or perfect optical corrections right now. I just want to enjoy taking pictures without fighting focal lengths juggling primes. It's certainly not like I'm preserving ultimate image quality after butchering an image in Lightroom or Snapseed as it is, so what's the damn point in all that crazy glass anyway?

I'm still doing photo work, the paid stuff. The business is actually on track to cross the $100K threshold this year, which is pretty good for 5 years invested part-time (at best). I'm just not going after things aggressively, chasing down leads and new clients. So long as I satisfy my current contracts and keep up good relationships with those repeat clients I already have... that's good enough for me right now. And I'm sure this is a valid ebb in the flow of creative work. Creativity, artistic expression, they aren't measurable resources that can be reliably, consistently, or constantly, extracted as applies to business use. Something so dearly tied to the emotional and spiritual epicenters of our individual being absolutely merits time to rest, recharge, and rebuild. Success can't be sustained in perpetual burnout. One can't will a car to win the race if it runs out of gas in the middle of the track.

So, in general, I don't entirely know for sure what I'm focused on right now, but that is rather the point. After 5 years of conditioning myself to be in a constant state of growth, this clouded frame of mind could be called withdrawal from rigidly enforced goals. This is a time for soul searching, personal redefinition, and gazing past the horizon as I figure out where I'd like to go next. It may turn out this road I'm on is just fine, but it's always important to survey.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Modern Narrative (Resistance)

Never in my wildest imaginings did I anticipate entering into an established sense of adulthood during a period so tumultuous as these times we live in today.


This is the Modern Narrative. That of myself, of an entire generation of young people. Having grown and matured in one of the most economically and intellectually fruitful periods of modern history, having attained a state of self-awareness not unilaterally shared amongst our peers and elders, we are trapped, consigned to a perpetual state of both inward and outward conflict as we protest the conservative inclinations and social regress both natural and typical of generational divides throughout history. Which is not a statement with intent to diminish the validity of that stalwart stand for social progress - Such endeavors have historically been, and will continue to be, critical to the betterment of our species.

It is an exhausting state of being, whether willing or unwilling. A configuration of daily existence I fear will prove untenable over a long enough timeline as we wither as people, submit to cynicism and lazy generalization as we tire. Yet we have no choice but to engage with it every day, exercising hyper-vigilance in defense of the social progress that has only ever made us the more free as a people. To engage with the (to us) antiquated human impulse to seek out an "Other", an artificial sub-being upon which we might elevate ourselves mere inches to complete foolish fantasies of being among giants.

I fear that all of us caught in the undertow of this age will pass far too early for wont of our collective stress. An entire generation, doomed to aneurysms as a consequence of the period to which they were born. Our lot in life was only ever doomed to perpetual decline... Yet we will still struggle against it, for hope those generations coming after may leapfrog us to an enviable state of Higher Being.

May our backs be a strong foundation upon which better people will stand.