Archive | August 2018

The City Flowers

Who out there likes flowers?  Not me.  I was never much of a flower guy.  There was never much of a need for me to like them.  Sure they were nice to look at, but…well, that’s it.  They were nice to look at.  Occasionally.  Up until last year, my only real experience with flowers was getting a corsage for my dates to prom and homecoming, which my mother took care of, and the flowers for my wedding which my wife took care of.  In my defense I suppose, I did pay for and pick up said flowers so I wasn’t completely dead weight.

Then something changed.  Last year a bought a macro lens for my photography.  This allowed me to get super close to things and photograph the fine details of an otherwise uncomplicated subject.  As it turns out, flowers were a PERFECT subject for experimentation.  So experiment I did and now I can’t seem to get enough flowers and plants in my life.  I find myself noting new ones I’ve never noticed or seeing if there is a safe place to pull off when I see a spectacular roadside bunch of blooms.  I’ve even bought some plants. What!?

The world of macro has really opened up my eyes and allowed me to see things differently.  I don’t intend for my flower photos to over take my Pittsburgh photography as my best sellers in print, but I do intend to look at things differently as a result of my foray into flower photography.  And I’ve been able to do just that.

Seeing differently, and uniquely, has always been paramount in my work.  There are a lot of photographers these days so standing out is a challenge.  With the Pittsburgh skyline being my perennial (see what I did there?) favorite subject, I wanted to incorporate it in to my newfound, ever-growing interest in flora.  But how to do that?  I think I found a unique way which you will se in the proceeding photos.  Each composition will include some sort of bud, blossom, or bloom and also a bit of the ‘Burgh.  Whoa!  Holy alliteration, Batman!

Can you tell which part of Pittsburgh is peaking through in the pictures?

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It All Started With an HDR

Walt Disney once famously said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started with a mouse.” That mouse is of course Mickey Mouse and “famously” might be too strong a description of the quote unless you are a Disney dork like myself. The “it” he is referring to is essentially the Disney empire, which I could go on in detail about, but since I’ve alluded to my love of all things Disney in another post (READ IT HERE), I’ll skip that part. What I’d like to call attention to, though, is what this quote means to me: We all start somewhere. I’d like to share with you my somewhere.

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Let’s travel back a few years, somewhere around let’s say fall of 2004. I was a sophomore in college and things were going well for me. Grades were improving and I was in what at the time seemed like a perfect, serious (for a 20 year old) relationship. I was happy…until I wasn’t. Well, actually, until she wasn’t. Several hours before the stroke of midnight on February 14, 2005 – that’s Valentine’s Day, folks – my “serious” girlfriend broke up with me. Ouch. As if that weren’t bad enough, at that very stroke of midnight, we’d rip another page off the old day-by-day calendar and I would turn 21 on February 15. Double ouch. But at least I could now legally drown my sorrows in beer. But I did not.

I’d like to say what I did was take this opportunity to take a negative and turn it in to a positive.   I’d like to say it was no big deal and that “things happen for a reason.” I’d like to say those things, but I can’t and a discussion with my best friend recently reminded me that this saying is bullshit. Sometimes things suck and it’s okay for you to acknowledge that they suck. This was one of those times, even if only temporarily.

Make no mistake; I don’t recount this story for pity or feelings of sadness. By all accounts, I wouldn’t be where I am today without this chapter in my life. I am HAPPY now so I am grateful for what happened back then. It turns out that, in retrospect, this actually was one of those “things happen for a reason” scenarios. At the time, however, a void was present in my life for several months, a void that needed filling so that I didn’t sit around all day, wallowing in my self-pity making mixed CDs, which I did. I needed something to occupy my mind, to numb the pain but with a more positive influence on my life. As it turns out, that empty part of me took the shape of a camera and it was easy, satisfying, and productive to fill.

I started taking walks with my tiny little point and shoot camera, just snapping away with whatever struck me as interesting, with Point State Park being a common subject. The photos – snapshots really – were no good, but my mind was occupied and I was done feeling sorry for myself.

The void inside me began to shrink, and as it did my desire to turn snapshots into actual photos grew rapidly. Consequently, so did my camera when I bought my first DSLR in 2007. It was a used, entry-level camera – a Nikon D50 with a monster 6-megapixel sensor. It would be just perfect for my upcoming trip to St. Thomas and many trips to the zoo. But that camera just didn’t cut it. I needed more. I needed bigger. I am a man after all!

In 2009 I upgraded again for a trip to Mexico, this time to a new Nikon model, the D300, with twice as many megapixels as my last camera. At the time I thought megapixels was all that mattered, even though I wasn’t really printing photos. They’d only be seen on a small screen so resolution wasn’t as important an issue as I was making it out to be. But again, bigger means better, right? After Mexico, the camera probably spent more time on the shelf than it did in my hands – just kidding, I was a slob so it was probably in corner of my room on the floor under a pile of clothes and some empty Gatorade bottles. The point is I didn’t use it very much in ’09 or ’10.

Fast forward to 2011. I’d been using my camera a little more regularly at this point and uploading the shots to my Flickr account, a popular social photo sharing platform at the time. No one had really noticed the photos, and for good reason – they weren’t anything special or different. There was mostly wildlife and some marginal landscapes with a poorly executed Pittsburgh skyline shot sprinkled in here and there.   (I just went back in to the account for the first time in year’s today to have a look at the early stuff, and wow! It’s like looking at pictures of yourself decades ago….”What was I thinking!?!”).

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Eeeek.  This was an eye opener looking back on the ‘early years,’ but serves as a not so gentle reminder of how far I’ve come.  And thank heavens for that because except for one or two images here, it’s a load of junk!  PLEASE – don’t stare at it too long for you might hurt your eyes 😉

But then I uploaded a photo called “Winter’s Light.” This photo, oh this photo. It’s an HDR, which is short for High Dynamic Range meaning it contains fine details in both the dark shadows and the lightest lights and generally includes multiple exposures since camera sensors at the time were unable to record the detail that your eye can process in a single frame. Admittedly, it is very easy to let an HDR photo get away from you, looking almost cartoony and certainly fake. This photo is no exception. It has a painterly feel, keeping it just on the cusp of natural meets unbelievable but definitely falls beyond the range of my processing these days, which tends to have a vibrant, yet natural feel to it. That said, Winter’s Light has held up to the test of time for me, partially because I’ve yet to see comparably impressive light on the Warhol Bridge, which is the main showcase of the photo, since that cold winter day in January of 2011. Oh yea, and it still sells too!

Winter's Light!

A few hours after uploading to Flickr, it began to rack in the ‘favorites’ which is today’s equivalent to a Facebook ‘like.’ “Cool,” I thought. And that was it. Then the photo got “Explored,” which means a daily feature essentially. Again, cool! Up to this point, most of my photos received a whopping 2 favorites and if I were lucky, a comment or two. Again, they were mostly overdone HDR landscapes or wildlife shots that didn’t deserve much merit. This one, though, made it to triple digit likes and was racking in the views. This felt like a big deal for me. It turns out that it was.

Looking back, that extra bit of exposure on Flickr really was a catalyst for me. Though it didn’t go viral or directly result in any immediate sales – selling my work wasn’t even an afterthought at this point – and didn’t bring any notoriety either, it did serve as a fulcrum allowing me to leverage my passion for photography in to something a bit more. Winter’s Light did not launch my career in photography, but it sure has hell gave me the confidence I needed to pursue it!

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For grins and giggles, I went back an re-processed Winter’s Light with my current work flow and style. I’m digging the more realistic look, but the original still tugs on the heart strings. Feel free to let me know if you like the original or this edit better!

The Insane Photographer

They say that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” By that measure, I certainly must be certifiable by now. I’ll get to why, but first a little lesson I learned early on, before photography was a career and just my weekend hobby.

Ever since my first time picking up a camera, I’ve attempted to keep a strong gras o the number one trait a photographer must possess. It’s not a unique eye. It’s not the most expensive camera or lens. It’s not even an endlessly deep wallet that allows you to travel to the most exotic locations. Nope, none of those. Necessity numero uno for someone wanting to MAKE excellent photographs is….drum roll please…. PATIENCE.

In most areas of my life, patience is a virtue that has eluded me. I won’t get in to the messy details of why I think that is so suffice it to say I don’t like to wait. That is unless, of course, I am behind a camera. When I’m framing up a shot, I’ll tinker and tinker until everything is just how it needs to be. That’s more of an issue of perfectionism and being in control at this point, but once the camera is set, I’ll wait for the conditions to compliment the composition. Sometimes this takes 10 minutes, sometimes it takes 30. Sometimes, like on a cloudy windless day where I’m playing around with macro photos, I’ll be able to setup and shoot with no waiting because conditions aren’t changing. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes as long as I get the shot I envisioned.

So what does having an enduring resolve behind the camera have to do with being clinically insane? Well, not much, really, but please allow me to try and connect the dots for you. As it turns out I’m not quite as tolerant with waiting as the picture I just photographed for you would suggest. It turns out that if conditions are not shaping up the way I think they should or the way I want them to, specifically 15-20 minutes before the sun comes up or before it goes down, I’ll probably call it a day. I can’t begin to count the number of sunset explosions I’ve watched in my rearview mirror because I had been out for 2 hours and didn’t have the patience to stick around another 20 minutes because “it was gonna happen.” I can’t begin to count the number of sunrises that have looked like gloomy duds that turn out to be quite photogenic.

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This is a photo from yesterday morning atop the West End Overlook in Pittsburgh.  It is by all accounts a boring photo.  This, I was convinced, was all I was going to get.  If you look, theres a *little* color to the right, but the sun was coming up way off camera to the left.  Nothing was going to happen, right?  Wrong.  Keep reading to see what materialized with the light.

Realizing this problem doesn’t always happen in my rearview mirror either. Since photographers are so plentiful these days and everyone shares on Instagram, seeing my blunders is all but unavoidable because if I didn’t stick around, someone else did. And then they shared it. And I saw it. I saw the photo I didn’t get, but could have, serving as an instant reminder of the mistake I’ve made countless times already and probably will make countless times more. I see the photo of the sunset I missed…and it might as well be a photo of me in a straight jacket, because I am insane.

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This is what ended up materializing not too long after I left the city.  Granted this is from a different location, but again…I would have known better what it would have looked like from the West End had I stayed.  Credit for this photo goes to my friend Scott – you can AND SHOULD follow him on Instagram @pghpolicechief (Follow Scott HERE)