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A Venture Into Black and White. October 29, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Uncategorized.
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A quick shot of Susan at a horse farm in Stockbridge, MA:

I’ve been following the work of a few B&W photographers, and they’re affecting the way I look at things.

Sandy Comes To Town. October 29, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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As Hurricane Sandy blows in, I’ve taken precautions; we’re expecting less flooding than with last year’s Irene, but several days without power are expected.

I have candles and matches set up around the house as well as flashlights, battery-powered wall lights, and a headlamp with new power cells. I have a bathtub full of water for flushing the toilet, and five gallons of potable water in jugs. I cooked a big pot of pasta and have several jars of sauce on hand, as well as bread, hummus and cooked shrimp.

Our little generator is in place, with five gallons of gas at the ready; extension cords are in place to power the cellar freezer and sump pumps (flooding two years ago was an expensive disaster) and the fridge and microwave upstairs.

There’s wood on the porch for the kitchen wood stove, as without power, the oil furnace is inoperable.

And the yard has been tidied up, with all of the summer niceties hustled into the barn.

That left only the radio to attend to; it takes six D-cells when it isn’t plugged into a working outlet. And don’tcha know, I only had two.

So this mid-day, I set out to get D-cells. I hit the local hardware store – nope. I drove the half hour into Greenfield and tried several supermarkets, Radio Shack and Home Depot. Nope.

“We’ve been outta those  since Saturday!” was a common response to my queries.

I drove another half hour to Northampton, hit hardware stores, another Home Depot and *gag* Wal-Mart. Nope, nope, nope.

Finally, across the river in Hadley, I checked at Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters…

Yup!   🙂  Gotta love those outdoor stores – their smaller clientele means the wider public doesn’t go there for their basic needs.

So now I have food, light, heat and a way of knowing what’s happening in the World Out There.

On the way home I saw the first of the damage; a huge white pine had fallen on the Olde Willow Motor Court just down the road from our house:

They’d trimmed up a lot of the damage by the time I got this shot; the roof has more holes than Albert Hall, if you know what I mean.

This was heart breaking to see – their restaurant was inundated by Irene just a year ago, and these little Mom and Pop businesses really hurt when bad things happen.

At home, I took advantage of a lull in the rain to bring the compost out to the garden, and was rewarded with the sight of a big tree just uphill of the house exploding in the wind and crashing to earth.

I’m going to hunker down by the wood stove and process photos as long as the internet works. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, it quit, but don’t worry, I’m most likely good.

You take care as well, and be safe.


UPDATE: I’m fine here, no real problems after all that preparation! Thanks to all who expressed their concern. 

A Haunted Corn Maze! October 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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If you’re out in these parts as Halloween approaches, here’s something you might enjoy: the Hick’s Family Farm Corn Maze in Charlemont, MA. It’s right on Route 2, easy to find, and surrounded by lots of other stuff worth doing on a late Autumn weekend.

This weekend sees Act Two of the Hicks family turning their popular Corn Maze into a phantasm of gore and glee – they did it last weekend as well, but this incarnation of the unincarnated is closer to Halloween, and thus more relevant in the popular mind.

Go if you can, but if you can’t, here are a few shots from my visit, just before it got too dark to shoot and the live people showed up.

A Scare-Crow competition, with a local butcher ( an historical figure in town) as the winner:

A couple of the apparitions who will greet you along the path, but with their eyes glowing in the post-sunset gloom:

Yeah  they’re spooky. But there’s a lot more beans I won’t spill. I’ll just recommend you bring a change of pants.

And dig the Jack-O-Lanterns while you’re there:

Happy Halloween, in case I’m without power on the Actual Day due to Storm Sandy!

A Waterfall. October 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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This Autumn was a bit of a disappointment to me, photographically speaking; the color was lack-luster, less than vibrant, and painfully brief. Long dry stretches punctuated by prolonged wind and rain kept me from seeing what I’d spent a year visualizing, and made it all go away much too quickly.

As an example of what I mean, the fall colors limped along from faded to trying to brown, then blew away. A photographer friend had suggested we share a ride out to Bash-Bish Falls in the southwestern corner of the state, but that never happened, both because there was no particular time when the colors were vibrant, and because at their presumptive peak, the weather had been so dry that the Falls were reduced to a pitiful trickle.

Ah, well – Cest la guerre.

But today, on the heels of a few days of rain, I took the plunge and drove the circuitous route out to Copake, NY and up into the chasm where Bash-Bish plunges through its spooky little gorge, and hiked down to the falls, knowing damned well I’d missed the foliage season but would at least have water.

The light sucked (that’s technical photographers’ talk) and despite the long drive and steep walk in, tormenting my ruined right ankle, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to set up a tripod. Instead, I scrambled up and down the river banks, navigating wet-leaf-coated boulders above lethal drops into roiling whitewater, occasionally flopping down to see what Elliot would see should I decide to push his buttons, and eventually settling on this:

That’s hand-held at 1/125th of a second, not how tilt-shift shots are usually done, but hey…

This turns out to be a really clear example of what the “tilt” in a tilt-shift lens does. I wanted to capture the river clearly, from front to back, but the low light really didn’t allow for the high f-stop (small lens opening) which gives great depth-of-field. Instead, I chose f/8, a moderately large aperture opening, which would normally deliver a limited depth-of-field. But because I was shooting with Elliot on the box, I swung the objective lens 8 degrees left (maximum “tilt”) and planted the plane of sharp focus right up the middle of this shot.

The result is a lot like what our eyes and brain construct when we look at a similar scene; we scan the relevant parts, i.e. the cascades and falls, and compile them into a composite image which feels like we’re seeing it all at once (though that’s a physical impossibility.) We disregard the periphery, mostly ’cause we don’t care about it in the moment. You’ll notice that both the left and right edges of this shot are wildly out of focus, despite the fact that the middle is sharp, from the foreground leaves to the background trees.

That’s “tilt-shift” for ya – an engineered algorithm for what our brains do every second we’re awake.

Pardon my getting specific here, but I’ve had requests for more detailed explanations of how I do what I do, and if you’re interested in knowing, I’m interested in telling you.

My apologies to Bash-Bish Falls, which deserves a bit more un-deconstructed reverence than I’ve given it here. It’s an overpowering place, more than worthy of a visit if you’re in the Northeast. But go there off-season, and avoid weekends. It’s accessible enough to be over-run on any weekend when the weather doesn’t suck really hard.

A Visit From Elizabeth Warren. October 23, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Politics and Society.
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We had a guest in town this week. Elizabeth Warren, candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, visited The West End Pub in Buckland as part of her Western Massachusetts campaign.

She was enthusiastically greeted by a relatively large group of people in this usually uncluttered town. That’s her in the red jacket in the middle of this crowd:

She was an attentive listener:

…and seemed to care about engaging with people:

She talked a little more formally about the things she believes in and plans to work for:

I wasn’t an unbiased observer, but rather was fully on board with her appraisal of problems and prescriptions for solutions.

I knew I wasn’t alone in liking this as Pip wagged his tail in appreciation:

Thanks to Ms. Warren for noticing that we exist out here in Western Massachusetts.

Haven’t seen a hair of Senator Brown…


A Stylistic Departure. October 21, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Yes indeed, a departure from both my obsession with Mother Nature and the landscapes she surrounds me with, and the hyper-intense palette of Autumn in New England.

This past Saturday I headed down to Springfield MA to see a show at the Valley Photo Center, facilitated by local photographic luminary Gene LaFord. Gene works way too hard to bring quality work from world-class artists to Springfield, and in this case outdid himself by bringing in the amazing work of world class printer Bob Carnie and his wife, Laura Paterson, both (duh!) from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Bob is among a small handful of printers who get to work with the Beta versions of new photographic papers which might hit the streets. Try to imagine what that means in terms of his knowledge about what goes into making an excellent print even better.

At any rate, the show was jaw-dropping, both for what Bob does in his printing (and photography) and what Laura does with a plastic Holga camera.

As I stumbled dumbstruck through a room full of their work, I wrestled with the question of whether to just throw my kit off the South End Bridge or TRY HARDER, and opted for the latter.

Google any of the names I just dropped and you’ll see just what I mean.

This comes at the heels of coming to know the work of Manuel Vilanova, a co-conspiritor in a Facebook Photographers’ Group to which  I belong. Manuel does a lot of black and white photography, much of it portraiture, but some of it landscape/architectural, and all of it an instant lesson.

So on the way home from Springfield I stopped in Holyoke, where their City Hall had long intrigued me, but for the visual translation of which I lacked a language.

Manuel’s photographic style had suggested a certain set of motions between the objective lens and film plane which Elliot is capable of, and a brief conversation with Bob Carnie made me want to check out the “curves” tool in Photoshop. I employed all of that and some other stuff I’ve gleaned from more experienced photographers to take this shot (converted to B&W) of the Holyoke City Hall:

Elliot’s tilt-shift functions delivered this composition thusly: I aimed the camera (on a tripod) considerably more skyward than what this capture suggests, then scrolled the “shift” function downward to achieve this view (well, ok, I scrolled first and aimed second, but I want you to understand the optics of shifting.) This exaggerated the “vanishing point” effect of looking up at a tall building, making it soar beyond what the naked eye would see. Then I tilted the objective lens downward a degree and a half, laying the plane of sharp focus along the line running from the (red) rose in the foreground to the top of the clock tower.

That gave me the composition I was looking for; the tonal range from blacks to white was achieved by adjusting the values in a B&W layer in Photoshop, bringing up the levels of the red foreground rose and the intermediate yellow leaves until they glowed, then using Bob Carnie’s “curves” advice to bring the mid-tones up.

I know, that’s way  too much information for those of you who come here for “eye candy,” but I’ve had requests for “how-to’s” from photographers who want to improve their art, and while I feel under qualified to be their guide on that journey, I feel that I ought at least to try  to be of some use…

So there it is, a B&W urban image, one which I’ve wanted to capture for a while now, but until this weekend felt unqualified to attempt.

I’m almost satisfied with the result.

Late Autumn. October 19, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Well, it’s that time of the season.

The Leaves are losing, The Wind is winning.

Locally, the maples have given it up, the ashes are skeletal and the oaks have gone brow.

Thank Gawd for the poplars in their yellow finery, dancing beneath a skyline of pines:

That sky benefitted from the sun being at just the right angle for a polarizing filter to work its magic.

Roadside brush filtering the sun’s afternoon energy:

This was one of the few reds in evidence; the sugars which turn sugar maples crimson were one of the casualties of this summer’s inconsistent weather.

Yellows, though, survived the strangeness. Besides the poplars and birches, beeches go yellow ranging to a burnt ochre:

…which is startling against a deep blue sky.

I turned off the open (and sunlit) road to get into the forest, and in a stand of pines I got this image:

I got well along into this drive before the road was blocked by a fallen tree, and I had to turn around.

I may go back there with a chain-saw and a big iron bar, but I’m not promising anything.

More Comp Pics. October 18, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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Here are a few more shots from the September WMCC Rendez-vous Bouldering Competition at Central Rock in Hadley, MA.

It was a very active night:

…with people dangling from every possible (or impossible!) surface:

This woman was stronger than dirt, I tell ya.

The participants largely ranged from young to younger. People I would call “kids,” no disrespect intended ( I once was one) threw moves which made this old dust-farter wince:

My ruined shoulders can no longer do this without causing further damage, which I’ve sadly resolved to avoid.

But this was a night for The Unbroken to shine, and they did.

Here’s some of what I saw.



…and power,  of both the XX and XY sort:

You’re welcome.  😉

It was a night of movement:


…and the Art of the Static Cling:

… all attributes which will serve these people well going forward, both those who maintain their connection to climbing and those who move on to other arenas.

I’m reluctant to admit that I’m only about half way through the images I captured on this night, but I’ll probably spare you another blog post (unless you ask for it. I know this is outside of most people’s experience, even though it’s been central to my life, and don’t want to beat you about the head and shoulders with my passions.)

Besides, Autumn is fast fading, and I want to get more of that posted before it’s irrelevant.

And then there’s the coming Age of Frost…  😉

A Slight Detour. October 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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This past Thursday morning I set out for Northern Vermont, with the intention of getting some Autumnal photos.

Well, part way there, an employee of the State at a visitors’ center told me that Northern Vermont had turned brown and been blown clean by high winds, and unless I was looking for bare branches, I ought to look elsewhere.

So. “Elsewhere,” eh? Where might that  be?

I recalled my housemate Lizz saying that the Maine coast was usually behind the rest of New England in its rotation through the seasons, on account of the moderating effect of the ocean. So…

…off to Maine!

I charted a course across interior New England, which wasn’t entirely straight-forward – there are, apparently, no major roads making that journey.

Still, ten hours of driving later, I arrived at Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, the first place in the nation to receive that designation. It was evening, and I barely had time to check in and buy a pass before it was time to head up Cadillac Mountain for some sunset shots.

The drive up afforded me views of Bar Harbor, the tourist town people come to from all over. And they’re not wrong to do so; there are a hundred fine restaurants and fascinating shops full of local arts and crafts, most at a premium price, but all worth considering. It’s one of my favorite little towns, though I’m economically relegated to browsing.

Anyway, the ride into the Park afforded an overview of the town below:

…and the world which comes from afar to see it:

My immediate destination, though, was Cadillac Mountain, the first place in the nation to see the sun rise.

I got up there in plenty of time to wander around in the light, but a distressingly high wind at first kept me from doing much beyond taking snapshots of the geology of the nearly-bare dome:

Sorry, no filters to balance the earth and sky, just a shell-shocked wandering in search of a subject.

As the light waned, the wind dipped slightly, and I got a grip. The long rays of the impending sunset painted prominent boulders red, and I took the opportunity to get my customary self-portrait:

The actual sunset was screened by a higher swatch of boreal forest to my west, so I opted instead for captures of the local flora…

…looking eastward, out to sea, toward the rising Earth-shadow.

The Wind, bane of us photophiles, was relentless. I searched for hollows in the landscape which might escape the brunt of the tumult, and found this scene:

That’s from Elliot, with five or six degrees of swing to plant the plane of sharp focus right up the middle of this scene, giving me the details of the foreground granite, the tuft of golden grasses and tall white flowers in center field, and the more distant trees. The trees looked capable of telling their own separate story, but in the fading light I didn’t get to explore that.

The coast seems to beg a curved interpretation of this Earth we live on, and  sometimes it even becomes visually apparent:

…thanks at least in part to the curved dome of granite I was standing on to take these photos.  😉

Night fell, and I began the sketchy task of finding a place to sleep for free in a place which makes its money off of visitors. There are a lot of people here whose solvency depends on a lively influx of tourist dollars, but I don’t have any of those dollars and intended to sleep in my car (hey, it’s big enough to be comfortable!)

I found an off-the-beaten-path picnic area and tucked myself into the bushes, then sat until well past sunset before breaking out the kit again for some loooong exposures of the night sky.

It was cold and clear, and the Milky Way was alight above the firred forestscape:

I shot for a while, then got into my sleeping bag for a few hours of sleep.

I got up just after five and hiked down to the shore in time to see the sun warming the Eastern horizon:

This was a nice spot, perhaps less overrun with photographers than the Island’s more iconic spots like Otter Cliff, where I’d originally planned to spend sunrise. In fact, there was no one in sight as I caught the geometry of the cove solidifying in the rising light:

I switched lenses to get Elliot’s perspective on things – he’s particularly adept at interpreting planar scenes, and wanted a shot at this rocky coastline.

I like what he did here, seeing the nearby granite as a path toward the rising sun, with a subtle hook directing one’s attention to the spit of forest on the left which balances this scene.

Thanks, Elliot. Your way of seeing things informs and enlarges mine.

As the sun came up the clouds came in, and the light changed from the clear air of twilight to a hazier brew. I headed around to the windward southern coast. There the waves were rolling in and breaking on a coastal shelf of granite, spreading over the rocks as they sought their own level:

Getting this shot was really fun for me. Driving to the Coast is always a trudge, but the Maine  coast is an especially long drive, and getting what I came for was a real thrill and a great relief. Taking this photo tipped me over the balance point of effort and reward, and I finally knew the trip had been worth the cost.

The walk back to the car was through an expanse of coastal forest draped with moss and carpeted with lichen. I’d rushed in past this section in the dark, but my more leisurely retreat allowed me to stop and take some shots.

At first I thought I’d switch to my macro lens and get some details at ground level, but the light was a bit harsh for that – I’d have gotten better shots just before sunrise, if I hadn’t opted for a view of the shore. So instead I kept Elliot on and looked for planar subjects, like the weathering granite which underlaid everything.

Here some displaced blocks seem to delineate a tableau of trees:

As I set up to shoot along the textured surface of this next boulder the sky obligingly turned angry. I love this look, and felt blessed by its unanticipated appearance:

The change of light provided some needed saturation to the scene. Thank You, Father Sky.

I snagged a few more shots of details in the moss-draped forest:

…then beat feet as the clouds lowered and portended rain.

Sure enough, by the time I headed for the park exit by way of Jordan Pond, the skies had opened up and shooting was limited to occasional breaks, like this moment when I passed the North Bubble:

Park rangers say this area is just moving into peak foliage season, so if you’re in these parts, this might be a great time to visit.

This trip was totally unplanned; I didn’t even have my maps of the area with me. I’d intended to be in Vermont, after all. But despite the 18 hours round trip drive and my 5pm-11am window of being there, I was glad I went.

Talk Amongst Yourselves. October 12, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Politics and Society.
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I took this shot this past week, and couldn’t help thinking “political thoughts:”

Like, “Governor of New Jersey Visits Western Massachusetts.”

I gave up writing political rants a good while ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about it.