Portrait Model

As little as I know about photography, I know even less about portrait photography.  What I do know is mostly from a lifetime of smiling and nodding at people’s pictures.  My only formal training on the topic came in one evening of a class I was taking.  The main things I took away from that evening were:

  1. Zoom in.  Only include the important parts.
  2. Turn the camera to the vertical.  Whether it’s a head shot or full body, people fit better vertically.
  3. Use a long enough lens you can be a comfortable distance away.  This will prevent unflattering distortion like enlarged noses as well as help with the last item I remember . . .
  4. Get your subject to relax.  This is the most important skill of the portrait photographer.

The instructor also talked about different types of lighting, but I prefer to shoot outdoors and never had much interest in studio lighting. I confess I didn’t pay much attention to that part of the class.

A guy in the class showed me what a great shot he got of the model.  About 2/3 of the photo was occupied by the chair, floor, wall, ceiling, lights.  Seems he also ignored part of the class.

Tonight, I have the sudden urge to practice a few portrait shots.  What I don’t have is a model.  But, I forgot, I always have a model.  I just have to get him to lie still.

I coax Tisen up on the couch under a soft light and pile his collection of squeaky toys around him.  I step back to the tripod and discover an interesting difference between dogs and people–dogs follow you when you walk away.  I try again.  This time, I hold out my hands and tell him to stay.  I make it to the camera and manage to get off a few shots before he gets up again.

By the third try, he seems to have caught on that I want him to hold still while the camera does something.  I have the camera set on 2 second delay, which is normally not a good choice when shooting a subject that suddenly gets up and leaves without warning, but he seems to be taking a cue from the yellow light that flashes until the camera fires.  He watches the light and holds still until he hears the click of the shutter.  Maybe he makes a good model after all?

The down side is that he looks tense.  He watches me and the camera for any sign that he can get up.  The pile of toys look like they are leering at him, reminding me of something out of a horror film.  I take pity on my patient model and tell him he can get up.  He immediately takes one of the offending squeaky toys, Red Dog, by the . . . body? . . . and gives him a shake for all he’s worth.  Red Dog won’t be leering at Tisen again any time soon.


Training for the Birds

Over the weekend, I had my first lesson in bird handling.  While we previously met these birds of prey during a “Raptor Experience” a couple months ago, I am now learning how to handle them so I can assist during educational programs.

The first thing I learned was how to grab a handful of chopped mice and shove it into a training pouch.  This is one of those things that really makes you want to go “Ewww!” Especially when you get chunks with tails and faces attached.

First task accomplished, I now get to watch how to properly enter an enclosure.  First and foremost, there is a sort of foyer area enclosed in chicken wire that you must enter and close behind you before opening the door to the birds quarters.  Second, you don’t actually walk in with the bird in there.  Rather, you put a nice fresh chunk of mouse on your glove, stand behind the door, and hold your arm out for the bird to land on.  This way, you don’t have to worry about being “footed” in the face.  The bird lands nicely on the glove and starts eating, giving you time to secure its jesses.

The jesses are the equivalent of a collar for a dog.  They are leather thong things that go around each leg of the bird and hang down a couple inches, allowing a leash to be hooked to them that can then be secured to the glove.  They allow the handler to keep the bird from flying off, essentially.  I am warned that securing the jesses can be a vulnerable time and that Cody, the Red-tailed hawk, is known for footing people if they get their hand too close to the glove while securing the jesses.

I also learn that “footing” means talons seizing flesh.  Not a fun thing to experience, but something that happens to varying degrees of seriousness ranging from scratches to talons driven through cheeks.  None of which really sounds like something I want to try.

We fly Theo, a Barn Owl, and Kayse the Black Vulture in addition to Cody .  I practice holding my arm out to make an appropriate target, as well as securing the jesses when a bird lands on my glove.  It looks simple, but I am befuddled by how to wrap the jesses between my fingers without getting the bird’s foot caught.  Fortunately, they are patient with me.

Since I don’t have pictures of the birds, I decided to do some more night sky shooting tonight for my morning post.  I’m feeling a bit lazy after yoga class and just shoot from the balcony.  I kind of like the roof of the balcony I caught in the frame in the wide angle shots.  I also switch lenses and grab a few shots at 560mm.  I did a little more experimenting with HDR and was disappointed I couldn’t get a properly exposed moon into the shot.  I guess I will have to try again.

Not 25

Today was a hang gliding day. I didn’t take the helmet cam this week. This is mainly because I got to the car without it and going back up 4 floors to get it when we were already running late was just too much for my “don’t go backwards” approach to life.

I hand my iPhone to Pat when we arrive in the hope that he might take a useful video from the Kubota, but he was too busy driving to do any filming. I did take one still shot from the hill of the gliders lined up on the small hill in the distance.

I have a really good day flying. My first flight is just plain fun. Even though I flared too late and didn’t land on my feet, it felt good to be in the air. It’s flights like these that make me think maybe I really do want to fly off the mountain–after all, wouldn’t it be nice to have 8 minutes in the air instead of 8-12 seconds?

All the landings on the training hills–all 150+ of them–have taken their toll. My knees and hips feel like they’ve aged 20 years. While I joke about getting old, I’ve usually had a hard time remembering I’m not 25 anymore. My knees and hips scream “YOU’RE NOT 25!” at me every time I stand now. I’m sure walking dogs in heels all winter hasn’t helped. I’ve started wearing my fivefingers shoes again now that it’s warming up. It’s helping, but it does look pretty silly.

I wish it was warm enough to wear them on the training hills today, but it was only in the 20’s when we first arrived. Fortunately, it warmed up quickly. After getting in about about 10 fantastic flights, 8 of which I totally stick the landing, it’s time to head up top.

The wind isn’t acceptable for a novice rated pilot, so I am relieved I don’t have to decide if I’m really ready to launch from the mountain. Instead, we do some paper work–I am now an officially rated pilot with a membership in the USHPA and Pat and I are official members of the Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Since it doesn’t look like the weather is going to be good enough for a tandem training flight either, I cancel my tandem flight and we head to the Longhorn (not to be confused with the chain steakhouse) to gorge on eggs and bacon.

Apparently Tisen is not the dog-years equivalent of 25 anymore either–his walk mimics mine after running free all morning.

At sunset, I continue my HDR experiments with some high-contrast photos. This time, I find the info button so I can make sure I get the exposures I need to maximize the effectiveness of this technique. I figure this will be a better test.

In the end, I still like the lighting effects achieved this way in the black and white shot, but generally prefer the manually adjusted photos over the multi-exposure combined images. Which do you like?

Focus, Focus . . . Oh, Crap

There is one tool essential to the budding photographer, uh . . . shall we say “of a certain age”?  It’s a tool that has yet to appear on a single list of equipment that I’ve found.  It’s not been mentioned in any of the photography classes or workshops I’ve attended or discussed in the online class I’m currently taking.

Yet, when manual focus is required, the best way to achieve sharp focus on my camera is to use the LCD with live view and magnify the image 10x to see how sharp the focus is.  This, however, cannot be achieved without the quintessential piece of equipment everyone leaves off their list–reading glasses!

Venus, Jupiter, and the moon have been teasing me the last few nights, promising some really great night shots.  But, wind and preoccupation have prevented me from capitalizing on their convergence.

Tonight, Tisen reminds me it’s time to take our evening walk about the time the sun has disappeared behind the mountains.  A few wisps of orange clouds leave the only trace of what might have been a dramatic sunset.  Above the clouds hang the moon, Jupiter, and Venus, looking like they might be posing just for me.

I start grabbing equipment, hoping I might catch some of the last rays of sunset.  I pause to change to a wide-angle zoom lens since I want to get some shots of all three heavenly bodies.

With my tripod bag over my shoulder, my camera around my neck, and Tisen on a leash, we head down to the riverfront.  Tisen is more intent on going potty than on helping me get to a good shooting position before the last light fades.  He doesn’t really have to go after the first three or four times, but not having been neutered until he was 8 means he will spend the rest of his life compelled to mark every vertical object that will stand still.

At last, I get to a good spot.  I set up my tripod, position my camera, and start shooting.  This is when I discover I’ve left my reading glasses at home.  Not only does this eliminate manual focus as an option, but it also means I can’t tell if I’ve badly over exposed the moon and I can’t see which button turns on the histogram.  I try moving further away to get to an achievable focal range for my eyes, but this requires kneeling on the sidewalk below the camera angled at the sky and craning my neck backwards, which makes me dizzy.  I give up and shoot with multiple exposures in the blind hope that one of them is right.

I pack up and rush Tisen home, anxious to review my photos on the big screen.

Pat is using the big computer when I get back so I decide to switch lenses again and grab a few close-ups of the moon from our balcony.  This time, I have my reading glasses, but I discover I may need a stronger pair!

It’s All About Tone

What exactly is “tone” anyway?  I look it up on dictionary.com.  There are 15 definitions.  The first 9 have to do with sound.  None of them include ring tones, in case you were wondering.

When I hear the word “tone,” I think first of “tone of voice.”  Like when Tisen ignores me and I say, “Neh, eh, eh” in a tone of voice that let’s him know he needs to pay attention now.  I’m convinced it’s the tone and not the “words” that makes him actually listen.

The second thing that comes up  (or, really, down) for me is “skin tone.”  To me, skin tone refers to a state of tautness, firmness, lack of sag.  Gravity and skin tone are waging a constant battle.  I hope this doesn’t ruin the ending for you, but gravity wins eventually.

Then there is muscle tone.  This is probably more closely related to skin tone than I would like to admit.  People often say things like “lift less weight and more reps to tone.”  I don’t really know what that means, but I guess they think they can build sleek but firm muscles instead of bulky ones.  Bigger muscles probably help more with skin tone than small, skinny muscles.  I don’t really know–I prefer to try to tone skin by keeping a nice layer of fat.

But what on earth is tone when it comes to color?

Apparently “tone” refers to how much gray you add to a pure “hue.”  Hue seems to boil down to the colors of the rainbow.  So, if you take blue and add white, you get a tint of blue.  If you take blue and add black, you get a shade of blue.  And, if you take blue and add gray, you get a tone of blue.  So, a tone visually refers to how much gray is mixed with a given hue.


So, sadly, when I am performing tone mapping, I am not working any muscles or tightening any skin.  I think what I’m doing is telling my computer to re-render an image with a whole bunch of tones mapped to a single tone of that color because not all tones can be displayed.

What I don’t get (besides why I can’t tone map my aging skin), is why taking many tones and mapping them to a single tone results in the images I get when I perform this function.  I also don’t get the relationship between tone mapping and the effects that are possible when performing this function.

I’ve selected several tone mapped images to share.  All have appeared in non-tone mapped form on my blog before, but I’ve re-processed them as an experiment as I continue to try to understand High Dynamic Range photography.  I’m starting to like the black and white renderings.  Can you have a tone of black and white?

As a side note, an unintended consequence of tone mapping is that I’m spending more time sitting at the big computer and less time on the couch, which does not make Tisen a happy dog.

Foot Loose

If yesterday felt like spring, today felt like summer.  I start off the morning taking Tisen for a long walk.  Tisen and I have been walking a mile less daily than I thought we were.  Since we are both getting thick through the middle, I up our mileage to avoid cutting back on food.

I start off in a T-shirt, light-weight fleece, and rain jacket.  By the time we make it to Walnut St, I tie the jacket around my waist.  As we work our way across the river and back to Market St, I tie the fleece and jacket together.

When I get home, I lure Tisen into the bedroom with my sleeping husband and rush off to the gym.  When I get back, my husband tells me Tisen laid on the floor by the door whining the entire time I was gone.  He apparently never realized my husband was in the room.

Tisen has been getting more and more aggressive with strangers.  When we walk at noon, I practice having him sit when another dog approaches or when people are going by.  I am trying to assert myself gently, but when I correct him with the ever-so-effective “neh-eh-eh” noise, he cowers enough to make me feel bad.  Surely he knows by now I will never, ever hit him?

In the evening, the three of us walk to the grocery store and my husband stands outside with Tisen while I run in.  Tisen stands on the sidewalk so intently watching the door that he doesn’t notice when another dog passes him within a couple of feet.

As we walk home from the grocery store, we notice the moon.  A tiny sliver of a new moon, just a narrow slice of light.  It’s setting already.

I rush up to the roof to see if I can get a decent shot before it sets.  The last thing I see as I rush out the door is Tisen running after me with his Puppy Love heart in his mouth.

It’s so windy that the lens (at 400mm plus a 1.4x extender) bounces around making it hard to focus.  I tighten everything that turns.  The lens still bounces.  I set up for a shot and then step over the tripod to block the wind.  Except, instead of stepping over, I trip over it.  I start over setting up the shot.  Things get only worse.

I do what any woman whose husband is cooking a quick dinner downstairs would do, I pack it in for the night.

When I pick up my tripod, the camera swings around and smacks me in the head.  It should not do that.  Inside, after being attacked by a frantic Tisen, I discover the foot plate on my lens foot has come completely loose.  No wonder my lens wouldn’t settle!

In the meantime, after a happy dance, Tisen settles down and is so darn cute, I stop worrying about his anxiety issues.


The weather is playing tricks again.  Apparently, the ground hog did not see a shadow.  For President’s Day, it was as warm as a day in May with lots of sun.  Every child in the area congregated on top of the mound across the street for some good old fashioned grass sledding.

Chalk that up as one of the things I love about Chattanooga–instead of clinging to the hope that they might get to sled 1x a decade when it snows, they slide down grass covered slopes on pieces of cardboard.

The warm weather got the birds all riled up again.  I’m surprised they haven’t given up after having been teased so many times by warm weather.  But they are singing with vigor, seemingly sure that this time, it really is spring.

The robins, towhees, cardinals, wrens, and song sparrows seem to be having a sing off of some kind when Tisen and I take our morning walk.  As I try to spot a particularly loud wren, the large white rump of a flicker flashes by as one flies up into the trees.  I watch mourning doves zoom by–I am always surprised by the speed and agility they exhibit once they are in flight compared to the awkward slowness of them near the ground.

Perhaps it’s the addition of the song of the blue birds that make me think it’s really spring.  While the blue birds have been around all winter, they’ve been lurking silently waiting for the right moment to burst into song.  It seems today was the day.

Whether Tisen notices the bird songs or not is hard to say.  But he definitely has the same spring fever.  By the end of the day, when we take our last walk before the sun sets, as we walk by a long grassy slope down to the wetland, his legs bend and he plops down in the grass much like a horse.  Then he flips onto his back and kick his legs for all he’s worth.  He scootches around on his back, scratching what itches and sliding his way part way down the hill.  I start to think he’s spent too much time watching the kids sledding.

Each time I think he’s done when we get to another grassy area, he flops down again, repeating the process.  His black/brindle spots are looking more green/brindle with the grass clinging to him.  I do my best to capture him on my iPhone, but I need a longer leash to get a good angle.

After finally convincing him to leave the park, Tisen bounces along with a new spring in his step.  It’s like all he needed to know it was spring was a good roll in grass still holding the heat from a warm day of sunshine.  His antics have put a new spring in my step as well.  On the way home, I contemplate how I can take Tisen sledding on our next sunny day.

The Green-Eyed Cyclops

I find myself obsessed with a single green light.  It’s not a traffic light, a light on a boat, or a light on a dashboard.  No, this is a light on a smoke detector.  As some of you may recall, this is not the first time I’ve had a gripe with a smoke detector.  However, this time, it’s personal.

We live on a busy street near downtown Chattanooga.  The noise and the light at night are the only things I don’t like about where we live.

To combat this (short of moving), I’ve taken to sleeping with ear plugs.  I also recently found inexpensive curtains that block light, dampen noise, and provide insulation all in one.

I was so excited to hang those curtains.  When the curtain rod arrived chipped on both finials, I was too impatient to send it back.  We colored the chips in with a sharpie and hung the rod with the chips facing the wall.  No one will ever know (well, except you).

The curtains did a beautiful job blocking the light.  The room went from dusk to could-be-in-a-cave in moments.

But then, as my eyes adjusted when I laid down the first night, there, staring down at me was the green-eyed monster.  What was just another part of the ambient light in the room before the curtains is now a giant, glaring green sun beaming straight into my eyes.  I try covering my head with a pillow.  This works until I run out of oxygen.  I try sleeping on one side.  When I roll to my back in my sleep, I am rudely awakened by the green spotlight in my eyes.

Pat, apparently suffering from more eye damage than I, barely notices.  In this case, however, I can’t get angry at him for not doing anything about it because we can’t reach the thing.  I would call maintenance, but I’m sure they will tell me they have some legal obligation to keep me awake all night.

I suggest we buy one of those suction dart guns and shoot at the light until we get one to stick, covering it up.  Pat, being more practical, suggests we use a pole to stick some opaque double-sided tape over the light.  We realize we don’t have a pole.  I wonder if we could get an opaque balloon and get it to float up to the smoke detector.  Or perhaps throw a rope over the truss and pull up an open umbrella to cast a shadow over the bed.  Maybe we should get a bed with a canopy?

At this point, I don’t care if we shoot the smoke detector with a real gun–I want that green light out!  This time, I am not alone.  Tisen, too, fears the green-eyed monster.  He can’t settle down until he finds a place to hide his head.

Tonight may be the night we figure out how to put out the eye of the cyclops!

Blurring Lines

Tisen cuddles on the couch with Mr. Beaver while I’m on a conference call.  I’ve downloaded a new app on my iPhone and this is the perfect opportunity to give it a try.  It’s an HDR photo app.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to a process where you take multiple photos and combine them into one.  That’s about all I know about it so far.

The iPhone app takes two photos, the first exposed for the darkest part of the picture and the second exposed for the lightest part of the photo.  Then, it magically combines them into one photo that is exposed properly for both extremes.  Getting Tisen exposed properly is difficult to do with a single shot.

The iPhoto app has some disadvantages.  First, it only uses two photos.  More sophisticated software allows you to use many images, getting the optimal exposure for many different levels of light.  Second, it’s very difficult to hold the iPhone still enough to not cause fuzz because you can’t move between the two shots for them to combine properly.  Finally, the app takes a long time, so if you have a subject that doesn’t hold perfectly still (like Tisen), more fuzz will be introduced.  In the photo gallery, the first image is underexposed, the second is overexposed, and the third is the fuzzy combination of the two.  It’s fun.

This little experiment motivated me to take my camera and tripod on my evening walk with Tisen, finally getting down to the river to shoot the sunset.  Tisen is amazingly patient while I take groups of 3 photos, using the bracketing feature on my camera so there is 4x more light in each successive shot.  We hang out on a pier over the river for 45 minutes watching the light fade, Tisen occasionally barking at other dogs, but mostly just hanging out.

I try a software program called Photomatix to create the HDR photos.  Some people say that HDR photos look more like what we see with our eyes.  While I like a lot of HDR photos, I don’t agree they look like what we see with our eyes.  It’s more like what you see when you look through your sunglasses at the sky and then take them off to look at the ground, but all in the same view.

As I look at the images, I can’t help but pick the darkest ones.  The ones that leave the black clipped and the land in silhouette–I’m pretty sure I’m missing the point of HDR.

Except for one.  The final photo I like in black and white.  But it’s right on the verge of “fake.”  I don’t know what that means, really.  But where is the line between being a photographer and being someone who knows how to use a software program?    And is one better than the other?  For me, it’s not just the combined photo that gets a little blurry.  Perhaps I am just getting old and clinging to out-dated thinking.

Lazy Sunday

At 5:30AM my alarm goes off.  I’m relieved it’s not for me, but for Pat.  I pull the covers up higher over my shoulders, snuggle down and go back to sleep.  Tisen jumps onto the bed at some point and, instead of curling up at my feet, pushes his way under the blankets from the top of the bed.  I’m too sleepy to argue and Tisen cuddles in next to me.

I sleep and wake, sleep and wake for a while.  I roll over to one side, then back to the other.  Eventually, Tisen gets tired of my restlessness and moves to his bed on the floor.  I sleep soundly for a least a half an hour with the bed to myself.  When I finally check the time, I’m shocked to discover it’s 9:30AM.  I can’t remember the last time I slept that late, but I’m not sure it was in this millennium.

After a quick and easy breakfast for both Tisen and me, I head for the couch where Tisen curls up next to me once more.  Tisen brings Minnie Teddy with him, looking even more adorable than usual.

It’s a rainy Sunday and Pat is out of town–that means one thing:  watching Glee.  When Tisen starts snoring so loudly I have to turn up the volume to hear, I get out my iPhone and try to take a video.  However, it beeps and rouses Tisen just enough to stop his snoring, so I content myself with still shots.

We spend the entire morning pretty much immobile on the couch.  Eventually, I get  myself cleaned up and we go for a walk in the rain.  A large hawk, probably a Red-tailed, sits perched on the solar collector over the wetland.  I try to get a shot with my iPhone.  This is not wildly successful.

I do run out and do some productive things for a bit, but at the end of the day I find myself wondering, “What on earth am I going to write about for my blog?”  I’ve been watching an online class on photography on a site a friend turned me onto and I think about the shots I’ve taken with my iPhone today.  In the unit on the camera, the instructor explains the difference between sensors in point-and-shoots vs DSLR cameras.  While I’ve learned this before, he explained it more clearly.  I now know I should give up on night shots with my iPhone, for example.

This inspired me to look for something to shoot with my DSLR for my daily post.  I look out the window and the clouds are doing some interesting things as the sun prepares to set.  The wind is picking up and the clouds are moving fast.  I decide to forego switching lens and to shoot with the 100mm lens that’s still on my camera from Friday.  I’m beginning to think my 100mm lens is all I really need.