Apr 10, 2014

It's Zoo Season and Four Months to Go

After another prolonged winter, and slower melt than I would like to see, I finally had the opportunity to go to the zoo for some photos and more real-life exercise than what I get at the track. Unfortunately, there were still many piles of ice that were just soft enough that I could not wheel through or over them. Where the snow had been cleared in the winter there was heavy machinery for annual tree trimming. Because of that I really only got a few photos of the bears, a few of the lynx on the new platform in their habitat, and some decent opportunities to photograph some geese.

 Being prior to their hissy-fit stage, which occurs when the babies arrive, this one was kind enough to waddle up on top of a snow mound which provided me a much more interesting background than I normally can get from my seated position. There wasn't much I could do about the seeds and sand on its beak.

Normally I think more of geese with a goofy expression like the one pictured above, or steaming on a platter accompanied by mashed potatoes. But, when they are friendly and easy-going I like them a lot more.

It was interesting to watch the geese walking and stomping on the ice trying to break it up. They had made a few holes for swimming in but I doubt there was much in there to eat, yet. I'm sure that after yesterday's wind and tomorrow evening's rain it will advance the melt a lot quicker.

What was more interesting to me was watching them walk and fall through the snow banks that are still around. A video posted by The Camera Store TV today had some B roll of exactly that, a goose walking on snow and breaking through up to its belly. I guess Calgary isn't that much more melted than we are.

Lastly, before I decided I had seen all that I was able to get to for the day, were the lynx. Their new platform gives them both a better view out and visitors a better view of them. With the snow receding I should be able to get a better angle, with less fence in the foreground (but the red branches of the red bush against the fence were intentional). Early mornings will be the best time to find the cats sitting up there looking out.

But, the biggest news is of course that Angie is due in a mere four months. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that but feeling our baby kick for the first time the other night brought me one step closer to it sinking in to my brain. We will continue with the regular series of photos and post a new composite periodically.

For those interested in the technicals of the above photos, it varies from each session to session, but the location is the same (hence the entertainment center in our snug living room creeping into the bottom left corner of each frame) and the light sources, though the power may vary from one to the other, are the same each time. The key light on camera left is a 90 cm soft box with the equivalent of a one quarter cut of CTO, the fill on the right is a small Pringles-can strip light with a one half cut of CTO, and one hair light at rear camera right with a full cut of CTO and a 20° grid spot. For each I was at about 90mm, shooting between f/4.5 and f/5.6, ISO 200, no ambient influencing the photo.

I don't know if I've ever received so many "shares" or "likes" on Facebook and I'm appreciative of how much people enjoy the photos. However, I have a feeling nagging in the back of my mind. I am almost as passionate and dedicated to Challenging Reality, and have been posting photos there for over a year, pouring much effort, emotion, time and money into that, trying to express how much it means to me to those who view it, but cannot seem to get the word out the way I am hoping to. So, next time you take a look at that site or see a post on Facebook, could you remember how much it means to me and take the time to share it, or even create your own new post linking to the site or article.

Thank you.

Mar 27, 2014

Procrastination No Longer

  Photograph Bailey by Jay Scott on 500px

Even though not much has been going on in this space for some time, with a new baby on the way, there has been plenty getting done around here. So many of those little things, tasks or jobs have become more of a priority than they were not so long ago. They still are not critical but in the interest of getting things organized and tidy before Angie's energy levels get too low, and before the busy shooting season ramps up, I would feel better about getting as much done now as possible. At times the number of things that need doing feels overwhelming but all you can do is try to tackle one or two jobs per day and hope that only one more job gets added to the list for every two that get completed.

It's no surprise that what I enjoy shooting most is something that has purpose and I really do believe that Challenging Reality serves that purpose. I enjoy the subject, I enjoy the hope that it will help a few people, one day, and I hope that the readership will continue to grow. I don't deny that the fear of rejection rises up occasionally as I prepare to send out a number of cold e-mails to potential groups of interest. That is where you'll find consistent and regular new work and your comments and sharing it with other people is greatly appreciated.

Speaking of purpose, last weekend we had a guest in our home. Her photo is at the top of this post. We were very glad to help out Paul and his family as they were away at the same event as their usual dog-sitters. Bailey is a very laid-back puppy and we anticipated no problems but she was very homesick the first night. The next day once she played with Kiwi a bit and got to know us even better she was pretty happy. It hasn't been since Kiwi was first with us that I have met a dog who was temporarily so inconsolable and I found it sad and a bit frustrating, but am well aware that nights and helplessness like that are certainly in our future once a baby has has joined our family.

I hope to be able to finally release the photos from Velvet Pawz but do not want to do that until they have their website up and running. That will be something new to share. At Kiwi's last check up we got a little bit of disappointing news. She has had a bit of a limp for a time and we thought it might be an injury from playing but the vet thought that she might have some arthritis and recommended glucosamine, the exact primary ingredient of Velvet Pawz. So, we started her on it and her limp has definitely improved but we also trimmed her claws, which might have been long enough to cause her some discomfort. Time will tell.

In addition to that we learned that her front teeth are in not-so-good condition. We have neglected to brush her teeth but where she chews with her back teeth the vet said they look excellent. As a result she will be getting a cleaning and some of those worst teeth removed so that they do not become infected or a source of constant pain for her. It was a bit saddening to experience the reality check that our dog is not a puppy any longer, even if her morning reaction to being let out of her kennel tells us otherwise. There is a lot of spunk in that little quirky dog and I hope she gives us many, many more years of smiles.

Hopefully spring – the real spring, not this pseudo-spring tease – is on its way for good and I can begin sharing some photos from the zoo once weekly exercise takes me there.

Feb 16, 2014

First Photo Walk of 2014

It may have been indoors, at the thoroughly explored and photographed university, but it was good to get out and just make photos as they came and with no particular intention.

And I wasn't alone. It was the third organized gathering of the Help-Portrait Saskatoon crew. I organized  coffee together twice and decided this gathering should involve doing what we love most, second being talking photography.

Certainly not everyone made it out, but we've had better numbers than I first anticipated and we have become better friends which is great and can only serve to make next year's Help-Portrait go even better.

I've decided to try a bit more extensive processing, such as the second and third photos. I welcome your feedback.

I commented that I'd always felt weird whenever I'd wanted to set up a light and shoot this millstone, but in a group of other photographers, with their verbal support, I didn't feel as silly and I was pleased with the results.

Before coffee back at the Agriculture Building, I made a better portrait of the T-rex in Geology with Janet's help. Once we got the elevator unstuck (that one is always finicky) we returned to our starting point and shot the breeze.

I may be able to make the full album of everyone's shot on Facebook open to everyone, once it's put together. Check back later to see it. This link should take you to the album but it might be a few days to populate. Not eveyone's the keener I am. :P

Jan 28, 2014

Gaining Traction in the New Year

It has been a little bit quiet around here since before Christmas, even. That does not mean that things haven't been going on, it's just been content I am unable to share, yet. The above photo is a teaser of some of it. Work has been produced, projects have been ongoing, unique one-time opportunities have arisen and consumed reasonably significant portions of time, but with good results.

As I've stated before, so much of my energy goes into Challenging Reality because I feel that that is the area where I can have the greatest usefulness as the body of work continues to grow. I had this idea that I would start my campaign in early January and have sent out dozens of cold e-mails (similar to a cold call but an e-mail) and have seen my readership on Challenging Reality skyrocket. That has not happened because, though I have a prewritten e-mail, I am trying to customize it to each individual or organization so that they know I actually have an idea what they're about and and not just sending them unwanted form e-mails. That takes time. Not to mention, it is intimidating to send out those cold e-mails. I'm not even having to be rejected as a person may be with a cold call. I simply don't receive responses from those who are uninterested. And, I have received some very affirming support from a number of organizations that I have reached out to including the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, where I had a very brief visit 16 years ago. They gave me both some people to contact and permission to use Doctor Vogel's name when contacting them. He is the lead doctor in the neurological department of the hospital and the doctor I saw when I was there for a few brief hours. In addition to that they want me to be one of their people featured in the alumni portion of their newsletter, once it is instituted.

While attempting to interact with the Rick Hansen Foundation on Twitter, I was responded to by Reveca Torres from Backbones Online.com who wanted to feature me as one of their Hi Rollers, which is the post linked to in this sentence. That was no small honour and was the second time in a week I was having a conversation with someone in Chicago. As well, Challenging Reality will be featured in her newsletter that reaches over 2500 people and she wants me to write a post about it for her blog. I will begin working on that as time permits. Another potential upcoming opportunity related to disability is a piece I may be creating for Brain Week here in Saskatoon.

Brain Week is a worldwide week of events at various places, mostly hospitals and Universities, of activities, displays, artwork, silent auctions and other things that will help increase the awareness of brain injuries and diseases. It was thanks to Help-Portrait this year that this opportunity came about. A couple that I met at the gatherings for Help-Portrait, Garrett and Amanda, have connections with one of the researchers at the University of Saskatchewan who is organizing this year's events. They may not be as extensive in the past, but hopefully if I do make a photo it will be useful to the event. Whether it will, or not, I have already found a gelatin mold shaped like a brain that I have access to, not that they are hard to find online, but at this time of year shipping can be slow, so I will be making a photo of a brain analogue. In the interest of not making it look like a preserved brain, I started looking for real images online last night and was somewhat surprised at the feelings they caused in me. As with most internal anatomy, it isn't immediately beautiful. I think what caught me most off guard was my response to seeing the underside of one where the brainstem had been separated from the spinal cord. I will do my best to find a recipe that best resembles the colour as to have the greatest impact.

As much as there are a number of photos I have mulling around in the back of my mind, the ones I feel most motivated to complete are those related to Challenging Reality. With so much of the advertising and networking time being spent the time for actually making photos has been reduced and I find it impacting me. A number of them I need to wait until the weather warms up, others will take portions of time and portions of our home to complete. I'm still trying to find the best bracket of time for those without leaving too much equipment set up for too long in our living room or dining room.

In the next little while I will have something with more variety than the repetitive pattern of photos of Kiwi that I am noticing on here. Sometimes a lot of my own personal work has seemed to be without purpose. Challenging Reality put an end to that but I know that had I not played around, photographed the variety of things that I have photographed before now, and simply experimented, I would not have been ready to put together the quality of work I am not able to for when opportunities like Brain Week arise. Supposedly, to become truly skilled at any one thing you need to put in at least 10,000 hours. I have no idea where I am at time-wise, but I do recognize that any time spent studying, practicing or experimenting will pay off in the long run.

Dec 23, 2013

Christmas Greetings

Kiwi is guarding the gifts and wishing you a very happy, safe and peaceful Merry Christmas!

Dec 12, 2013

Help-Portrait Saskatoon 2013

The Help-Portrait events in Saskatoon have come and gone for another year. We still have a few loose ends to tie up, including repaying those volunteers who fronted the money for much of the event, based on pledges from companies who have yet to step up and fulfill their promises. We may need to take to social media to guilt them into paying up, which is unfortunate, but we cannot bear the cost ourselves nor let them renege.

Words like those are not popular, but as long as any responsibility lays with me I will do my best to make certain our Help-Portrait events remain about serving people, not bureaucracy and broken promises which diminish our ability to focus on the people.

And the people were great!

The photos in this post are from our clients that attended our first event at the Canadian Paraplegic Association here in Saskatoon. I chose to not post photos of all of our CPA participants based on my perception of their willingness to have their photo shared, not on them or the quality of the photo made of them. At the end of the post is a link to the album on Facebook containing the photos, both portraits and candid, from our main event at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge last Saturday, at -34C before wind. More on that shortly.

Lynnett, pictured at the top of the post, requested an autumn scene for her backdrop. Since I was unfamiliar with her and her personality, I had two choices available to her. A somber, darker scene, and the one you see in her photo. Her clothing suited the scene but, as you can read on Challenging Reality in the new year, one of the struggles with winter for a disabled person is the clothing. The bulk, restriction, and simple time and struggle to apply and remove it are hassles, to say the least. One more reason I want future events like this to be in seasons most favourable to disabled folks.

Desirée, Scott and Asha were not letting the weather stop them. We began with Desiree's portrait while Asha colored some Christmas coloring pages we had for the kids. Desiree's photo was just a nice look on a white background. Next, was their family shot. The Light Blaster, the tool we were using to project the backgrounds, did not perform terribly well with a white-ish slide. The winter scene behind them did not stand out the way that we had hoped. Considering how new this tool is to me this was an acceptable portrait but definitely made for something I have now learned. It may help if I use a proper projection screen because they are a certain material that interacts well with all colours and are not just pure white.

Desiree's husband, Scott, is a writer and wanted something with himself somewhere famous for writers. Through our conversations we came up with the concept of looking out a window at the Hollywood sign. For those technically interested, this was accomplished by using a slide printed with a creative commons licensed photo then adding a second slide meant to look like a large bay window. We were pretty happy with the result this produced.

Scott had his look and knew exactly what he wanted. I always enjoy working with people like that, who are willing to accept some direction, know what you are trying to get them to do, but also come with some very well defined ideas of their own.

Jamie and her kids were a bunch of fun. Look at those cute little faces! It took a few tries to get good expressions and of course her little boy would have nothing to do with sitting still. But each time they plopped him down in the chair with some excitement we got about two frames before he was off and running again. It was a lot of fun and we were glad that we could squeeze her in at the very last minute to get her some family photos made in time for Christmas.

Unfortunately for Laura, I was getting pretty tired by the end of the day. I hadn't slept much the night before and my people skills were slipping away as quickly as my alertness. We also came into her session not knowing what she wanted so we started experimenting the slides and seeing what she liked. After the first round I stepped aside and let others work with her. Eric is an amazing guy when it comes to working with people and I know there is plenty I could learn from observing him making photos and interacting.

I had to save the best for last. You probably recognize the first photo Lawrence. I did post it a few days ago but wanted to share it again so that all photos were in the same place. Lawrence came in knowing what he was wanting, with the guitar and some killer sunglasses, faux hawk at the ready after being touched up by our stylists. I had been planning his photo in my mind for weeks because ever since I met him I knew one day I wanted to make a portrait of him.

I certainly hope these are not the last ones.

We toned down the lighting and attempted to fill the background with fog from a handheld fog machine of mine. Unfortunately, it just does not have the output needed for that so we made it useful to add a little bit of character to the intensity of this playing.

He was pretty pumped about the results, but then so were we!

There is no question that without the team pictured below the day could not have been anywhere near the success it was. Many hands make a lot of things possible very quickly. A slight tweak to the light, a small adjustment there or a major change in the overall set up would've taken me hours to complete. It was great to have multiple sets of hands to help me make a day I had been excited about for so long possible.

Without the effective work of our stylists people would not have looked at their very best, the way only a skilled aesthetician can make a person look. We greatly appreciate their efforts and how they helped our clients to feel their very best before getting in front of the camera.

Thanks to everyone who made our first Help-Portrait event in Saskatoon a success. I think we will need to do another smaller scale one like this again in the future.

Our event that coincided with the worldwide event on December 7 was held at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge. Like I said earlier in my post, it was -34°C before the wind and we felt it. When we arrived the building was not open yet so we started behind schedule. Certain pieces of gear that we expected to be there did not show up so we were compromising and making do with what we had. The forms we needed our participants to sign so that we could make their photos were forgotten because of too much work being piled on Bruce's shoulders, but that was just a quick photocopy to make them ready to use. And, then, in order to get the motorbikes into the gym we had to remove the vertical post between the double doors in the gym so that they would open wide enough to get the Harleys through.

Once they were in, and we had our booths set up we were ready to roll. Unfortunately, be it ineffective advertising, cold temperatures or whatever other factors, we only served 95 people when we were expecting 300. It was a good day, we had plenty of time to make sure everybody was photograph well because there were no huge lineups at any point but, with all that time in organizing going into it we want to make the most of our time. We will gather our information and put together a document to help refine the process for future years.

The link below should provide you access to Help-Portrait Saskatoon's Facebook album containing the portraits and the candid photos of the day. Please feel free to like the group and stay updated on the news and upcoming events, the they next spring or summer or closer to this time next year.

Help-Portrait Sasktoon 2013 Album

Our day ended with an informal gathering at McGuire's with some food, drinks and a lot of great connecting and conversation. Amanda from Renditure Photography is friends with a researcher at the University who is studying neuroscience and has an art project she is working on to help bring awareness of certain neurological diseases. Because of my circumstances and my skill with still life Amanda asked if I'd be interested in participating in that project. I'm looking forward to potentially participating in it and am quite certain that no other post-Help-Portrait gathering included discussion about photographing rat brains.

I'm certain I will let you know if I have the opportunity to shoot something is interesting is that.