Saturday, May 31, 2014

Photography Obstacles

I've talked about limitations and failure in photography. Now I will talk about something similar: obstacles.

Just as life throws us countless obstacles each day, there are tons of obstacles to great photography. Some of these obstacles are frustration, lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, just being stuck, no or poor photographic vision, no time, lack of skill, not thinking enough, thinking too much, being too slow, being too quick, following the rules, being in the wrong place, being in the right place but at the wrong time, and many, many others. Each and every time you and I wish to create great images, there are obstacles in the way.

This may seem strange to say, but obstacles are good. Obstacles should be embraced. We need to have obstacles in order to be successful.

Obstacle Lessons
Soledad Mountains - Mojave, California
There are lessons found in each obstacle we face. An obstacle is like a challenge. We either succeed or we fail. There is something to be learned either way. If you figured out how to move past the obstacle, then it isn't an obstacle for you any longer. If you failed to get past it, then you now know what not to do next time.

Learning is an important aspect of your photography continuum. If you didn't learn you'd never grow and your photography would be stagnate. Obstacles are life's way of forcing you to either grow or fail. And you only truly fail when you stop trying.

Whenever you encounter an obstacle in your photography, be sure to find the lesson, whatever that lesson is. Don't waste obstacles by not thinking deeper about how you got past it or why you didn't. Don't lose heart if you failed to get past an obstacle. If you learned something from the experience then in fact you did not ultimately fail.

Obstacle Creativity
Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, California
Often obstacles require outside-the-box thinking to get beyond them. They force you to be creative. They require you to break the mold. They make you see differently. Obstacles force you to think deeper and try harder.

Creativity is essential to art. Without creativity photographs are completely boring. It is imagination and ingenuity that make images interesting.

Obstacles foster creativity by forcing you to figure out how to move beyond them. Without obstacles, the photographs that you see would be much less interesting.

Obstacle Focus
One Tree - Tehachapi, California
There are things in life that you can control and there are things in life that you cannot. Obstacles make you realize the difference. Obstacles force you to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot.

You cannot control the weather. You cannot control nature. You cannot control what others do. You cannot control whether your photographs will be liked or if you'll become famous. You cannot control anything that is out of your hands.

What you can control is yourself. You can make yourself get up, grab a camera and head out the door. You can control the camera settings. You can push yourself to try harder to be the best that you can be. You can be proactive. You can choose to tackle the obstacles that are in the way of your great photographs.

If you spend your energy worrying about what you cannot control, you are wasting away. If you are not spending enough attention on what you can control, you are wasting away. Obstacles help us to see what we should and shouldn't be spending our time and efforts on.

Obstacle Overcome
Energy - Tehachapi, California
Obstacles lead to positive change. Once we overcome what is in our way, we move forward to bigger and better things. Overcome obstacles are what take us to improved vision.

If you are not moving forward then you are moving backwards. There is no standing still. Everyone is moving. Obstacles that are not faced will prevent you from improving.

You have to keep moving forward, so that means facing whatever it is that's in your way. It is tackling the difficulty. It is figuring out how to move beyond where you currently are.

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Don't be afraid of obstacles. Don't get discouraged by difficulty. Don't hide from whatever it is that's in your way.

Instead, embrace obstacles. They will lead to learning opportunities, creativity, focus and eventually positive change. Obstacles are good.

Thought of The Day: Sony SLT A77 II or Sony A6000?

I get asked from time-to-time to comment on different cameras. It's not a favorite topic of mine, but these posts are usually popular. People want new cameras and they're searching the web to find any information or advice on what camera to buy.

Most recently I was asked to compare two Sony cameras: the SLT A77 II DSLR (well, sort of a DSLR, anyway) and the A6000 compact interchangeable-lens. Which is better? Which should you buy?

There are some similarities and some differences between the two cameras. The two cameras share the same 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor, but they look completely different. They have different auto-focus systems, but one is not necessarily better than the other (they're just different).

Image quality is identical between the two cameras. Inside, the two cameras are much more alike than not alike. One cmaera will not give better quality results over the other. They are the same. Both are excellent.

The A6000 is much smaller and weighs less than the A77 II. The A77 II has a slightly better and more versatile back screen. The A77 II is weather sealed while the A6000 is not, and the A77 II has image stabilization while the A6000 does not. Depending on the type of photography you do, those differences could be significant or they could be meaningless.

One area where the two cameras are not similar is price. The A6000 has an MSRP of $650 (body only) while the A77 II has an MSRP of $1,200 (body only). I personally don't think the A77 II is twice as good as the A6000, unless you plan to take it out in the rain.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Impressions: Athentech Perfectly Clear

Yesterday I downloaded the "beta" version of Athentech's upcoming stand-alone Perfectly Clear software. I've heard many good things about Perfectly Clear so I wanted to try it for myself. Since the "beta" version is free to try, I figured this was a good time.

Perfectly Clear has been around as a Photoshop plug-in for a little while now. I don't use Photoshop, so the stand-alone PC version is what I would need in order to use it. The $200 expected cost is much, much too steep for me, but "beta" users who provide feedback are promised a discount. We'll have to wait and see just how much that will be.

After downloading and installing the software, I fired up Perfectly Clear and found it to be simple and intuitive. The learning curve was very short. If you have ever used any post-processing software, you won't have any problems figuring this one out. There are a few drop-down windows, a few boxes to check or uncheck, and some sliders. Everything is arranged in a logical manner.

The idea of this software is to quickly and easily make improvements to your photographs. There are a handful of preset 1-click adjustments, all of which can be modified after selected. Athentech did a great job of creating presets that actually work well. You can pretty easily make your own preset adjustments, as well. It only takes a few seconds to see what this software will do to a particular photograph. Perfectly Clear really is a quick way to improve your images.

Most file types are compatible with Perfectly Clear, including RAW. No surprise that my Sigma Merrill RAW files are not compatible. This software could be the first, last or only stop in your post-processing workflow. It can even batch process groups of images.

In my case, I used Perfectly Clear to adjust already post-processed images. I wanted to see if the presets would improve the photographs. I found that it often did, even if just a little. I would say, and this is just  playing around with the software for one evening, that 50% of the photographs were improved running it through the software, 20% were made worse, and 30% saw no significant change. Again, these were already finished photographs. I've posted some before and after examples below.

I haven't had a chance yet to play around with unedited images, so I'm not sure how well Perfectly Clear works as the first or only stop in post processing. I've read there are some photographers that use it that way, and I've seen enough of the software that I can say that it has potential as such. But I'll hold off judgment until I see for myself.

Does Perfectly Clear save time in post-processing? It certainly can, but it could add additional time, depending on exactly how it is used. Does Perfectly Clear improve photographs? Often yes, but certainly not always. This software is a great tool to have, but I'm not sure that it is worth the hefty price tag.
Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, California
Original version.
Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, California
Perfectly Clear version.
California Summer Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
Original version.
California Summer Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Central Valley Vista - Stallion Springs, California
Original version.
Central Valley Vista - Stallion Springs, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Taylor - Stallion Springs, California
Original version.
Taylor - Stallion Springs, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Zebras Below The Castle - San Simeon, California
Original version.
Zebras Below The Castle - San Simeon, California
Perfectly Clear version.
McWay Falls View - Big Sur, California
Original version.
McWay Falls View - Big Sur, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Tender Wheels - Barstow, California
Original version.
Tender Wheels - Barstow, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Brake Wheel Shadow - Barstow, California
Original version.
Brake Wheel Shadow - Barstow, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Coastal Boy - Stallion Springs, California
Original version.
Coastal Boy - Stallion Springs, California
Perfectly Clear version.
Unused Bed - Hinkley, California
Original version.
Unused Bed - Hinkley, California
Perfectly Clear version.
One Tree - Tehachapi, California
Original version.
One Tree - Tehachapi, California
Perfectly Clear version.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thought of The Day: Creative Inspiration (Negatives & Positives)

I was recently inspired by a young painter named Akiane. Perhaps you have heard of her, as her paintings of Jesus have made her somewhat famous.

One painting in particular really struck me. It is called The Nectar and is partially a "positive" and partially a "negative" in one image. Of course all paintings are positives. Negatives are a film photography thing. But it is painted in such a way that some of it looks like a negative.

Having an image contain parts that are positive and parts that are negative is metaphoric. Akiane said of her painting, "By sharing our gifts and responsibilities we become interdependent and transformed. The gardener is inviting the bees to bring color back to this colorless world. The bees vision has frequencies that few can detect. Through the eyes of the bees and through the support and the effort of the gardeners, the negative becomes positive, the nectar of life."

That's deep stuff for a young girl. I certainly wasn't thinking such thoughts at that age!
Double Negative - Tehachapi, California
Anyway, I realized that I had actually done something similar last year in an image called Double Negative. I photographed myself using a Pentax K-30 DSLR while holding a 120 negative that was captured using a Holga camera. In post-processing I reversed the image so that most of it was a negative and the film was a positive.

The meaning that I was trying to give Double Negative is that artists are often obsessive about their art, and that can be negative and positive at the same time. The negative is the time not spent with others or doing other things. The positive is the outcome, the wonderful piece that is created that can speak to people. The image got its name from the fact that it is a negative, and I'm holding a negative (which became a positive).  
Do Not Block Door - Tehachapi, California
I recently made another photograph which is both a negative and a positive. I captured Do Not Block Door with a Nokia Lumia 1020. In post-processing I gave the photograph a vintage look and then inverted the colors to make the door a negative.

There are two reasons that I did that. First, by inverting the color of just the door, I was able to create some color and light contrast to draw the viewer in. Second, some may view a door that has restrictions as a negative. The door cannot be used in normal day-to-day life, yet it also cannot be blocked by anything. What is the point of the door? If a fire or some other emergency were to ever happen at this place, the seemingly useless door could be a lifesaver. The negative would be a positive.

There are two takeaways from this post. First, inspiration can come from unlikely places, and do not be afraid to use that inspiration. Second, photographs that say something are better than photographs that don't. Not everyone will get whatever it is that you are trying to say, but it is better to have said it than not.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

6 Black & White Landscape Photographs (Using A Nokia Lumia 1020)

Soledad Mountain - Mojave, California
I've had several photographs sitting on my computer for a while now, waiting to be post-processed. Other projects just got in the way. I finally got around to them this last weekend.

All of these images were captured using my Nokia Lumia 1020. You might realize that the Lumia 1020 is a cell phone. The best camera to capture a scene is whatever camera you have with you. Don't worry so much about the equipment you have. Use whatever it is that you have to the best of your ability.
High Desert Hill - Rosamond, California
Nearly a year ago I published a post called Limitations Improve Art. Using a cell phone instead of a DSLR can actually be beneficial. Don't pass up on photographic opportunities because you doubt the ability of the camera. The ability of the photographer is far more important.

I captured all of these images back in March (except for Soledad Mountain, which is more recent). Right after I captured them I went on a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. I gave those photographs priority. After that these photographs got put on a back burner, and they stayed there for almost two months.
Soledad Joshua Trees - Mojave, California
I don't live in California's high desert, but I live very near it. I travel across the desert often, going through the small towns of Mojave and Rosamond. These places are easy to overlook. At initial glance they seem like forgettable towns. But photographic opportunities abound upon closer inspection.

In fact, the majority of my abandonment series photographs were captured in Mojave or Rosamond. Some others were captured in similar desert locations nearby. None of the images in this post are abandonment photographs, although Desert Destructed was captured at an abandoned mine that is now used as an illegal dumping site.
Energy - Tehachapi, California
I converted each of these photographs to black-and-white because color was not important to any of them. If color is important to a photograph, then it should remain in color. If not, it should be converted to black-and-white.

Monochrome has a fine-art feel and is often more dramatic than color. Soledad Mountain and Energy are particularly dramatic thanks to light contrast.
Desert Day - Rosamond, California
The software that I used to post-process these photographs is called Paint.NET. It's a free Photoshop alternative. I like that it can do 95% of what Photoshop is capable of, yet it is user friendly with a learning curve that isn't quite as steep. 

None of these photographs received extensive post-processing. Each were cropped a little. I converted them to black-and-white and gave them a slight warm tone. I added a small amount of sharpening, contrast and grain. And that's it. Post-processing doesn't always have to be a big production.
Desert Destructed - Rosamond, California

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

5 Lessons From A Photograph

California Summer Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
I believe that there is a lesson with each image that's captured. The more you photograph the more you learn. That is why Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."

Some photographs provide us with many lessons. There is more than meets the eye and plenty to glean from it. California Summer Feeling above is one such photograph.

Lesson #1 - You Don't Have To Go Far To Find Photographic Inspiration

I captured California Summer Feeling in my own yard yesterday. I talked about finding inspiration in your own yard in a post last week. Well, I took my own advice.

When you look at photography magazines and websites, sometimes it seems like the only things worthy of photographic attention are in far off locations. But the truth is that there's plenty to capture right around you, where ever it is that you are.

Lesson #2 - Inspiration Can Hit You When You Are Not Expecting It

I was mowing the lawn and doing yard work when the inspiration came to create California Summer Feeling. I had no intentions of photographing anything. But every time I came up the yard with the lawn mower, I kept seeing in my mind the image above.

Inspiration can hit you anytime, and not just when you are out on a photo outing. Be open to that inspiration, even if it hits at an inopportune moment.

Lesson #3 - Act When You Are Inspired

I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my Samsung NX200 camera. It only took a few moments. I paused mowing the lawn and spent a couple minutes creating art. I did not hesitate. I did not tell myself that I'd capture it some other time. I got a camera and exposed an image.

Then I continued mowing. Which leads us to the next lesson...

Lesson #4 - Moments Are Fleeting And Things Change Quickly

Soon the scene you see in California Summer Feeling was gone. Right now it doesn't exist like it does in the photograph. A little yard work will do that.

If you want to capture something, don't wait. If you procrastinate it may not be there when you are ready. Change won't wait for you.

Lesson #5 - Create Something Different

California Summer Feeling is a photograph of poppy flowers in the countryside. There were a million photographs of this same subject captured just during this spring. So I made my version a little different.

First, I composed the photograph in such a way that it isn't exactly the same as all the other similar images. Notice that I included the wood fence and two tree trunks in the background. Second, I gave the photograph a vintage look in post-processing. Third, I shaped the photograph square. That's not completely uncommon, but it is much less common than the typical shapes of photographs.

The point is, if your photographs are the same as millions of others, nobody will ever pay attention to them. It is when your photographs are different than the norm that people take notice.

Part 2

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

Flags - Riverside National Cemetery
All gave some, some gave all. That's the famous phrase that describes the brave men and woman who served in the U.S. military. They did what many were not willing or able to do. And they did it to protect us and our liberty.

On Memorial Day, we specifically remember those who died. We give respect to those who gave all. They did it for us. They lived a shortened life so that we could live a better life. These men and woman are true heroes, and gave us the ultimate examples of love and courage.

While we go about today with barbecues and car buying and whatever it is that you and I do on Memorial Day, let us not lose sight of what this day is about. Let us find our own way to honor these most deserved individuals who are no longer with us.

Please lift up a special prayer to the families of those soldiers who have recently departed. The grief is still fresh for them, and today can be especially difficult. They need all the spiritual strength that they can get. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Liberty or Socialism? A March For Democracy

Protest of Deceit -Stallion Springs, California
There were nine people that passed very near my home yesterday on what they called a "march for democracy." They were walking all the way from Los Angeles to Sacramento.

I live out in the mountain countryside of central California, at the end of a "cul-de-sac" valley. It seemed like a strange route choice. I grabbed my camera and captured a few photographs of the protesters.

"We need to take the money out of politics, man," one person said to me as I clicked the shutter. Someone else invited me to come along and join them.

I was curious about this group, so at home I opened up my laptop and begun to research. There was quite a bit that I found right away.
Model Mediocrity - Stallion Springs, California
This "march for democracy" is by a group called 99Rise. They claim that the reason for this march is in protest to some Supreme Court decisions regarding campaign contributions by businesses and wealthy individuals. So they're going from L.A. to Sacramento to show their outrage.

But this isn't logical. What does Sacramento have to do with the Supreme Court? One is state government, one is federal. There is no connection.

If it is indeed the Supreme Court that has these people upset, why not protest in Washington D.C.? Why not protest in front of the Court Building? Or in front of the White House? The President is who appoints the Justices. Or in front of Congress? They're the ones who must confirm the appointments.

Then I discovered who this group really is. 99Rise is a spin off of the Occupy crowds. You may remember that the Occupy people were upset at the corruption in Wall Street and among the wealthy. The solutions that they demanded were higher taxes and increased government regulations. Ironically, they wanted the federal government to stop the corporate corruption, yet the federal government is more corrupt than Wall Street. This is called barking up the wrong tree.
A Step Behind - Stallion Springs, California
The Occupy crowd is who coined the phrases "one percenters" and "99 percenters" regarding the richest 1% of American and the other 99% of America. They made those rich 1% out to be evil, awful people. Interestingly, it was one of those one percenters that heavily funded their protests. The name 99Rise comes from the phrase 99 percenters, and is supposed to mean the 99% rising up against the 1%.

Now 99Rise is openly and proudly socialist. Right on their website many of the leaders list being socialist as one of their character traits. Socialism hates success because it isn't "fair" that some do well while others do not. It isn't fair that there are one percenters.

Socialism ensures equality of outcome. In the best examples, socialism ensures mediocrity for all. In the worst examples, it offers depression for all. Greatness is not only discouraged, but it is punished. It never builds up, it only tears down.

The Canadian rock band Rush has a great song that illustrates socialism. It is called The Trees, and you can hear it below:

The song concludes So the maples formed a union and demanded equal rights. "The oaks are just to greedy, we will make them give us light!" Now there's no more oak oppression for they passed a noble law. And the trees are all kept equal by hatchet, ax and saw.

This "march for democracy" is not about the Supreme Court decision. Sure, they disagree with it and it is something they can rally around. The real purpose of the protest, however, is to demand that California do what it can to give us an equal outcome. They want the California government to cut the rich down to size by metaphoric hatchets, axes and saws. They want to tax the wealthy even more.

The 1% wealthiest Americans earn almost 19% of all the money earned in a year in this country, yet they pay over 37% of the total federal tax burden each year (that's not including other taxes). The bottom 99% earn over 81% of all the money earned in a year, and they pay less than 63% of the total federal tax burden. The one percenters are already paying more than their fair share, yet the 99 percenters want to make them give more and more.

But I don't want to focus on wealth classes. I'm not going to defend the rich or demand sympathy for those who are not. There is a larger picture here.
Summer Patriot - Stallion Springs, California
What has made America great is great opportunity. This is one of the few places in the world, and perhaps the only place, where if you want to be successful--if you want to accomplish something truly great--you can. It matters not who you are or what your history is. It makes no difference if you have money or not. If you want to do the seemingly impossible, you can by working hard and never giving up. When you fail, you pick yourself up from the bootstraps and try even harder. The only thing standing in your way is yourself.

At one time in this country we celebrated independence. We celebrated freedom. We yearned for liberty. We made no guarantees of how things would turn out, but everyone was given equal opportunity to become great if they so chose.

Now it seems that we are willingly giving up equal opportunity for equal outcome. We are giving up the chance for greatness for the security of mediocrity. We no longer applaud success, but root against it instead.

The most frightening thing I found about 99Rise is something that they are planning this spring (I guess it will either happen really soon or be delayed). According to their website, they are putting together an "army" to "put their bodies on the line to engage in the largest civil disobedience action in American history." This sounds like a group to stay far, far away from.

The one thing that gives me hope is that the march for democracy has only nine protesters. Yes, nine. This is  a small group of people that don't represent the majority of Americans.

Friday, May 23, 2014

My Trip To The Dentist (Caution: Graphic Image)

Darkness And Light - Tehachapi, California
I went to the dentist today. I had a toothache, and so I had a molar pulled. Ouch! That's actually a major understatement. I was in pain before going to the dentist, I was in pain while at the dentist, and I am in pain now. Different types of pain with each stage.

But a trip to the dentist doesn't mean that I have to put the camera away. I had in my pocket a Nokia Lumia 1020. So I captured a couple images while there.

Interestingly, the dentist told me that in 27 years of dentistry, he'd never seen a tooth as long as mine. So, yes, I suppose that means that I am indeed long in the tooth.

The cost of a dental trip like this is the same as purchasing a new camera. Not a high-end camera, but I could have purchased a Nikon D3300 instead of having a tooth pulled. That's too bad. I would have preferred the camera.
Extracted Tooth - Tehachapi, California

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Find Photographic Inspiration In Your Own Yard

It is great to photograph at some grand location. It is awesome if you can get away to some beautiful place. But sometimes you can't. Sometimes you are stuck at home.

That's alright. No problem. Believe it or not, there are plenty of photographic opportunities right where you live.

I touched on this subject in the very first post on this blog. I talked about it a little more in my Illusion of Location article. You don't actually have to go anywhere to create successful photographs. You can find things to photograph right in your own yard, if you look hard enough.

To illustrate this point, the photographs below were all captured over the last year while standing on my own property. I stayed at home to create these images. No need to travel. I just walked outside, camera in hand.
Stallion Springs Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
I walked across the street from my yard so that telephone lines wouldn't be in the photograph. So, technically, this wasn't actually captured on my property (just very near it). 
Country Wood - Stallion Springs, California
Natural Design - Stallion Springs, California
Walking Elk - Stallion Springs, California
Who Are You Looking At? - Stallion Springs, California
Snow Burst - Stallion Springs, California
Morning Blossom - Stallion Springs, California
Three Clothespins - Stallion Springs, California
Half Moon - Stallion Springs, California
Building Storm - Stallion Springs, California
Summer Grass - Stallion Springs, California
This was not technically captured while on my property. I was sitting at the edge of the street right in front of my house.
Two Poppy Flowers - Stallion Springs, California
This was captured at the same exact location as the above photograph, but on a different day.
Fence, Storm - Stallion Springs, California
Poppy Flower Blossoms - Stallion Springs, California
Sunset, California - Stallion Springs, California
This was captured at the exact same spot as the first photograph in this post.