Snowman … Bloomington’s Last Of 2015

Snowman
Click on Bloomington’s last snowman of the season to see more images.

Sunday morning’s seven inches of snow pushed our on-the-ground total to somewhere around 18 inches. It also was sixteen degrees when we woke up yesterday morning. Winter!!!

Today’s high is scheduled to be about 44 degrees. Rain has arrived already, and it isn’t leaving anytime soon. Spring, anyone?

The neighbor kids spent Sunday afternoon building a rather attractive snowman, one of the best I’ve seen this winter. He just has a friendly appearance, a rather jaunty style about him. Walking around the neighborhood and passing him a couple of times called out for some photos … mainly because I know he isn’t going to last the day. And that he very well might be the last of our snowmen for this season (actually, I am hoping very much that he is indeed exactly that).

It was just an idea to run up the street and grab a few shots of this friendly little guy. I’m posting the images only to have a reminder of how unpleasant the last few weeks of winter were around here. And to show all of my good friends in the warmer climes what they have been missing.

Click on the snowman at the top of this post to see the other photos. Or just click here. And let’s all look forward to Spring!

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f11 Magazine: Inspiration Without A Ton Of Equipment

f11

Saturday night through Sunday morning we received another six to seven inches of snow. Heavy, wet snow. Church services were canceled; traffic was pretty much non-existent. It warmed up during the afternoon, but the foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground isn’t going anywhere for a while. Sigh. We are ready for winter to end here in Bloomington. And … now here it is, Monday morning. Doesn’t get much better, does it?

Actually, it does. My favorite on-line magazine comes out of New Zealand, f11. The current issue is just out, and it is what we winter-bound photographers need to get inspired. There are some great images to be seen (as usual). But this magazine, and especially this issue, is not merely a collection of pretty pictures. Three photographers who have incredible portfolios are featured … and each of them stressed at some point in their respective interviews that gear is almost always the least of their considerations. What stood out to me what their dedication, their passion for their subjects. That passion kept them fresh and creative. I came away refreshed and inspired after spending time reading the profiles in this issue. I think it may do the same for many of you.

Click here to visit f11 and its current issue. And give some thought to your own subscription if you haven’t done so already. The magazine is a monthly treat, one to be happily looked forward to.

And this winter weather put a damper on tests I wanted to do with my new Westcott seven-foot umbrella. Taking it out in these conditions (let alone taking myself out there) lost its appeal when I saw the driveway and my snow shovel buried in the snowbank beside it. The umbrella arrived Friday morning, as scheduled. It comes in a substantial mailing tube, inside another sturdy box. And inside that is the umbrella (itself inside a handy carrying case). The umbrella is well-made, sturdy but not heavy. The sewn edges were all properly finished, no loose ends or frayed pieces. And it is big! Opening it in the living room took up a lot (as in a lot) of space. I can see that using it outdoors will mean taking great care to anchor it down in even the slightest of winds. But I also can see that it has the potential to produce some beautiful light. Stay tuned for more information as I get a chance to wring it out soon.

Okay, it’s Monday. Take a bit of time to sit down with f11 magazine and get inspired. Spring isn’t that far off.

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Westcott Umbrella Arriving Today

Umbrella

I ordered my seven foot Westcott parabolic umbrella late Wednesday night from MPEX over in Ohio. It is scheduled to arrive this afternoon via UPS (and the shipping was free). That is an example of the reliability and good service you can expect from those fine folks. I just wanted to reinforce my advice that they are reliable and dependable.

If you missed the sale price on this umbrella, click here for yesterday’s post. It contains the promocode you will need to receive the sale price on this never-discounted piece of gear. And you need to act quickly to take advantage of this very nice deal – the offer ends Saturday.

If you are interested at all in a nice bit of savings on a fine and most useful photo item, act now. Order one for yourself, and look forward to enjoying it over this last weekend in February. Camera in hand.

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Westcott 7 Foot Parabolic Umbrella: Reduced Price, Free Shipping

MPEX (Midwest Photo Exchange) is a photo equipment place over in Columbus, Ohio that I have ordered from several times. My good friend Susan Scharenberg lives there and has done lots of business with them. She is quite complimentary regarding their products and their service. So am I. I mention that because I want to pass on a very nice offer on a very useful Westcott product, an offer I can’t find anywhere else.

Westcott makes a line of 7 foot parabolic umbrellas that get outstanding reviews. They provide soft, wraparound light from a really big light source. Think of them as the poorman’s 7 foot octabank (the one that costs a fortune). Check out this video review from Mark Wallace (a guy I pretty much trust):

Okay, that gives you a pretty good overview of what this thing is capable of. I also will mention that Joel Grimes uses one often for high key, soft light portraits (and Joel is really good). In fact, I have a video of Joel using this modifier in his studio (just click here and watch the very first video). Westcott’s big umbrella has become quite popular over the past few years; it’s not unproven or a fad.

One of the reasons these umbrellas (they come in white shoot-through, silver/black and white/black) are so popular is their price … usually $99.95 everywhere. Now, that is a price that is reachable for most of us, even those on a budget. And when you consider the good reviews the umbrellas get – well, that price looks quite good indeed. Westcott is selling a bunch of them from all the regular stores. But today (and through this Saturday only), due to the great folks over at MPEX, you can own one of these umbrellas for the low, low price of only $88.90! That’s right … an $11 discount on a product that doesn’t go on sale anymore. I checked all the other places – no deal. MPEX is the only one offering this deal.

But wait! There’s FREE shipping to go along with the reduced price! I thought there would be a catch somewhere … there isn’t. Go to the MPEX site (here is a direct link to the umbrellas) and add one to your cart. Calculate the shipping via UPS (it’s FREE), and then enter the promocode WINTERSAVE3 (for the silver/black model) or WINTERSAVE4 (for the white/black one). Update your cart and the reduced price is yours.

This deal is good only until this Saturday, February 28th. And it is a good deal on a good product that I haven’t seen on sale anywhere before now. If you are interested at all, if you ever have been interested, check out MPEX right now. Thank you, MPEX!

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His Light Workshops Takes You Down Memory Lane … Rogersville, Tennessee-Style

Here’s the good news … Bill Fortney and Jim Begley are holding a His Light workshop at Memory Lane in Rogersville, Tennessee from April 8 through the 12th. The better news is that there still are a few slots available (click here for workshop sign-up details over on Bill’s website). The best news is that this is our opportunity to shoot at a location that ordinarily is off-limits to the public, to spend enough time in a fantastic shooting location to do it (and ourselves) justice. The bad news? Once the small number of slots left are gone, they are gone for good.

I spoke with Bill yesterday, and he was truly excited about this opportunity. He said there is so much to see and so much to shoot (this is an entire town recreated from 50’s and 60’s memorabilia) that it is overwhelming when you first arrive. He said you have to take a deep breath and calm down and begin shooting small and work your way up to big. The General Store alone has thousands of potential shots, he said, a place where you can get lost in all you see. And then you realize that you haven’t even approached the fully-furnished diner, the service stations (filled with old cars), the movie theater, and all the other buildings and businesses! And the town is not open to the public (including photographers). Maybe once a year the owner opens it up for a local car club to put on a show, and then it is filled with 10,000 or more visitors (not very conducive to getting photographs). So this is a rare privilege His Light has been granted.

Bill was really excited in telling me about his one trip there last year. I checked on line later for information about the trip and the area of Rogersville, and I found a YouTube report from a local news station. The video was shot back in 2008, and the owners haven’t stopped improving and adding on to the whole experience in the intervening years. Take a look at this and see if it doesn’t get your photographic juices flowing:

Bill and Jim’s workshop is three full days of shooting; I’m not sure that is enough to do this place justice, to tell you the truth. It is an Americana shooter’s paradise! But as they say on TV … wait! There’s more!

Our dear friend (and fantastic shooter) Kent Ervin lives next door to Rogersville. He has special access to a nearby mansion (yes, mansion is the correct description here) that also is usually off-limits to the public (without spending lots of dollars to do so). Kent is their official photographer, however, and he has arranged special access for His Light to shoot the grounds and the mansion during the workshop (another opportunity that you just won’t get anywhere else). Kent will be there with His Light, and you will be guaranteed to find out the best shots and where to find them from him.

One of the real joys of a His Light workshop is the absolute top-of-the-line instruction you will receive from Bill and Jim. And that is matched by the friendship and fellowship of shooting with and hanging out with photographers that mirror their character and good will. For this workshop, adding in the opportunities to shoot locations that ordinarily are off-limits is icing on the proverbial cake. It’s not that you are being selfish or better than other photographers – the opposite is true with Bill and Jim. But you do have a chance to add something to your own portfolio that you otherwise never would be able to. And that is pretty special, one of the real joys in photography.

Check your calendar. Then pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and join us for a walk down a real Memory Lane. His Light would love to see you there.

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Enjoy Photographing Plants And Gardens? Check Out This Contest.

Stone-Head-8-of-9
Even casually, we all shoot gardens and plants frequently.

I ran across an interesting contest over on DP Review recently, one I hadn’t heard of previously. And it piqued my interest, in part because I was thinking about some of you, my good friends.

This competition is the International Garden Photographer of the Year, run out of England (rather naturally if you are a gardener. Kew Gardens and the English are meccas of the gardening world). Anyway, this is an annual competition. You send in your images (up to four) for the category you wish to enter within the overall contest. Now, there is a 10 pound (about $12 right now) entry fee for each category you might wish to enter. But … that’s not bad as far as entry fees go for legitimate, prestigious competitions. And it is for up to four images. And … you can receive professional feedback on each of your images once the contest has been judged. All for the same entry fee, folks, and that is not a bad deal for any of us.

Here is a link to all the details of this international competition. And here is a link to this past year’s winners, one I first saw over on DP Review. If nothing else, check out the winners to see some very fine photos (which we all always enjoy). But, allow me to point out what first entered my mind when I saw that post: I have seen some images from all of you that would give the winners a real run for their money. Winning a prize from these good folks would be a very nice addition to any photographer’s resume. And I know from looking at your previous bodies of work that so many of you might fare very, very well in this competition.

This contest runs from now until October 31. That gives each of us plenty of time to take the winning photo for next year. Seriously, give this one some thought (Casey Malone, I am talking to you!). You are that good.

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(Pretty Much) Final Thoughts On Topaz Re-Style

I have played some more with Topaz Re-Style … but I haven’t changed my mind from my initial thoughts (if you missed that post, click here to read it first). The program is easy-to-install, easy-to-use, easy-to-learn. Part of that, I believe, is that Re-Style isn’t designed to do a whole lot in the first place. It’s sort of a one-trick pony. Re-Style seems to be a collection of presets (lots of them, admittedly), that can be played with once applied. So, why should I add another collection of presets to what I already own?

I have presets for Lightroom (most obtained for free). They are easy to apply, and once added, I can use all of Lightroom’s sliders and brushes and tools to modify them. There are a lot of places to obtain Lightroom presets out there on the web; I don’t need Re-Style to do so. I also own the Google/NIK collection of processing tools. Actually, I venture to say that most of us do (NIK represents great value and lots of tools). NIK’s Color Efex Pro has recipes that act like presets, very powerful presets. I can modify them at will, stack them, mask them, do all sorts of powerful processing tricks with them. When I compare Color Efex pro with Re-Style, the latter loses its appeal.

Yesterday I received an email from Topaz. The teaser within was “12 Photo Effects You Should Know About.” I thought I would be reading about a list of programs or processes that were little-known or just-emerging. It turned out to be a list of presets with Re-Style – some colors and styles and what kind of images they might look best on. It turned out to be an ad (yes, I should have figured that out right away). I am passing on the email to you in case you are at all interested in Re-Style (it contains a coupon code for $20 off in case you decide to buy). The link to Topaz is here. There are sample images, before and after, for you to check out; there are more resources to investigate if you decide to go forward.

I’m passing on this one. It just doesn’t add anything new to my processing arsenal. I’m will to bet almost all of you already own programs that get you to where Re-Style will take you. The $40 it cost could be more productively spent elsewhere.

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Taking A Snow Day … Make That, Enduring Snow Days

Red berries
Maybe there is a touch of beauty even in this brutal weather.

Our friends out in Boston would be less than impressed. But here in Bloomington we have been plagued with snow and more snow, made worse by temperatures that are projected to reach minus ten tonight. With a wind chill of minus 25 to minus 30. No matter where you live, that is cold! Today’s high may reach zero; tomorrow night is scheduled to be a repeat of tonight.

I have shoveled … and then shoveled some more. Shoveled out and wintered out. So, today is a snow day (as they call it when school is canceled). It is a day to rest up a bit, to sit with my lovely wife and stare out at a rather uninviting world of white. Nothing else going on today.

My hopes for you are that you have a warmer, brighter day than ours here in Indiana. And, if not? Welcome to the club!

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One More Time: Follow Casey Malone

Casey
My good friend Casey Malone.

My good friend Casey Malone has only been posting from his new website since the first of January. But his site has become a daily inspiration for me and for many of my friends. I have a small book by Billy Graham that I read early each morning, one that gives me something to think about for the rest of the day. There are Bible verses with applications; there are stories from his ministry with examples of how they resonate today; there are questions about what we think and how we act in our daily lives. I went through it each day in 2014; I am going through it once more this year. Casey’s thoughts have become as valuable to me each day as those from Billy Graham’s book.

Casey’s posts are accompanied with some beautiful images. He is a fine photographer. It is a real joy to read his posts each day, and it is thought-provoking in its material. I find myself inspired and moved by both Casey and Billy Graham each day … and I need that in my life. If you think you might need such material in your own life, check in with my friend Casey. Once you do, I think you will find yourself staying for more.

Click here to visit Casey’s website. Once there just click on the month at the top of the list on the right side (February right now). You will go to the most recent post and Casey’s beautiful photographs for that day. Thank you, Casey.

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Bloomington Photo Club Macro Sunday: Photos

Candy
A treat for Valentine’s Day … and to shoot.

Thanks to leaders Nola Donley and Helene Jones our Bloomington Photography Club’s Macro Focus Group enjoyed a couple of hours yesterday afternoon shooting at the Ellettsville Library. It was a bring-what-ya-got and shoot-what-ya-want event, with each of us bringing something with color and texture and line and form. It was a chance to practice a bit and share a bit. It was what we do. And it was fun.

I came home with just a few images, and I liked a couple of them enough to put them up for future viewing. There really wasn’t a theme to what we were shooting or what caught my eye. I just saw some light and some form and line and texture – you know, photos. Mostly yesterday was a fun time to hang out with friends who also happen to be photographers. And that is one of the really great things about our club and what we do.

Click on the photo at the top of this post to see more images. Or you can just click here. And welcome to a new week!

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Topaz Re-Style: Very First Impressions

Topaz Labs makes some very useful plugins for Photoshop. Actually, they make lots of plugins for Photoshop. The latest offer I received from them yesterday was for Topaz Re-Style, billed as the perfect tool for adding emotion to your photos. And for creating incredible effects from plain images (I guess they have seen some of my work). And for finding the perfect ‘look’ for your photos. And for only $39.99 if I order prior to March 1st (that’s a $20 discount). So, am I in?

Well, call me cautious, but I first downloaded the free trial (you can do so by clicking here if you are interested). The trial is fully-functional, easy to download, and easy to install. It also is easy to use; the sliders are pretty self-explanatory. Most of the Topaz products are fairly easy to use; this one is no exception. There are a bunch of presets to get you started (or finished, whichever the case may be). The presets all are customizable, and it appeared they are intended to be one of the main attractions of the product. You’ll quickly see what I mean if you spend just a little time with your free trial (it’s worth the small amount of time it takes). The real big question comes up quickly … what else does the program offer than the other plugins we already own?

Cut to the chase – I don’t see that it does much. The presets act like any other of a whole bunch of presets that give you an overall effect (or ‘look’). I can already do that in Lightroom with a lot of free or very low-cost presets that are easy to find. Frankly, I don’t even need presets to do what Re-Style does; I can use the tools in Lightroom or Photoshop to get the same look. I suppose the attraction could be that you can do so with Re-Style with the vaunted one-click of your mouse. The more most of us work with our images, the less important that one-click method seems to become (at least to me). In other words, I don’t see what is new here, other than it is another collection of presets.

I took one of my photos that I liked and decided to see if I could add more emotion to it. To get an incredible effect that I hadn’t seen before. To get the ‘look’ I had missed earlier. I used all the tools and sliders Re-Style had to offer. I went through preset after preset. And what I found was just another collection of presets. They were very easy to apply, that’s for sure. But they also were the usual suspects of changing colors and tones and doing black and white, etc. I just couldn’t find anything new and exciting, certainly nothing I haven’t seen elsewhere (and frequently found I already owned somewhere else). Sorry, Topaz.

I’ll try the program on some other images to be really fair. I’ll try different types of images to make sure what I saw wasn’t specific to that particular photo. But, frankly, I’m not holding my breath. These are just first impressions, I re-emphasize. But I know my way around Lightroom and Photoshop, and the plugins I already own are more than adequate for what Re-Style sets out to do. Stay tuned … I’ll let you know if I find something else to report.

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Dead Tarantulas Don’t Bounce … Photos And Woes

Steg
Click on the Rhino standoff to see more shots from yesterday.

Yesterday I managed a few more shots from Dead insect World, discovering along the way that dead tarantulas don’t bounce (if I ever write a novel that is going to be my title). I was near the end of my shooting session, and I had this great idea to affix the tarantula to our refrigerator door. We have the usual collection of magnets and notes and miscellanea attached there, and it would have looked pretty neat to have the tarantula crawling over all that colorful stuff. I thought I had figured out a way to pin it to one of the magnets, but it didn’t quite work. I removed my hands from the tarantula, and down she fell … hard.

Tarantulas are pretty much hollow when they are dried out and pinned into shape. Once she hit the tile floor from about five feet up, all that hollow-ness came into play. She shattered into lots of pieces … there were legs and parts of legs and back ends all over the floor. I thought briefly about trying to glue her back together, but there were lots of pieces. So my tarantula shooting has ended. It was fun, but I probably won’t be ordering a replacement.

And my little Giant Ant (that sounds strange, doesn’t it?) suffered somewhat the same fate later on. Small and brittle, she lost two legs and her entire rear segment when she fell off a cactus plant and became lodged between a couple of needles. She is so difficult to handle anyway, and the tiny parts were long gone when I looked for them. I only got a couple of decent shots of the ant overall, but ants don’t cost very much. I won’t be replacing her, either. Advice for beginner insect shooters like me? Start with some of the larger ones; they are much easier to handle and can take a lot more abuse without falling apart.

But I also had a lot of fun with this project, and it was good to practice some macro and closeup shooting. Insects are fascinating in form and color, and I had a chance to stretch a bit in coming up with scenarios. If you are looking for something a bit different to shoot during these cold winter months, I heartily recommend the Dead Insect World.

Click on the image at the top of this post to see what I liked from yesterday. Or just click on this link.

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Household Insects: Action Photos

Rhino boy
Click on the hunting Rhino Beetle to see more insect photos from Saturday.

Saturday was time to see how my insect project was going to unfold. It has been fun and interesting to re-hydrate, pin and pose these fascinating creatures. Not entirely successful, but interesting and quite a bit of fun. I mean, who expects to find a snuffling Rhino Beetle grubbing around in the waste of a Christmas Poinsettia plant? When you delve into the world of insects you never quite know what you will find (hence, the image at the top of this post).

Okay, first some of the difficulties. The little (make that tiny) Asian Scorpion ended up a bust. She was about the size of a penny, making her difficult to work with. While re-hydrating, her stinger and one leg broke off immediately. Now, that was okay; you can glue most of the parts back on in the position you desire (I used clear super glue). But the leg and stinger were so tiny that it was tough to see them, let alone handle them. Once I had her pinned and posed, she dried for a day. But her body and other parts dried to a brittle state, ready to nearly crumble with any handling at all. I tried to place her on a small cactus plant (prickly things was my theme), but she fell off. And literally fell to pieces. The flat body and hollow parts just weren’t conducive to working with. No scorpion pictures this time out (and no scorpion to play with in the future).

The Giant Ant is a bit easier to work with than the scorpion, but not a whole lot. This one lost a leg, both during the pinning process and while shooting. And it is very difficult to find a pose that shows off the head and jaws (the interesting parts of the ant); otherwise, it tends to just fade into black. Fault me as the photographer, but the small size is just difficult to shoot in an interesting scene without getting lost in it’s surroundings. Collectors spread their specimens and pin them into boxes for viewing. You see them against a white background, sitting on pins. Photographing them in a scene is a lot harder – with larger specimens it gets easier.

The good news is that the larger bugs can be played with and posed and photographed like any other macro subject. In fact, insects are a great way to practice and perfect your macro skills. They don’t move around, giving you plenty of time to set up your shot. They often are colorful and eye-catching. Many lend themselves to dramatic poses and scenes. They are most interesting and fun.

I have more ideas for more photos. There are some keepers among this first effort … and you never are going to see the losers. Click on the Rhino Beetle at the top of this post to see more images from Saturday. Or you always can use this link. And give some thought to your own bug photography … it’s more fun than you might think.

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Praying Mantis And Scorpion: Good News And Bad

 

Scorpion
Somewhere in that forest of pins is an Asian scorpion, one you don’t want to mess with in the wild.

Daily life is filled with news, good and bad. Yesterday was no exception.

First, the bad … The little neighbor girl across the street delivered our order of Girl Scout cookies. Four boxes of Thin Mints (to go along with the four assorted boxes coming from one of the Brownies we attend church with). One box of Thin Mints is gone already. This is not good, friends. And it can only get worse in the coming days.

Mantis

My praying mantis, drying in place and held up with home-made scaffolding.

Then, the good … My praying mantis and Asian scorpion are pinned and drying. It has been a most interesting learning experience, re-hydrating and pinning these fascinating creatures. A couple days of drying and the photographing (finally) can begin. If any of you are interested in trying this in the comfort of your own home, I advise starting with the larger bugs. The Asian scorpion I tackled this morning is about the size of a penny. Separating the pincers at the ends of those tiny arms was a chore! And her little legs wee difficult even to see, let alone pin into place. And the mantis, larger and easier to handle, was so tall that she kept falling over. I finally jerry-rigged some cotton batting and wooden skewers to prop her up while she dries. Whew! If you still are interested, this is actually fun. If you are into macro at all, consider giving it a try.

We woke this morning to a snowy Bloomington, at about 11 degrees. Good day to think macro … indoors.

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Sue Haverstock On Cover Of Language Arts Magazine

Sue cover
This photo of Sue’s has been purchased as the cover for Language Arts Magazine.

I am proud to share that a photo taken by my lovely wife is gracing the cover of the rather prestigious Language Arts Magazine (a production of the National Council of Teachers of English). Congratulations, Sue!

The image is one of old post office boxes. A friend saw it and was quite impressed, enough to suggest that another friend be sure to check it out. Those contacts led to Sue being contacted by the Council and asked to submit images for possible covers of their monthly magazine. And, sure enough, this one was purchased, and it is the current month’s poster child.

Feedback like this always is most welcome, that others appreciate your artistic vision enough to actually spend some of their precious resources on it. Congratulations, my dear.

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