I have started a new job, one that I’m genuinely happy to be endeavoring on. Of course, this means changes to my routine, and every routine change prompts me to think about what is important in my life. Because I have so many interests, I have to figure out how much time I’m going to devote to them, although these choices aren’t usually consciously made. That’s…a problem, actually.
Photography is one of my interests, but it’s not the only one. I tend to take on very demanding goals when I pursue a hobby, and taking pictures is full of those types of goals. So is writing. So is running. Lately, photography is where I’ve made the most headway. On the one hand, this is a good thing in light of next year’s plans. On the other hand, this headway is coming at the cost of slacking in my other interests.
I entered Adoramapix’s Your Best Shot 2015 contest and (surprisingly) got into the Top 100 with a shot that I didn’t hold in super high regard. In previous years, I’ve made my initial selections and then asked for feedback from people on my Facebook friends list. This time around, I hard some major difficult in whittling it down to less than 10 photos. I called upon a couple of photo-happy friends to narrow down a 30 photo list before I presented the selections to people on Facebook. They listed their top ten picks, and I grabbed the photo names that appeared on both lists. The results surprised me.
In previous years, I’ve gone with close-ups of flowers or machines in bright sunlight. These subjects have become my wheelhouses, if you will. What I found safe and appealing, though, was not unanimously liked by my photographer friends. Though close ups were still dominant in the selections, the lighting and subjects all vastly differed from each other. In that mix was an ultralow light shot I snagged in the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum in January 2014. I still need to blog about that visit, but the point is one of those shots appeared on both lists. It was also near the top, to boot. I ended up selecting six photos to share on Facebook for more general feedback. While three of them were well liked, that railroad museum shot quickly became a favorite. Even though the ISO was jacked so high that noise was a bit of a problem, I decided to go with the feedback and enter that photo.
What you see there is my entry, and that photo has gotten further than anything I’ve entered in a photo competition (and a national one, to boot). For me, it was a huge risk. I had no choice but to edit it to reduce the noise, but I made sure I spent no more than ten minutes making noise reduction/color corrections. While I didn’t get any further, it showed me I have reached a major point in my photography evolution. I have shown I can hold my own in photography competitions (even with a lower end DSLR and a kit lens). There is still plenty to learn, but I now see that I just might have a chance to make something of all the photography work I’ve done throughout the years.
At this point, the question becomes what do I do in terms of going further with photography and entering competitions? Do I want to try to diversify my subjects to get further in competition? Diversification in subjects is going to mean practicing people photography more frequently. I’m kind of doing this with sports photography so my Olympics photos look at least halfway decent. At its core, though, art (and photography) centers on triggering emotional responses, which is easier to do on a large scale with photos of people. As someone who is autistic, that is incredibly challenging. Hiking through ice caves with 50 pounds of gear sounds blissful compared to photographing other people. Portraits are not necessarily a strong point for me, and I’m not sure how much I can bring myself to practice that, anyhow. Street photography is more suited to my spontaneous approach to photography, but not having a solid grasp on the legal implications makes that a bit tough to swallow at the moment.
My instinct is to improve from a technical standpoint. This means seeking out more challenging lighting situations, such as nights, sunrises/sunsets, action in low light, and lots of other scenarios. It also means more gear grappling. I’ll probably need to bring my tripod around more as well as invest in a a remote shutter release device. I’ve already started pricing out the latter, but getting in the habit of juggling the former is going to take time. I’m not used to it. On top of that, figuring out how well that all works with an older Tamron lens is going to be an annoyance for the ages. I will most likely have to break down and buy at least one new Nikon lens to resolve the autofocus compatibility issues I’m having. Right now, my reflexes are not quick enough to execute manual focus on action shots (although I have been trying my hand at that lately with somewhat mixed results).
I have goals, and I know what needs work. That’s about the easiest part of determining what to do abot photography in the short and semi-long term. The question is what I ought to be doing with a schedule that is getting increasingly intense. I am motivated to bring my mile time down, and the training needed will be longer and more intense in the next few months. Work is also going to be a very long learning process (although it feels strangely okay right now). With writing, I have a novel project planned since I don’t have a full novel to my name. That’s about the only thing I haven’t done writing-wise. It looks like photography may have to kick back a little bit in 2015. That almost makes sense considering how much time I devoted to it last year and will be devoting to it next year. I just hope I can maintain the skills I have.
When I do my Minnesota State Fair recaps on Writing.com, I title the entries with a fair related pun. I’ve decided to try that out on this blog as well. I’m not sure if I’ll do so from here on out. Only time will tell on that one.
While we ate less and walked around more this year, one thing that was consistent was photography. Even when I started feeling a bit under the weather, I still felt good enough to take pictures. I’m actually pretty proud of what I’ve done, especially when it comes to the livestock photos (the bread and butter of this entry).
The early closure of the livestock barns forced my husband and me to visit the animals earlier than usual. This worked out pretty well for lighting, even in the super dark Moo Booth. Seriously, I use the term lighting very loosely there. The animals were in the process of being moooved out (hehheh), but they were still in great poses for photography. The pigs were sleepy, but the goats and sheep were happy to get attention. Likewise, with the sun being higher, the skylights were actually worth something during our visit. While Rigoberto is pretty good in low light, I don’t yet have an f/1.8 lens to really work in such conditions. My kit lens and I didn’t have to work as hard since the sun was in a better position. The skylights helped diffuse the light, to boot, which it turns out is just ad effective on animal portraits as it is for humans. I prefer photographing animals, though. They’re less self conscious, which makes it easier for me to work it out there.
Speaking of portraits, I’m surprised at how many photos I have utilize portrait orientation. I think part of it stems from the lens. On Cameron, the telephoto lens was narrow enough to poke through some of the cages, so landscape orientation was possible even on tight shots. Since Rigoberto’s kit lens is wider even at its highest zoom, I had to turn the camera in order to get a shot relatively free of obstructions. I don’t know how well this would work on other lenses. I’m considering renting a telephoto lens for my upcoming trip to Vancouver, so I might test this theory when that happens. In any case, vertical pictures have taken over my selections for the state fair. You can see it here now and also in part two. 🙂
Summer is winding down, kids are going back to school, and I’m finally going back to work! Madness, right? Well, in celebration of that fact, I’m going to showcase the photos I’ve taken over the last few months while I was wandering the metro area. I did find ways to do a lot for very little cost.
Thanks to memberships at the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Historical Society, I can visit a bunch of local attractions for free. On top of that, there are attractions and events throughout the Twin Cities area that are free for everyone, such as Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. I also went to a special Greyhound exhibit near the Mall of America and snapped photos at free concerts. Throughout all these comings and goings, I had the chance to see a variety of designs and lighting scenarios. It certainly wasn’t as active or epic in scope as my last couple summers have been, but I was able to do a lot of things. I also got quite a few photos in the past. On that note, enjoy this smörgåsbord of photographic offerings! 🙂
Are you ready for some more fair photos? Of course you are! If you’re in Minnesota and debating on going, I have a few (visual) reasons as to why you should at least consider attending.
The fair may be all about food, but it’s also cool to see the raw ingredients for meals as well. The vegetable area certainly whets my appetite. 🙂 Beyond that, there are plenty of other carbon-based lifeforms that are worth a visit. They’re not all in the ag-hor building, to boot! The last few years we’ve seen the bonsai and orchid exhibitions, and I saw a bunch of African Violets the first year I attended the fair. I’m hoping to see them again for a couple reasons. One, I’d like to have another chance to photograph them. Two, they remind me of my aunt. She cared for African Violets when I visited her during my childhood, and I remember my first greenhouse visit being to pick up some of those plants. Outside of plants, I did get a few photos of the animalia kingdom that I felt were worth sharing. Hopefully going earlier in the day on Labor Day will provide me more animal photography opportunities and a chance to capture the fair in a different light. I can’t wait to go!
Once upon a time, photography was a waiting game. After you clicked the shutter and removed the exposed film from your camera, each step to get to seeing the end result required patience. You’d have to wait for the developer and fixer to prepare the negatives for printing. The prints themselves took time as well. If you weren’t able to do this yourself for whatever reason, you’d need to send the film off to a lab. That could take up to a week or more, depending on the lab you selected. While I’m young enough to adapt to various new electronics with ease, I’m also old enough to remember sending my film off to a lab. Gotta love being born in the mid-80s!
I started thinking about this after reading a post about one woman’s memories of the photographers in her life and her dabbling in the craft. While I didn’t grow with darkroom enthusiasts nearby, I do have some darkroom experience. When I was in fifth grade, I did an experiment comparing the effectiveness of suntan lotions and sunblocks. Given that I grew up in Florida, this seems like a perfectly reasonable science fair project. 😛 Anyway, to control for differences in melanin, I used black and white photo paper. I slid a sheet of paper in a clear plastic report folder that had four taped sections. I applied the sun lotions to separate quadrants and set the folder in the front yard for an hour or so to get some sunlight. Once that was done, I brought the paper in the house for development. I was in fifth grade at the time, so I was allowed to do some of development work. The thing is, we never obtained the light bulb needed for darkroom work, which meant I was truly in the dark. The reason we didn’t get the bulb was because we converted the guest bathroom (my bathroom) into a darkroom for this project. I set everything up and stuffed a couple towels in the bottom of the door to ensure no light came in to muck up my prints. It had been a real chore getting all the chemicals and photo paper, but we did get all the materials. Keep in mind this was back in the mid 90s, and I lived in a small town. I’m surprised there was even a photography store that had everything in stock. Armed with fixer, developer, rinses and bins, I set to work developing my sun exposed science project prints. They turned out pretty well, and it certainly got the attention of my classmates come time for the science fair. I don’t know what happened to those prints. I kind of wish I still had them.
The point of that story is I know how to wait. Having put my hands in the developing chemicals at a fairly young age (before I even started taking my own pictures) gave me a chance to understand the processes photographers have gone through many, many times. It’s not a quick process, especially when you’re doing all the processing yourself. When I started taking my own photos in my teens, it was back to the waiting game. I’d take my disposable cameras and APS canisters to Publix and later Walgreens so they could send it to their offsite labs (as many outlets with in-house processing lacked APS capabilities for the first couple years). That involved waiting a week or so for my photos. This was especially annoying when I was 15 and took nearly 100 photos for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Since my family bought the film, I did not get the negatives back and barely had a chance to look at the prints before handing them over. I had only been taking pictures even halfway seriously for a year at the most, so that waiting game was kind of annoying. It got a little better once I got out of high school and got a job in a photo lab. I’d still opt for next day service since it was cheaper, but I got to look at my photos right away. It was a good time. 🙂
Along the way, film gave way to digital, both for my personal endeavors and throughout the photography world. This wasn’t an instant catalyst to instant photos, but the wait time shrunk significantly. For those who embraced digital right away, there was still a need to visit a photo lab and stick your memory card in the appropriate slot. Then you’d go through and select the prints you wanted (not to mention making edits). While you could get your prints within an hour at most, those kiosk areas got crowded and a little unsafe for others in the store. Half the time, if I was helping someone at a kiosk I had to also play traffic cop to ensure nobody got hurt. I left the photo lab in 2005, but since I still took pictures, I kept tabs on what changes developed (heh). I was making photo CDs of my digital pictures pretty regularly, so I could see when the commonly used equipment started to shift from cameras to phones. It’s fairly recent, all things considered. Even when the first iPhone rolled out in 2007, people were really relying on their separate camera photos up until 2009-2010. That’s when the shift to cell phone cameras began. It didn’t really pick up for another year after that, but now everything is available instantaneously.
How do I feel about it? I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I can appreciate having something more readily available and not requiring extensive processing. This can be especially useful in the wake of disasters, crimes, or other events that would benefit from real time photography. On the other hand, I’m dismayed at how having photo editing software in smart phones is making everyone think they can take pictures. Even though I’m a photographer, you couldn’t pay me $80 billion to set up an account on Instagram. It’s all not my aesthetic, but that’s mostly because I’m not up for filtering my photos to an oblivion. Some people may complain about snotty attitudes from some photographers regarding what constitutes “real photography”, but I can understand why some people who have extensively practiced the craft get upset. When I worked in the photo lab, I saw a lot of things that could go wrong with taking pictures. While it’s not as likely to see the finger in the lens mistake these days, camera shake is still a problem with any form of camera, and completely out-of-focus have diddly to do with art. It looks like a drunk person’s point of view, at least from where I’m sitting. I could go on about all the various basic things I’ve seen people do that they think is cool but is not going to be taken seriously by anyone with even a passing interest in the craft. I acknowledge that even with taking pictures for just about half my life now there are still things I can do to improve. The thing that bothers me the most about the instantaneous nature of photography these days is that the speed of the process tends to obscure the weak points in a photographer’s craft, thus hindering improvement and progress.
On that note, enjoy some photos I took at Blank Park Zoo way back in April! Since the weather was rainy when I went, I’d like to go back in more pleasant conditions (and with a longer lens). It was a good time.
As the weather takes its time warming up in Minneapolis, I have been doing a bit of spring cleaning in my photography world. I’m coming to find that even in the winter months there was a great deal of vibrancy in my photos. That’s kind of ironic given my emotional state over being fired and struggling with money for a while. In any case, when I have been taking photos, plants and animals have been my main subjects (although it was mostly animals for a while). Funny how that works.
Let’s be fair. When you’re on a budget like I’ve been these days, you’re going to seek out places that don’t charge much for admission (if they even charge at all). So I decided one day to take a break from job hunting and go to the Como Park Zoo. I figured since I’ve been there before numerous times it would be a good place to take Rigoberto. With it still being cold, damp and gray, my colors were tempered a bit. That’s okay, though. It meant I could practice indoors a little more, something I’ve come to enjoy since getting a DSLR. That being said, I wasn’t completely happy with my results. I rushed a bit to avoid having to pay rush hour fares, which meant I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted taking pictures. I intend to go back to Como Park with Rigoberto to get more photos to compare my camera handling skills over a period of time. We’ll see how that pans out.
As I mentioned, I went to the Minnesota Zoo twice in the last few months. My husband and I are both members, so we get free admission. I also like taking pictures of animals, as it’s less stressful for me in spite of the unpredictability of an animal’s movements. I’ve also felt a stronger affinity to animals than to people. I even wanted to be a veterinarian when I was a child. Because of all the familiarity involved (both with the subject and the location), I decided this would be a good time to test out my new D5100 (Rigoberto; he will get his own entry very soon). So how did that go?
Overall it was successful. The biggest takeaway I got was that I needed a better zoom lens option. I’d gotten so used to Cameron’s zoom capabilities that shifting to a kit lens was a real shock to the system. I have two longer lenses in mind but will need to wait to purchase them until I get a job. In the meantime, I’ve taken the time explore Rigoberto’s capabilities. The ISO range is not only wider but much better at handling noise. With Cameron, even going up to 1600 was something I avoided doing due to the noise involved. With Rigoberto, 1600 is a breeze. I’ve even shot at ISO 3200 with good results. I’ll have to show that in a future entry, as I didn’t have a reason to jack the ISO that high during my zoo visit. 1600 was the highest I needed to go. I will say that the one thing I still haven’t gotten used to is adjusting the aperture. I’m used to Cameron’s system, which involved selecting aperture in the shooting menu and then turning the dial. I could only go to f/8, to boot. Now I have at least f/18 at my disposal, but I didn’t have to go quite that small since the lighting was subdued both inside and out.
Enough of that rambling. Have some animal pictures! The zoo’s critters decided that 14 degrees was party weather (for December in Minnesota) and ended up being quite active when we were there.