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Golda’s Lament. November 19, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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“Herschel, YOU IDIOT!  NOW look what you’ve done!

“I TOLD you not to turn left, but you HAD to turn left, didn’t you?? DIDN’T YOU!!!  Mother always said you were a crappy driver, and now look, LOOK at the mess we’re in! Mother was right, I should never have married you, you’re a CRAPPY DRIVER who will NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING, NEVER!!!

“Now YOU go get us some help, and make it snappy! I’m going to SIT RIGHT HERE UNTIL YOU COME BACK WITH HELP! There are BEARS out there, Herschel! You don’t expect me to go out there with BEARS, do you?? You IDIOT, Herschel!

I have a feeling that Herschel just kept walking…

More views of the Autumobile from a past post, with a possible back-story.

Because enquiring minds abhor a vacuum.

Playing with Elliot in the back woods of upper Monroe.

Where there are bears,  you know.


A Visit To Dunbar Brook. November 12, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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My friend and housemate Lizz and I took a ride out to Upper Dunbar Brook this past Sunday. Ostensibly, we were churning the fluids on her little truck Ubu, who has been sitting idle in the driveway for a couple of weeks, but really we were just out joy-riding, as we overgrown kids are wont to do.

To kinda set the mood, this was a drive out a wash-board dirt road with enough big rocks and “thank-you-ma’am” erosion bars to keep vehicles with lesser clearance at bay, ending with an encounter with Dunbar Brook at a place where it tumbles through a steep set of cascades.

The afternoon light was nice as we glided to a halt in the little dirt pull-off for the brook, and we both had big smiles on as we shouldered packs full of lenses and headed down to the water.

As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered with the pack; I had Elliot on the box, my Canon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens, and he found more ways of seeing this patch of place than I had time for.

We started with a couple of “overview” shots, kind of getting the lay of the landscape, if you will. The brook tumbles through a little tunnel which probably used to be a natural bridge, but has collapsed into its current presentation of left-side rock set against right-side ledge:

This is a decent example of Elliot’s capabilities. I spun the “tilt” function 90 degrees, then “swung” the objective (front-most) lens 8 degrees right, planting the plane of sharp focus just right of my camera and dialing the focus out until the image was crisp from the lower right through the upper left, with the opposite corners losing crispness. The result, as I appreciate it, is to focus the eye on a series of visual elements which makes me feel like I’m right there in the moment (it’s that mental compilation effect I’ve talked about recently.)

I used the same “swing” to get this larger view of the same scene:

…with the intention of drawing a viewer’s eye right up the crisp middle, while the edges of the photo release the eye by dint of their softness.

I hope that worked as intended.

Just a bit down river, the view excluded the arch but showed the geological tumult of these New England rivers:

This is with Elliot’s forward element spun back into “tilt” mode, and the plane of sharp focus planted along the scene with about a degree and a half of downward tilt. I’m painfully aware that this blog platform won’t show you the details of what that means, but I’m doing this as much for me as for you, and the high-resolution version of this shot totally knocks me out.

Hey, I’m disappointed by my efforts often enough that I feel entitled to gloat on the rare occasions that I get it right.  😉

I’ll end this little self-indulgence with a couple of details which  I liked, including this shot of a stranded pot-hole:

…and this detail of a little cascade, the only shot I have which is from Ollie, my 24-105mm zoom lens, as I needed his compositional flexibility to get what I wanted:

That’s an in-focus shot of a fast-moving subject. Parce that as you will, or just call it “art” like I do.

And that is all.

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.

Phall Pholiage Photos! October 10, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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More colors from this sub-optimal (but still pretty cool) season.

Locally, some back roads:

A Conway beaver pond:

Bittersweet on a barn in Hawley:

A few Deerfield river shots:

The real color, though, was higher up in the hills. I’d seen The Change coming to Southern Vermont and headed that-a-way, passing through the heights of Rowe, MA on the drive, and stopped off at a seldom-visited beaver pond for a couple of quickies:

I especially liked this shot of orange jelly fungus popping out of a fallen spruce along the pond’s edge:

All of these are from Elliot, bless his little mechanisms.

In Vermont, the best colors were along Route 9 between Searsburg on the east and Bennington on the west:

Of that last bunch, the more expansive views were captured by Ollie, the last two are from Gizmo.

This year, Autumn has been a finicky visitor and seems anxious to be moving on.

Oh well, let her go, I say. Can’t stop her anyway.

I may head farther afield in the next few days, searching for a few last kisses before Bleak November arrives.

Mood Indigo. June 5, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Well, naked bear encounters hardly comprising a full day’s activity, I eventually did what needed doing around the house (including putting my pants on) and headed out to do the extra-domicular things.  You know, food shopping, banking, job hunting, and taking photos of whatever looked interesting.

As it happened, the weather sucked for kite flying and sun bathing, but for photography, not so much.  I like the tumultuous skies and brooding atmosphere of intermittent storms, so I wasn’t complaining.

My errands took me to Hadley and Northampton, so I scoped out the farmlands down along the Connecticut river.  The crops were just coming up there – tiny corn rows, truck patches of beets and cabbage in their nascent forms, and potatoes.

Potatoes seem to be the commercially viable alternative to tobacco, which used to rule this fertile valley.  We grew legendary tobacco here, used to roll the finest Cuban cigars, big fat consistent leaves perfect for wrappers.  The flood plains of the Connecticut are littered with tobacco barns, now either re-purposed or falling into disrepair.

Here’s a shot from this evening, of a ‘tater field and tobacco barns in Hatfield, with the farm road’s edge swathed in a tangle of cow vetch and bladder campion:

Regulars here will recognize Elliot’s hand, with a crisp foreground leading the eye to a reasonably sharp horizon.  Thanks, Kid.  You’re the best.

And again, I hand held a three stop reverse graduated ND filter to bring the sky into balance with the darker foreground.

If this technical stuff bores those of you who don’t work at photography as I do, please forgive me, but putting words to it helps me to clarify my process in the same way that writing ideas into an essay exposes truths and fallacies.


Lupines. May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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The lupine fields up in Hawley have come and gone, their transient blossoms buffeted by wind and beaten down by storms.  I saw them nearly  there, then went back with my camera to find them past their prime.

Still, I set up beneath threatening skies to shoot a few images before the heavens opened up, and just barely made it, though I spent a good while mopping things dry when I got back to the car.

These images are a bit rough; the light was low and the breeze had picked up in anticipation of the coming deluge, so I shot fast and low, bringing up the exposure in post-processing and losing the presence of a well-taken photograph.

Lupines in a Hawley meadow:

…along a country lane:

…and this shot, just as the skies opened up, of daisy fleabane peeking out from beneath sensitive ferns in the lupine patch:

The vibrance of the ferns was eye-catching, and the sky dramatic, even if the conditions were sub-optimal.

Oh well.  The blooms are past their peak, and my next opportunity will have a different calendar year attached to it.  But for now, these shots will have to do.

Thanks to Elliot for his contortions on short notice; he tilted and swung like a champion, and then sat patiently as I applied a variety of hand held graduated filters to tame the sky.



Arch Guitar. May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
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At Northanpton’s Tuesday Market this past week I was delighted to find that they had entertainment.  Not John and Mary singing folks songs, but Peter Blanchette playing his own creation, the Arch Guitar.

Now, if you’ve been reading for any while you know I’m an old softy, so I’ll just admit to crying in public.  This was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, and certainly the most beautiful music I’ve heard from three feet away.

Mr. Blanchette is world renowned, and on the brink of flying off to Europe for another widely anticipated tour.  And if you’re selling out classical guitar venues in Spain, you might just be considered to have made it.

I asked permission, then stepped around the bowl where people were dropping change and dollar bills to get these shots:

This creation of his, the Arch Guitar, is the sweetest monster I’ve ever seen, with eleven strings and a fretboard you could launch planes off of:

This man is a genius, pure and simple.  Know his face:

…and, if you have three minutes, hear his genius:

I spent longer than this dialing in these photos, but given the entertainment, I wasn’t in a hurry.

Again, Elliot delivered, hand-held and unfiltered.

Great good luck to Peter on his upcoming tour.

And thanks to Elliot for his hard work, and to YOU, my readers, for humoring my divergences into things which are hard to categorize.


A Quickie. April 1, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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On the way back north from Saturday’s visit to The City, I pulled off in Northampton to see what was shakin’ in the fields down by the airport.  I found a little patch of Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans,  blooming well ahead of its usual June appearance:

That’s courtesy of Elliot and a hand-held reverse grad ND filter.

That was about all I could manage in the still-relatively-barren expanses beneath dismal skies.

The forests and fields are confused, with mid-summer temperatures interspersed with snow and sleet events.

I can’t say that I blame them…

Country Boy, Cityscape. February 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Politics and Society.
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Today I had occasion to travel to Albany, New York – ostensibly a two hour drive, though reality intervened to make it three.  Chalk it up to emergency road closures and a lack of maps on my part (hey, I’m a guy!)

Anyway, I went to answer phones at a thrice-anual fund drive for my local favorite radio station, WAMC.

Yeah, I know – local, but three hours away.  What can I say?  They’re amazing enough to deserve the pilgrimage and several hours of my life answering phones and writing down the pertinent information.

But as this post’s title implies, this hunter of landscapes found himself in an altogether different environment, and after serving my term on the pledge phones, I hit the streets looking for visual statements which would do this humble Capitol City proud.

Now, it was really cold and windy, so the colorful and intimate stuff seemed unlikely (and unpleasant,) so I set my sights on cityscapes which I could snag from my driver’s seat, or some reasonably close platform.  I came up with these images of I know not what – the streets were sparsely labeled and the buildings more pronouncedly so, and I really had no idea what I was looking at!

An edifice of State government, judging by the county names inscribed on its face:

Someplace Important, judging by its columns:

A skyline of buildings which I believe are part of the University of Albany:

…and another shot of some artsy buildings which are probably associated with some institution of higher learning and lower practicality:

Sorry for the ambiguity, but I was mapless and wandering and a bit out of my element.

All of these are from Elliot, with a butt-load of shift, a little swing and no filters, hand-held and hoping.

North Pond, Before The Snow. January 11, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Rumor has it that the next couple of days will deliver us from our present brownscape with a splattering of snow, sleet and freezing rain.

I’ve wished hard for the former, but will accept the latter with, um,  grace and resignation.

“The Latter” will likely compromise the just-now-forming pond ice up in Savoy.  I’ve been waiting for that, too, but those bogs seem to generate their own heat, and hadn’t yet been trustworthy to support the weight of interlopers like me.

None the less, not wanting to miss what I’ve waited so long for, I headed up to Savoy State Forest this afternoon and ventured out onto North Pond, where a couple of ice fishermen attested to the likelyhood that I’d not perish in a watery grave.  “Five inches,” one proclaimed as I headed out onto the ice, and as he had chopped several fishing holes, I figured he knew more than I did.

The late afternoon light found the growing pond ice crawling up the sides of the granite boulders jutting from its shallows, shattering and melting and refreezing beneath a sky of gathering clouds:

In the long run, the ice will win.  But for these present seasons, the granite will bend the ice to its will and weight, sending it skyward to wither in the dry air.

I continued along the pond’s edge, skirting thin spots as they appeared.  A fallen log, rotted and infested with insects, lay as a feast for boring birds and dotted with their drillings:

…though the pristine ice suggested that the borings had happened while the tree stood upright.

Farther along, a mysterious mound jutted from the shoreline beneath a storm-damaged tree:

…A beaver lodge!

I circumnavigated it, knowing that these industrious critters keep passageways open for easy access, and approached cautiously from the other side:

A patch of thin ice separated me from the lodge as I stood listening to a loud, rapid munching from within, punctuated by ecstatic, wheezy moans of pleasure.  It was a delightful moment in my day, and I spent quite a while standing there as silently as possible, smiling like a child.  🙂

Then I crept closer to the thin-ice access used by the tenants to get to the shore and the fresh woody shoots which provide the bark they eat.  Here their dooryard canal is roofed over by a canopy of thin ice pushed up by the last cold night and constrained by the season’s accrual of denser matter:

Beavers are amazing, both for their engineering feats and for their social structures.  I’m good with having them protected, though I understand the arguments of folks whose properties and water wells are compromised by their unbridled industry.

Well.  Onward.

Along the way I spotted a bit of color in the ice, which turned out to be a fisherman’s minnow, laid to rest in the cold grey ground of his birth:

But the light was waning, and the temps were dropping as the sun dived toward the horizon.

So I set up for a shot of the partly cloudy skies going all Technicolor and stuff.

Well, they didn’t.  What I got instead was another detail of a granite interruption to the ice’s dictum, with a bit of color to set it off:

Not spectacular, but still, it gives me a chance to share what I saw with you, my friends.

All of these are brought to you by Elliot, my Canon L-series TS-E II tilt-shift lens.  What it lacks in compositional flexibility, it makes up for in front-to-back clarity.

Next,  the aftermath of this oncoming weather event.

Cheers, – R