Monthly Archives: March 2011


Building in reflected light.

Sometimes I wonder why I have any friends or family who still love me.

I literally left my sister-in-law (who I’m lucky if I see twice a year) sitting alone at a restaurant table, while I dashed out into the cold to take this photograph. I’d watched the two sources of reflected light move across the church’s exterior for an hour, in glimpses, in the background over her shoulder as we talked. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention to Annika, because really I was. But my eye kept getting snagged and finally I just gave up and asked her to forgive me while I ran to shoot the picture before it was gone.

You all know how I love the indirect, bounced light. This is the best of the few snaps I made before my lack of coat and embarrassment at abandoning my dining companion restored me to my senses.

I was going to come up with some kind of elaborate metaphor about light, shadows, and Plato’s Cave, but I’m still working on getting over a stomach bug and I don’t have the brain power for it. Suffice it to say: we can’t always see the source of the light, but when something is illuminated we know it must be there. The same is true of shadows; there are no shadows without the light.

A Year Ago: Monumental

Valley of Fire, NVIt was a day of dentistry and the unpacking of new technology…
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Two Views

Aloe-like plant.

I used to strongly prefer to make black & white photographs. There were several reasons for this.

The first was that, for me, black & white was the native language of the photograph as art. My photographic heroes all shot black & white. The once-removed level of abstraction provided by a monochromatic image could elevate it from mere document to aesthetic object. Qualities of composition and light became more salient.

Secondly, black & white film was more affordable. And in the pre-digital era, that mattered a lot.

Thirdly, you could fairly easily develop and print your own black & white images. Color was a lot more finicky, complicated, and expensive. Very few people developed their own color negatives or transparencies. If you wanted creative control in the portion of the process we now call “post,” you shot black & white.

And finally, often the product of color photography was ugly. Good quality color reproduction was relatively rare and (yes) expensive.

The result of this was that for years, when I held a camera in my hands, I saw the world in black & white. I knew how to look for images that would be effective in black & white; I knew how to think ahead to the development and printing stage and adjust exposure for the effect I wanted. Black & white was the default.

Today, this photograph is a derivative product. I do not go around looking at the world through a mental black & white filter. It is only very rarely that I set out to make a photograph intending for it to be rendered in black & white.

For the most part, I think and compose in color now. Occasionally, when I get back to my digital darkroom, I see that a photograph will work well in black & white. But, with few exceptions, that’s an after-thought.

I’m going to try to remind myself to apply the mental black & white filter when I’m out shooting. There are frames I’m not looking for or capturing because I no longer think that way. Black & white film had its own intrinsic beauties, but digital black & white can be lovely as well and it seems a shame to relegate it to second-class citizenship.

For comparison purposes, here’s the color version of today’s picture. I like it too. Which do you prefer?

Aloe-like plant.

A Year Ago: In An Unusual Light

Walking Shopper (male)I haven’t done much photographing of people in a long, long time…
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Father, Son, Waiter

Young boy.

It was the boy who caught my eye first. Small and slight, but with a gentle, wiry intensity and an air of upbeat curiosity. Annika and I were seated at the next table over, but she was temporarily away and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a picture.

Then I noticed the father, who was so obviously the template for the child that I had to have a picture of him too.


No trinity is complete without its Holy Ghost, and I found mine in a crisp white shirt, explaining the specials to the family.


I rather regret I didn’t get a picture of Mother Mary to round out my collection.

Just a couple of quick technical observations. These pictures were all taken with the 45mm Macro-Elmarit, wide open, at 1/100 sec. They are, to my surprise, tack sharp through their (admittedly shallow) depth of field. The diffuse northern light in my section of the restaurant was particularly congenial, and the color reproduction is nothing short of perfection.

These pictures once again remind me how much I enjoy photographing people.

A Year Ago: Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire: ArchThis location will surely reward multiple visits…
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You Could Be Dancing, Yeah!

Girls posing on the beach, Captiva, FL

Charlize the Heron (seen in background in this shot) was not the only bathing beauty that evening. These two girls were hanging out and—in the familiar dance of adolescence—alternating between unselfconscious play and totally contrived performance.

A Year Ago: Valley of Fire

Fire Canyon MoonriseWe stayed until sunset. A nearly full moon was rising in the East…
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New cherry blossoms with Washington Monument in background.

So I had this clever plan: go to Florida in mid-March, spend a wonderful week in the warm sunshine, and come back to SPRING in DC. The first part went great. The second? Not so much.

There are flowers in bloom. It sort of looks like spring. But it’s cold and much grayer than it needs to be.

So that first picture is about hope and disappointment, and it’s not just about the weather. I’m not so thrilled with my government right now: full of promise and bold ideals — both originally and today — but stumbling in execution and wavering in perseverance.

Cherry branch and blossoming trees, Tidal Basin, Washington, DC

The French have a problematic description, “jolie laide (literally: pretty ugly-girl),” for women who are not conventionally pretty (who may, in fact, not be pretty at all by conventional standards) but are attractive nonetheless. While the term may include some condescension, and of course inherently underscores the troubling importance of being beautiful or attractive to begin with, it has some charms as well. The Jolie Laide frequently has attributes of style and personality that combine with her quirky appearance to create a persona that is unexpectedly more than the sum of its parts.

All of which is a long-winded introduction to the second picture, which I consider something of a jolie-laide. It’s certainly not a conventional cherry-blossom beauty shot.

Cherry Blossoms, Washington Monument, DC

By contrast, this picture is conventional. This is what you expect from a Cherry Blossom/Tidal Basin picture (although it could be a tad brighter and sunnier, don’t you think?). There’s nothing remarkable about it, it’s nice and ordinary. Having been brought up to be a world-class aesthetic snob, I have to remind myself that its okay to be nice and ordinary sometimes. Clichés are clichés for a reason: they work for most people, most of the time.

A Year Ago: Valley of Fire

Rock in Valley of Fire, NVI spent a wonderful couple of hours wandering around this state park…
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What Bird?

Egret, Ft. Myers, FL

Bird? What bird? Nothin’ here but us bamboo.

One of these things is not like the others, despite doing its best to hold vewwwy, vewwwy still, and make like a plant.

A Year Ago: Disorientation

Ice Cream ShopI continue to be wobbly and a little woozy…
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I was consistently blown away by the performance of my inexpensive Lumix G Vario 45-200 f/4.0-5.6 zoom. (All the photos in yesterday’s post and of Charlize the Heron were taken with it. All were handheld.) The image stabilization in that lens is fantastic, in stark contrast to the completely ineffectual version in the 45mm Leica Macro-Elmarit.

The two lenses are entirely different creatures. I imagine that parents with two children who have wildly different personalities are similarly bemused: I love them both madly, although some days the qualities of one are more appealing to me than the other.

Truly, I have no regrets at having both. Together with the kit 20mm pancake, they make a pretty comprehensive set of lenses for the kinds of pictures I like to make (remember to multiply the focal length x 2 for 35mm equivalents). I don’t have a wide-angle lens, but that’s okay. I learned years ago that I simply don’t see the world in wide-angle; I have rarely wished I had a wider-angle lens in my bag. These days, on those few occasions I do, I’ll just shoot enough pictures to put together a panorama in software.

A Year Ago: Confusing Passage

Self-portrait in distorting columnI’m in Las Vegas and I’ve been feeling unwell for a couple of days…
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Bird at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL

I almost didn’t see this bird, picking its away across a surface of water plants and stabbing the occasional lunchtime morsel with its sharp blue beak.

I also nearly missed this one:

Bird at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL

And this one:

Bird at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL

And what a shame it would have been to have overlooked this [A MUST-ENLARGE]:

Baby crocodiles on mother's back at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL

Or this:

Snake at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL

…Or any of a multitude of other rather wonderful creatures and landscapes.

I used to travel by myself, for the most part. I enjoyed the freedom, spontaneity, and adventure of being out on one’s own, with no need to consult or coordinate day-to-day plans. But I’ve learned there are some advantages to traveling with a companion.

I wouldn’t have visited the Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary if I hadn’t been traveling with Bob. We’d picked up a brochure for the spot, along with a half-dozen others, in our hotel lobby. When we visited Naples with my aunt, we drove past the exit that headed there.

On our last day in Florida, we were supposed to head straight to Tampa, but there was something in the way that Bob had mentioned this spot that made me realize he was quite interested in it. I was reluctant because it was an hour in the wrong direction, which meant adding 2 hours to my driving that day. But since we’d been hewing pretty closely to my agenda all week, I thought it only fair to do something prompted primarily by him.

All I can say is, if you find yourself in the vicinity of Corkscrew Swamp, I highly recommend a visit, even if you have to go a couple of hours out of your way.

A Year Ago: Amphitheater

Amphitheatre at Arlington National CemetaryI’m traveling for a week or so…
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Modern St. Pete

High-rise through kapok tree branches.

This is one of St. Petersburg’s few modern high-rises seen through the flowering branches of a 90-year-old kapok tree. I liked St. Pete a lot; it has a very laid back vibe. The town seems to have fallen on relatively hard times, though. Despite it being prime tourist season, the many little restaurants and boutiques of Central Ave. (the town’s main drag) were closed or devoid of shoppers. There were a lot of vacant storefronts and the downtown appeared unkept and neglected.

My only real complaint, such as it is, about my Florida trip was the lack of really good food. I ate absolutely nothing that I would consider exceptionally interesting or delicious. And some of it went well beyond mediocre to downright bad. I am probably spoiled by the much better than average culinary offerings of the DC area, and I’m sure there are good quality eateries to be found somewhere on the Gulf Coast. I hope if I go back to the area again that I find them.

That said, if I were forced to choose between a perpetual combination of great weather and mediocre food or crappy weather and great food I would pick the first in a heartbeat.

A Year Ago: Grain and Flakes

Locked door, peeling paintTwo different distressed surfaces, and some metal…
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About the Gallery

I’ve now updated the Gallery to include the Florida pictures.

You all do know that you can click on most pictures in a post to see them larger, right? (I believe the technical term is “embiggen.”) The ones I like end up in the Gallery.

I’m also in the process of redoing the Gallery so that it will be easier to navigate. Unfortunately, I suspect it’ll take another month to get it all done, as I’m having to go back into the archive and reprocess a whole bunch of earlier pictures.