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Photos of General Interest

World Wide Photowalk 2016

September 4, 2016  |  General Interest

Adobe Spark (3)

I suddenly just realized that I hadn’t actually blogged about anything in a very, very long time. So, to celebrate my return, I’m announcing that I’ll be hosting the Tyler, Texas, walk during Scott Kelby’s annual World Wide Photowalk. We had a great time walking in Downtown Tyler last year and are hoping to continue the fun this year at Tyler State Park. To join us, you can find the details and sign up by going to the site for the walk here. If you’ve never been to Tyler State Park, click here to see some of my photos from previous visits.

Hope to see you there!


A Personal Photography History

April 13, 2014  |  General Interest

Someone asked me the other day about how I got into photography. I thought about it for a moment and then gave them the TL;DR version, but I thought that the long version might be interesting to write down just for my own enjoyment and as a memory exercise.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly-photography obsessed household. If anything, we were “snapshot” people with maybe a side of occasional “photography”. My father had a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm lens that got lugged on family vacations, trips to visit relatives and various social gatherings, but rarely was his lens focused on anything in an artistic sense.

Minolta SRT-101

It’s funny how these familial snapshots are the most-treasured photos of our family archive. There are shots from family reunions, trips to float the Frio River, Austin, Hot Springs, Disney World, San Antonio, my grandparents holding my brother as a newborn, our poodle at the beach and even my mom, who hated to be photographed, in the driver’s seat of my dad’s company car. (As a side note, it’s weird to go look at these photos of my parents and realized that in most of them, they were younger than I am now).

Some of my father’s photos taken with the SRT-101

My first camera was a Kodak Kodamatic instant camera that I received as either a Christmas present or a birthday present in 1985 (the curse of having a birthday in December is that gifts run together as to whether they were of the birthday variety or the holiday variety). This was Kodak’s attempt to copy/better Polaroid with their own instant camera, but its life was short-lived…Polaroid sued Kodak for patent infringement and won. By the end of 1986, the film was off the market, relegating the camera to the dustbin as a historical footnote. I wish that I still had some of the photos I took with this camera, but the truth is, I most-likely didn’t take that many. The film was expensive, so convincing my parents to buy a pack or two for me rarely happened. I imagine that any photos I took were of toys or my mom turning away from the lens so as to not be photographed.

From that time until my junior year in high school, I have vague memories of various cheap point and shoots, including a Kodak 110 camera that my mother had won in a contest (and, embarrassingly, in the misfortunate Eighties color scheme of grey and pastel pink). We never bought into disc film, but I knew people that had. It always seemed like an odd format to me, and from what I remember, the photos were even worse than the crap pumped out by my 110 camera.

In my Junior year of high school, I found myself on the yearbook staff, as it seemed like a good way to use my study period rather than sitting in a room looking at mind-numbing chemistry or biology books. Our advisor, and oddball eccentric Latin teacher (but, then again, aren’t all Latin teachers a bit oddball?) named Mr. Jones got me interested in photography by showing me how to develop my own film and make prints in the darkroom. Side note: I’m certain that now, twenty-something years later, an oddball Latin teacher locked up in a darkroom with a student for hours-on-end would raise more than a few eyebrows and would probably not be allowed, but times were simpler then and people were more trustworthy.

Borrowing my father’s old SRT-101 with its 50mm and a cheap Vivitar zoom lens, I would take my photos for the yearbook, carry the film to the darkroom, load the reels and put them in the tank and let the D-76 do its work. After fixing and washing the negatives, I’d inspect them as they hung to dry, wondering which shots turned out best. After a while, I became skilled enough to mentally invert the image on the negative and was able to determine with fair accuracy the best shots before I even made a contact sheet.

By default, I became lead photography/editor for the yearbook my senior year. I augmented my commandeered SRT-101 with a new grey-market Minolta 3xi with a kit lens, purchased from Abe’s of Maine (via phone call, as this was before the Web and eCommerce and Amazon Prime). We had a new yearbook advisor who happened to be a close family friend and was enthusiastic about photography. He augmented our meager darkroom with new equipment, including a better enlarger, a proper lightsafe for our paper (no more keeping it inside its envelope on a shelf!), a bulk-loader and various other odds-and-ends. He also, out of his own pocket, make sure we had plenty of paper and bulk rolls of film. We’d load our own film cartridges and quickly discovered that you could load roughly twice as much film onto a roll than what was standard, so instead of carrying maybe 10 rolls of 36 exposures to an event, we’d just carry 5 of roughly 70 exposures, which saved time as we didn’t have to reload as often. The one problem with this approach was that you’d have to cut the length of exposed film at roughly the midpoint in order to fit it on the developing reel, so it was always a crapshoot as to whether you’d cut a particulary-great or important frame in half. And, about 75% of the time, it was a great shot that you’d end up with half of on one strip of negatives and the other half on the second strip.

We’d print our photos on 4×5 paper cut down from 8×10 sheets (to this day, I can still remember the smell of Dektol permeating everything in the poorly-ventilated darkroom of our high school). There was something magical about watching the image appear as the paper soaked under the red safelight…something that younger photographers who’ve only ever experienced digital have missed out on.

I still have all of the contact sheets and negatives from my Senior yearbook. I’ve scanned some of them and hope to eventually complete the entire lot, but it’s been slow-going and not a huge priority, as I’ve also taken up the task of scanning ever single negative that I could find at my parents’ house. This includes all of those snapshots mentioned above as well as hundreds of slides from my grandparents’ various travels to such places as Europe and Alaska.

A couple of scanned slides from my grandparents’ travels to Paris.

After high school, I went off the college and stopped doing photography for a few years. I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to “waste” money on film or developing as I didn’t have access to a darkroom. However, during my Junior year, I took a photojournalism class and this granted me access to the magical darkroom once again. I broke out my 3xi and started taking photos for class, as well as making new prints of treasured photos from high school.

This is also where I first got to use an early version of Photoshop, digitally touching up photos scanned with an early Nikon Coolscan. The primitive, by today’s standards, tools in that ancient version of Photoshop were still miles ahead and easier-to-use than using a fine-pointed brush and ink to correct dust spots and negative scratches as we’d had to do when I was in high school. Not to mention being able to correct color or levels instantaneously. I still use a lot of the Photoshop skills I learned almost twenty years ago to this day, correcting my digital “negatives” in much the same way.

Alas, that photojournalism class only lasted a semester and once it was over, I was without access to a darkroom and once again couldn’t justify spending money on film and developing once again. So I just stopped taking photos and went on with my life, graduating and starting a career. Though, all the while, I kept telling myself “One day, I’ll build a home darkroom and start photography again”.

But as time wore on, I never got around to it. Then, one day I was visiting my parents and my dad showed my his new “toy”. It was an early Olympus Camedia digital camera. It was 2.1 megapixels and stored its tiny (by today’s standards) image files on the now-obsolete SmartMedia cards. Having just carried my 3xi to Toronto for a long weekend and paid for several rolls of film to be developed from that trip, I appreciated its relatively-small size and the fact that you could just plug it into the computer and pull your files over. Who cared if the color was weird and the resolution a bit on the small side? So, for my next trip to Toronto, a year later, I borrowed it and was pleased with the portability and the images.

In 2005, I broke down and bought a Olympus Stylus 600 point-and-shoot, which, although only 6 megapixels, served me well for a couple of years, accompanying me yet again to Toronto and to Las Vegas and to various gatherings. It was the ease of using this camera without having to buy film and get it developed to enjoy my photos that reignited my love for photography.

So, in 2007, I bought my first dSLR, the Canon 400D/Rebel XTi (no doubt the first camera for a lot of people). In August that year, I started my photoblog (and have posted a new photo everyday since then). In 2009, I bought a Canon Powershot S90 to be a “daily carry” type camera. This little camera, though now somewhat-dated, is a powerhouse. Full manual controls, little shutter-lag and the ability to output Raw files has ensured that I still use it on occasion to this day, almost five years later. In 2011, I retired my XTi for a 60D, which I supplemented with a Fujifilm x100 in 2012. Then, in 2013, after having, within the span of a few months, lugged my gripped 60D with heavy L lenses to Jamaica, Canada, Grand Cayman, Alaska and Mexico, I decided it was time to look into a mirrorless system. Having been pleased with the x100, but feeling limited by its fixed focal length, I looked at both Micro Four-Thirds and Fujifilm’s X-mount systems. I eventually decided on Micro Four-Thirds with the Panasonic Lumix G6, despite its smaller sensor, simply because there were more lenses available in the system and lingering doubts about Adobe’s ability to properly render xTrans raw files in Lightroom (though I’ve been kind of drooling over the x-T1 since it was released).

Which brings us to today. I’m still blogging new photos daily, but I’ve also been shooting a lot of those “snapshot”-style photos (my nephews or our dog, Winston), with my iPhone 5S. The camera on this phone is stunningly good and I’ve been using it to post to Instagram fairly often. Will an iPhone ever replace my cameras? Probably not, but you never know what the future holds.

 

 


Size Comparison: Allure of the Seas vs. RMS Titanic

May 18, 2013  |  General Interest Other

A couple of days ago, my featured photo on 75Central.Com was an abstract detail of Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas‘ port-side balconies:

Honeycomb

In the description, I noted that this ship is the largest passenger vessel ever constructed (1,187 feet long and ~225,000 GT).  After posting this, I started wondering how that compared to the RMS Titanic, which was launched roughly 99 years before the Allure and was, at that time, the largest passenger vessel ever built.  Lucky for me, others have already done the comparison and I was able to find this somewhat mind-blowing graphic online:

titanic-vs-allure

Someone even put together this more direct comparison (though a quick comparison of Allure’s 154-foot beam with Titanic‘s 92-foot beam puts this into “questionable” territory) :

aaatitanic

As for my own visual comparison, here’s a shot I recently took of the Allure sharing a dock in Cozumel with her fleetmate Mariner of the Seas (beam: 126 feet):

In Cozumel



Second Guessing

August 15, 2011  |  General Interest Site-related Technique

Sometimes (by which I mean, honestly, “a lot of times”), I second-guess the photo I’ve chosen for a particular day on the photoblog.  I usually post the next day’s photo the night before, queuing up several days if I’m going to be busy or out of town, choosing a photo that I think–at the time–has interesting composition and subject matter and looks great.  But then, sometime the next day or week or even  month–I’ll look at the photo and be like “what the hell was I thinking?”.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I catch my mistaken choice too late, once the photo has been published.  And, since I’m not a fan of rewriting history, I let it stand and make myself promise to do better next time.

Only rarely do I get a chance to fix my mistake before it’s “too late”.  Take last night, for instance.  I’d planned on going out to the roof of our parking garage late so that I could try to get some decent shots of the Moon while it was full and, for the first time in a few days, the skies were clear (or at least what passes for clear in Dallas-Fort Worth).  Knowing that I’d be up late shooting, I decided to go ahead and get a photo posted.  I’d traveled to Fort Worth on Saturday and had wandered around downtown there, taking photos like you do.  I noticed that Tarrant County was in the process of remodeling the clock tower on their courthouse, so I took a few frames from the roof of a parking garage several blocks away, unsure of how usable they’d be backlit against the stormy grey sky.  So, then, last night, I was surprised to find that they had a nice silhouetted effect that brought out the intricate details of the construction scaffolding and proceeded to choose one to process and post.  Unfortunately, in my haste, I chose poorly.  The frame I chose showed the scaffold on the left side and a crane on the right.  At the time, I think my thoughts were that these two subjects–while not traditionally composed–would balance each other out and make for an interesting comparison between the pieces of scaffold and the framework of the crane.  So I posted it.

And went about my business.  I shot the Moon. Came inside, showered off the humidity and downloaded and reviewed my Moon shots.  Then went to bed, reading some of my favorite photo-related sites and forums on my iPad.  Then I started to fall asleep.  And, as I lay there about to succumb to the Sleep Monster, it suddenly occurred to me “I’m about to publish a crap photo”.  So I leaped out of bed to my computer and chose another photo that was basically the same as the one I’d chosen, but used a strong centered composition–something one normally avoids but I think works well in this situaation–that focused on the clock tower scaffolds alone.  Processed and published, I went to bed.

And, now, almost 9 hours later, I’m still happy with my choice.  Here’s the photo I ended up posting on the photoblog:

 

And here’s the misfortunate first choice:

So, did I make the right choice?

The point being, never be afraid to second-guess yourself.  Oftentimes, our first instincts aren’t the right ones, despite what conventional wisdom says.


How Big Is ________?

July 11, 2011  |  General Interest Other

I was going over photos from our latest Vegas trip the other night, pondering on how I never seem to make it to every place I want to go when I’m out there in the desert and how I always think “I’ll make it there next time”, then never do.  Part of the problem with trying to make it everywhere you want to go in Vegas is the sheer  size of The Strip, which is where we usually confine ourselves to while visiting the gambling Mecca.

Anyone whose ever been to Las Vegas knows that everything is further than you think it is.  The size of the hotels are deceiving…more than once a day do you think “Oh, The Wynn?  It’s just right there”, then end up walking 45 minutes to actually get “there”. People forget that, because of the way the land was platted back in the day, the largest resorts occupy a full block.  And a full block on Las Vegas Boulevard fronts a quarter mile along the road.

Since the largest of the resorts have over 3,000 rooms, everything is outsized, though you have to give the architects credit in using optical trickery to try to bring everything down to a human scale on some of the buildings.  For instance, The Bellagio has 3,933 rooms, most of which are in its main tower:

Image by Gabriel Millos

Image by Gabriel Millos - http://www.flickr.com/photos/29198100@N00/97065919/in/photostream/

Now, count the floors.  I came up with roughly sixteen.  Not that big, eh?  Wrong.  It’s actually 32 stories tall, but uses a “One Window, Four Rooms” architectural trick to make it seem smaller (you can read more about it here, along with other Vegas examples).  In addition, the lake in front of the hotel–home of the famous fountains–is 9 acres in area, giving the building a nice setback to help “shrink” it.

As you can see, things along The Strip are really massive.  But I wanted to know how massive The Strip is compared to something I know well, so I decided to compare its area with that of my neighborhood.  So I popped over to MapFrappe, which lets you outline things in one Google Map and overlay it in another, and go to work.

I outlined The Strip corridor along its traditional boundaries–from Sahara Avenue in the north to Russell Road in the south.  For the east and west boundaries, I used the extent of the back of the lots of the various resorts.  This covered all the land from the recently-closed Sahara Hotel and Casino to the Mandalay Bay.  Then I overlaid it on the Addison, Texas area:

It nicely fits between Spring Valley Road and Frankford Road–just about four miles!  So, no wonder it takes so long to walk anywhere on The Strip (and the 100 degree-plus summer heat doesn’t help!)

Of course, I couldn’t stop there…I had to compare the sizes of lots of things.  For instance, here’s the main campus (excluding Research Park, the Bush Presidential Library and Easterwood Airport) of my alma mater, Texas A&M University, superimposed over central Austin, Texas–home of A&M’s rival the University of Texas (it’s the area clustered around the red-roofed building):

And here’s Rome’s Colosseum compared to the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium:

Here’s Manhattan Island overlaid Houston:

Here’s Beijing’s Forbidden City overlaid on the Vatican:

 

Back to my home state of Texas…growing up here, you’re taught that Texas is big, but you don’t really get a good idea of just how big until you compare it to other places:


 

So, yeah, Texas is pretty big.  Interestingly, the longest dimension of the state is from the corner of the Panhandle where the border touches Oklahoma and New Mexico to the tip of state at the mouth of the Rio Grande–a distance of 796 miles.  Or, more succinctly, you could fly from that corner and be in any of the places within this circle quicker than you’d be to Brownsville:

Interestingly, the size of Texas means that people in Texarkana are closer to Chicago than El Paso, Houstonians are closer to Mobile, Alabama than Amarillo, people in Brownsville are closer to Mexico City than Dallas and El Paso residents are closer to Las Vegas, where this post started, than to Dallas.

Bonus fact:  The tiny Texas Panhandle town of Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than its own: Santa Fe, NM; Denver, CO; Topeka, KS; Oklahoma City, OK; Lincoln, NE; and Cheyenne, WY.

Also, you can view my Vegas photos here.

Bonus:  Here’s the Great Pyramid overlaid on The Luxor:


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