Whoa! There’s texture, texture everywhere!

I am, or rather I was, not an especially observant person. Say I’d go to visit my Aunt Ivy with my sister, and on the way home she’d ask, “What did you think of Aunt Ivy’s new living room drapes?” Aunt Ivy got new drapes? I’d never noticed the old ones, let alone the new ones.

I like to think that it wasn’t so much that I was oblivious, but rather that I was focused on things that were more…important, most likely Aunt Ivy’s old dog Skippy or the always fascinating (to me, at least) fact that the only way to enter Aunt Ivy’s house was through the ground level back door, because her front door was a story above ground level, and in the many years since the house had been built, no one had ever bothered to construct steps up to it.

Actually, even more likely, I was focused on all the much more entertaining stuff going on in my head, not in Aunt Ivy’s living room.

Growing up, I never had an art class. My elementary school offered no art instruction. Art was supposedly required for me to graduate from high school, but the semester I was scheduled to take art, there were more students than art teachers, so the school waived the art credit required for my graduation, and I was assigned to a second semester of vocal music instead, a regrettable and humiliating substitution since I cannot carry a tune. At all.

In college I took two semesters of art history and another of history of film. I did learn about composition and perspective in those classes, but I saw those only when analyzing the works of others. It never occurred to me that they could, and should, be applied when I took photos.

Then, last year, I took “Introduction to Digital Photography,” and our first assignment was “texture.” What a revelation. Yes, intellectually I knew everything had texture, but while I may have looked at it, I never really saw it.

Whoa! The bark of the old maple tree has texture, and it's interesting. Who knew?

Whoa! The bark of the old maple tree has texture, and it’s interesting. Who knew?

I really saw for the first time, the multiple textures of the bark of my aging trees. I really saw the slick, shiny surface of the water lily pads in my backyard pond. And, whoa, the Lutheran Church near me had a facade of three distinctly different types of grey stone!

Oooh, my fuzzy purple scarf has yarns with texture.

Oooh, my fuzzy purple scarf has yarns with texture.

Oh, look, curb cuts have texture!

Oh, look, curb cuts have texture!

And like a truly obsessed person, I started snapping and snapping photos of all the newly-revealed-to-my-eyes textures: the waffled fabric of my blue walking shoes, the several kinds of yarn in my fuzzy  purple scarf, the knobby warning tiles on ADA-compliant curb cuts, the woven straw of my red hat, the rusting old nails left from removed yard-sale signs on the utility pole on the corner, the multiple cracks and patches on the concrete steps of the nearby social hall. I become rather fixated on capturing the surface of every interesting texture I finally saw–and they were many.

With each class assignment, I saw even more: shadows, patterns, reflections, symmetry.

And my life has never been the same.

Now I still might not really notice everything about Aunt Ivy’s drapes, but I’d probably notice that it had a lovely diamond jacquard weave.


The agony and the irony

I am not a morning person. So. Seriously. Not. A. Morning. Person. Never have been.

When I was a kid, and I had to get up for school, my mom would have to lead me by the hand to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face before I could function at even a minimal level.

Later, when I was all grown-up, and I worked in a job which required a long commute to be at my desk at 8:30 AM, I had to get up at 5:30. When I got to work, I wasn’t very productive for the first few hours, and really hit my peak productivity when it was nearly time to pack up and go home.

I envied the sunrise and sunset photos taken by other photographers.

Then, when I learned about The Golden Hour, that hour after sunrise and before sunset when the outdoor light bathes everything in a warm, golden glow, I appreciated how beautiful photos taken during that time were. And I so wanted to catch that beautiful light in my photographs.

But while sunset and the golden hour that preceded it were something I could do, getting up early to photograph the sunrise and the golden hour following it…uh-uh. Not so much.

I often had good intentions: on a Saturday or Sunday, I’d get up early, drive an hour to photograph sunflower fields lit by golden morning light; I’d get up early, drive to the Chesapeake Bay, and photograph the sun coming up over its waters; I’d photograph the pristine snow that had fallen overnight, before the sun turned it to mush.

But when the alarm went off, my body would ask yell, “Are you kidding?!” and then I’d turn off the alarm and go back to sleep for a while until I really had to get up.

Then, I found out some photographers were going to the Patuxent River on a Saturday to take sunrise and early morning photos. The weather forecast was for warm, beautiful weather. Once again…good intentions.

However, this time, I actually got out of bed when the alarm went off at 4 AM. 4 AM! My body moaned, “Noooo. What are you doing?!” But I didn’t go back to sleep. Yay for me! And then I packed my photo gear into my car, and I drove, in the dark, first down the highway, then local streets, then finally dark, unfamiliar country roads. (How did I ever manage before GPS to drive on unlit country roads, especially unfamiliar ones, where, if there were street signs, it would be too dark to read them? I don’t remember. I assume it just wasn’t possible, and no one did it.)

Eventually, after driving down a long narrow gravel road, I found my fellow photographers. It was almost sunrise. Just enough time to set up the tripod and camera. I’d done it! I was ready and excited to take photos of the sunrise and the golden hour that followed it.

Then the sky and landscape below it started to get light. And this is what I saw:

Morning mist along the Patuxent River.

Morning mist along the Patuxent River

Pretty pastel mist, but not exactly what I’d expected.

And it stayed foggy through the golden hour. And the fog wasn’t golden. Or pastel. Just gray hiding the river and surrounding landscape.

Mother Nature can be so darn tricky.

Lesson learned: shoot what I love

I only have about a month left in my Intermediate Photography class.

I have been trying to keep a positive attitude, reminding myself that even if the assignments don’t appeal to me when they’re assigned, maybe I’ll learn to love them.

Or perhaps like them enough to want to pursue them as a way to make some money.

Or at least appreciate any new and improved skills I might gain, both shooting and Photoshopping.

But the best attitude I can muster right now for most of the assignments is, “I may learn something that I may find a use for someday, something I might never have chosen to learn on my own.”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve taken any number of courses that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but later found useful–albeit mostly in trivia contests. (Q: What is the common name of dihydrogen monoxide? A. Water.)

And I keep telling myself that learning anything new in photography is always a plus.

But I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in the class is to shoot what I love. That’s the real joy of photography for me.

Neverending photo equipment lust

On Black Friday 2011, I bought a Canon T3, mostly because I wanted to take more photo classes, and every one that seemed interesting required a DSLR, not a point-and-shoot. The T3 came with two kit lenses and a nice free(!) camera backpack. I already owned several SD cards. And that seemed like enough equipment–until a few days later when the camera arrived.

Obviously I’d need a backup battery. So I bought one.

And was I really going to carry around a camera, maybe a second lens, a battery, and a couple of SD cards in a rather large backpack? I definitely needed a more compact case too. So I bought one.

But…doh…I’d forgotten about the need to clean my camera and lenses. So I bought a blower and cleaning cloth. OK. At least those didn’t cost a lot. That was it for now. Really.

And that seemed like enough equipment–until a few weeks later when, remembering how often I’d used a polarizing filter with great results back when I did film photography, I decided to buy one of those. And I also decided that that was enough spending on camera equipment. I don’t have much money, and I still had to pay for the classes that were the reason I bought the DSLR in the first place.

Then I realized that what I really needed to buy was a macro lens to take the kinds of flower photos I wanted to take. Checked prices. Holy not-in-my-budget! But because I needed the macro, I splurged. “I’ll just call this my Christmas 2013 present to myself.”

But No. More. Equipment. Especially no more lenses. I mean, now I had everything I needed to take some really nice photos. And I was content.

A few months later, in one of my photo classes, the instructor kept telling us that using a tripod probably would help improve the quality of many of our shots and would be required for night photography. I didn’t need to buy a tripod though, because I had been gifted a tripod during my film photography days, and I didn’t remember ever using it, so it was like new. And I discovered it was also like heavy. Honestly, even if I was physically capable of lugging such a heavy tripod around with me, I had no desire to do that. But I didn’t want to avoid shots where I needed a tripod. So…I needed to buy a new lighter tripod. And I did. OK. Enough equipment!

When cold weather arrived, I wondered how I’d manage shooting with gloves on. And then I discovered photography gloves! Well, that was exciting. And I found some cleverly designed  ones on sale, so not too expensive, especially with free shipping, so naturally I bought those. I liked them very much, and because I liked them so much, I showed them off to anyone who was willing to take a look. And I was happy.

But as I started to read more photography websites and blogs, I learned about other equipment that photographers often recommended. 50mm prime lenses for example. I could see the benefit in having one for indoor and low light shooting. And they weren’t terribly expensive. OK. That’ll be my Christmas 2014 present to myself.

Still, I really wanted to buy that ultra-wide lens I’d read about. It would be cool to have one for landscape photography, so I bought that. But I bought a used one, so that wasn’t so bad.

And even though I rarely shoot with a flash, I bought a speedlight. But there was an instant rebate on the speedlight. How could I resist?

Eeek. Was I becoming a camera equipment junkie?

Plus there were the photo equipment sites where I saw lens hoods, and lens cases, and padded neck straps, and rain sleeves, and bulb shutter releases, (and wonderful lenses I can never afford). Since my photography equipment budget already had been depleted through 2014 2015 2016, with the exception of the unaffordable lenses, those were all put on my (ever growing) Photography Equipment Wish List. (Yeah, I certainly lust after the expensive lenses too, but I am trying to be sensible and realistic even though I guess since it’s a Wish List I could wish for anything.)

My Wish List grew even longer once I joined a couple of Photography meetups and learned about the benefits of neutral density filters, and neutral density graduated filters, and studio lights, and lightboxes, and little bubble levels that attach to a camera’s hot shoe so they look sorta like Kodak Instamatic Flash Cubes. (I seem to have some difficulty keeping my camera level when I need to, so the levels were especially intriguing. Not to mention awfully cute.)

And other photographers have shown me their cameras with some features I’d love to have in my camera: an articulating screen (a much appreciated feature on my Canon PowerShot A95 point-and-shoot), the ability to use a wireless shutter release, built in wi-fi transmitter, and, oh my, an electronic level display. But while I lust after a camera with these features, unless prices of cameras that come with them come down–significantly–I’ll only be able to lust after them.

But lust I will after another camera, and more lenses, and everything I have on my Wish List, and new-to-me equipment I seem to come across at least once a week somewhere.

I suspect my photo equipment lust will never end. I could be wrong, but it does seem really unlikely.

Lightroom: will it lighten my editing stress? I hope, I hope

At the suggestion of several of my more advanced photographer friends, I have bought and installed Lightroom 4.

Let the new (mis)adventure in editing software begin!

I’ve started to learn-as-I-go to do a bit of basic editing and am finding Lightroom easier to navigate than Photoshop as my friends said I would. But Scott Kelby’s Lightroom 4 book is sitting on my desk now. 488 pages. Oy! Maybe ignorance is bliss in my thinking Lightroom really will be easier to learn well enough to develop some degree of proficiency than I’m finding Photoshop is. But I’m optimistic.

I will still need to use Photoshop in my photo class, but at home right now, I plan to use a combination of Lightroom and, when I need to do something beyond what I can do in Lightroom, Photoshop Elements.

Abandoned buildings, flowers, cemeteries, trees, odd structures, and stuff I find amusing–and dogs and cats

Lilies, Longwood Gardens

Lilies, Longwood Gardens

I’ve done quite a bit of whining about my struggles with my photo class assignments. And software (I’m looking at you, Photoshop). But I haven’t written yet about what about photography gives me the happies.

Grave Figure, Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore

Grave Figure, Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore

I like abandoned buildings, flowers, cemeteries, trees, windows, odd structures (old water towers, unique bridges, tacky tourist attractions), and stuff I simply find amusing. So these are what I like to take photos of.  I take more photos of those subjects than anything else except maybe my dogs and cats–because, like typical pet lovers with a camera, I cannot resist snapping a shot of my dogs or cats looking cute.

My Squeaky Cat

My Squeaky Cat