Where's DC (to me)?

Fall makes me restless, very restless. A teasing, tapping, breeze saying, "no time to sit". I let my hair down, do a little dance, and bask in what the summer no longer holds in its sweaty little grasp. At least that was the experience of my youth growing up in a place of sharply delineated seasons. Today DC is my reality, so when September comes and the thermometer still reads "90" I get confused - actually, really confused. (I recently confirmed the effect with a high-school friend now living in Virginia Beach.)

A direct result of my confused state, two nights ago I didn't fall asleep until well after 3am. During the night I began retracing my steps, asking myself how I ended up here and what I had left to see in this very oddly shaped city. Trying to recount my earliest memories from pre-k and asking myself what the meaning of this photographic life I'm trying to create is, a real late night jumble of thoughts to be sure which almost had me biking down to the Mall to watch the sun come up.

When the day finally arrived I grabbed my camera and wandered down to the mall, to search, perhaps, for some evidence of the fall, or at the very least to break out of the house, get away from the computer and make use of a beautiful (albeit warm) day.

I settled on the idea of blocking familiar, idealized views of the capital. ("Hey! It looks just like Where's Waldo", exclaimed Maria.) The idea opened a world of new possibilities. Everything was in play - fire hydrants, tour buses, and parking meters. My inspiration: a friend's suggestion to photography her kid on the mall looming over the Washington Monument. My dis-inspiration (is that a bit like saying ir-regardless??): stock DC images, Jeffer-sun-set, White (fluffy clouds) House, and other idealized riffs(-raff).

Here are my favorites: (See if you can find the Capital building in each of these images!)

More here:

.. and in case anyone is wondering. For these pics I got out my old Nikon AI 28mm manual focus lens (I find that manual, and especially fixed lenses allow/force me to think and move, resulting in better photos. The 28mm being one of my favorite when attached to my old F3, a bit less so with the digital zoom factor when attache to the D300, but still wider than normal) and a polarizing filter to darken the sky (also allowed for wider f-stops and freedom to play with DOF), and on some a bit of fill flash (just from the camera's pop up). I've been spending too much time in front of the computer playing with Photoshop and the like, so here I'm shooting and showing -just a bit of a vignette added to draw the eye into the center of the frame.

I think I may still add to the set - Maybe with a telephoto, maybe some other monuments with some day break mauve or an orange dusk.

.. oh and this from the botanical garden, because I just like the name and that it's from Brazil


Fashion of Goodwill

I'm just realizing - not a lot of blogging for the last few weeks (apologies to my faithful fan base - wink, wink.). That's all fine and good, because I've been substantially busy with some actual picture taking, so, while blogging is fun, I would much rather be taking photos. The best part of all this picture taking? Some of it is actually paying! - still waiting for the check to be true - but, in theory, a real paying gig. Maybe even more exciting, the images may actually be published. For now we'll just say I'm theoretically published with a promise to keep you all (wink, wink) posted.

On Thursday night I attended a really fabulous event, the Fashion of Goodwill fundraiser held at the French embassy (Thank you Brendan and Em for the press pass!). You can read more about the event in this Washington Post article, and read what other people are writing here and here.

For such a fabulous occasion, I thought it more than appropriate to rent a really fabulous lens, the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR - hot dog! (rent yours here for just $30/day, but be sure to reserve ahead of time). As photographers there are often times when we forced to admit that the right high-end gear will not improve our picture taking ability. This is not one of those times. Even though I already own a perfectly good 70-210, sharp and lovely for studio sessions - slow and dumb in low light, I could not have taken these runway shots without this fast VR lens. Granted the 2.8 VR is about the size of my forearm, and by the end of the runway show, my back was tired and a bit cranky. However, the lens performed flawlessly. Even when I turned the lens into the lights for that rock-n-roll wedding dress effect the lens was only occasionally fooled. Basically, if I missed a shot with this baby it was, in all likely hood, my own darn fault. Here are a few of the ones pointed directly into the light - love the view. FYI, these pics were shot in RAW but are pretty much right out of the box as they say.

More photos from the evening including more straight on runway shots can be viewed at my flickr site here.


There's Nothing Like the Fair

Taking advantage of some time away from the work place, I visited my parents earlier this summer on Cape Cod, the place where I grew up. I hadn't been back to "The Cape" during the summer months for a long while. As luck would have it, it was the week of the Barnstable County Fair. For us locals the fair really seems to get to the heart of the Cape's culture in a way that boating, the beach and country clubs don't. Needless to say I was anxious to share it with Maria. Being a Cape event means that it isn't big, crowded and overwhelming, nor is it small and boring. Instead it's more like just enough, basically a fun event where people of all ages can come to enjoy all the same things - just maybe for different reasons. One of my best fair memories was of Arlo Guthrie performing Alice's Restaurant when I was probably about 8. At the fair you have arts and crafts, farm animals of all types, giant vegetables, tractor pulls, a petting zoo and of course .. funnel cake (or if you are from New England just fried dough). Oh right! and of course rides and a midway with prizes that can probably be purchased for half the price of a play (or maybe a Chinese worker's day rate - but I digress). I wish I had all week to photograph and not just one night, because to me it's amazing that all of this still exists. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Something we never had growing up was the "demolition derby". We went Wednesday night especially to see this. Maria, being into recycling and repurposing and all things "green", I think had the idea that smashing already junked cars together into a rusty, unrecognizable pulp was all at once totally idiotic and, in a Bizarro World sort of way, a wicked awesome use of garbage. Either way it was very high drama, and she begged me to stay for a few rounds.

If you squint you can see some of the dirt that is hitting my camera from this spin out.

And of course - FIRE! The firemen on hand took an eternity to cross the arena to put out the blaze as the driver frantically waived his arms for them to hurry it up. I love the faces as the crowd reacts!

And the winner is .. #7! - well at least he was judged to have won this round. Someone said the car was a Gremlin, to me it looks more like a Colt. It was pretty hard to tell. The best part, beside the fact that the car was 1/2 the size of just about any of the other cars, was that both its rear wheels were those little spare donuts that you keep in the trunk in case of a flat.

To pay homage to the driver and his little auto, I spent a bit of time editing the photo in a "cinematic style" using a Photoshop tutorial I found on line here - not too bad. I think it's fun to play with these sorts of things. I don't know if its something that I would necessarily use in terms of "photography" (it's a bit more graphic design), but I think that its a good lesson in perception.

Oh right! Rides ..


Kids and Cameras

I photographed my first two-year old last weekend, a little girl belonging to some good friends of mine. I had done some portraits of other children - both older and younger - but not a two year old! I'm sure every age has its challenges, but after this humbling experience (one that I oddly enough aspire to have again), I can easily imagine this age to be among the most challenging. I planned the shoot for an open grassy clearing protected by large shade trees in an area adjacent to the C&O Canal. The idea was to be able to shoot in all directions to best capture the fast moving subject. I used the dappled light that filtered through the trees to create interest in the background and the bright sky beyond to create the catch light in the eyes (and in some cases a blown-out, highly illuminated background). The location was a good one, resulting in some very nice images. Above all else, I was happy that I didn't suggest a "studio" session, which I'm certain would have failed miserably. To start, there was no way that she was going to sit still! Then there was her general feeling about the camera being pointed in her direction. When she wasn't hiding from me, she was vividly scowling in my direction - I was told that she summed up my performance a few days after the shoot when she told daddy, "I no say cheese, Mark scary". I was, however, (somewhat) comforted by the fact that she also thinks the evil electric eels in the Little Mermaid are "nice". Anyway - two year olds - whew. Here are a few of my favorites.

More of the set here.

One last thought as I reflect on the experience - to some degree or other everyone wants to see children smiling for the camera - seems natural enough to want to think so. The following, however, is the image that dad says is her "classic shy" way. Maybe then in some way this capture will remind them more of how she was as a little girl - that's the goal I'm guessing - and then at least I don't need to worry so much about not getting a smile sent my way.


Its "All Good"

My first photo Blog ā€“ a quick reminder of a place that Iā€™ve visited before and may not return to again, the All Good Music Festival, in Masontown, WV.

I took pics of all sorts of things. Most in the category of typical summer music festival photos - i.e.: sunsets, hay fields, tents and trailers, umbrellas, bubbles, hats, Frisbees, body art, hips and hoops and groups of friends lounging in the grass, bright colors, festival fare - A setting provided, people acting the part. I did my best to capture the textures and temperature and to create a set of images that would take me back at some date in the future.

You can see the images here.

With so much of the expected I decided to give myself an assignment, so I spent one afternoon photographing folks and their sunglasses. The idea struck me as a good one with everyone having a pair - most of them funky, and it was a good excuse to say "hello", point the camera directly into their face and snap a photo, one that was intimate and expressive but still provided the subject with a degree of anonymity. The best part was, I got to be in most of the shots via the reflection (that's me there with the Red Sox hat on, festival goings-on over my shoulder). Everyone got a kick out of the idea. I would like to have taken some more, but at some point the crowd expanded. The volume of the music rose to the point that I couldnā€™t easily explain the idea.

These are the best of them (probably about half). I made some small adjustments in post production to kick up the intensity of the sun and the colors - hopefully not so much that the effect distracts, and they look fake. I'm still working on some PS techniques. I'm seeking some help from a more knowledgeable friend on Monday - maybe I'll do a few "before lesson" and "after lesson" side-by-sides to show off what I learn.

... and one more of Maria's sox (ha! take that spell check.)

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