After a long first day back from a week’s vacation, I look up from my work and see it’s pitch dark both inside and out.  I look at the clock.  It’s 7PM.  Rain streaks the glass on the windows.  I pause long enough to wonder how long it’s been dark and raining without me noticing.

I realize I haven’t thawed Tisen’s dinner yet.  I dump some frozen nuggets into his bowl and set them out to thaw.  Twiggy, visiting for a few days, dances at my feet, her butt wiggling back and forth with the force of her wag.  Tisen jumps at me.  Both are impatient to go out.

I put Tisen’s rain jacket on (he hates to walk in the rain) but he won’t hold still while I zip it.  After the 3rd attempt, Tisen is zipped in and I grab the leashes, checking the poop bag holder to make sure there are at least 2 bags.  I grab an extra roll just in case.  Then, I head out into the dark leaning back against the leashes like a water skier.

As we walk around the park, I think of what I want to shoot tonight.  I decide I should take advantage of the rain and see if I can capture rain drops.  This is something I have failed at so many times that I have no problem failing once more.

But this time, I am armed with a flash.

Back home, full of optimism, I walk out onto the balcony, attach the flash, position a reflective wrap to bounce the flash, find something to focus on, and take a test shot.  Nothing.

I decide it’s not raining hard enough and sit down to wait.  My glass of wine makes the time pass.  The rain picks up and I try again.  I try focusing close and far.  Repositioning the reflective wrap and shooting without it.  I get a few shots that have some white dots in them.  Nothing very exciting.

I try another round, this time, including out-of-focus street lights to add a background.  I manage to get a few more dots and I kind of like the blurred balls of colored light.  Not exactly what I was going for, though.

The rain slows and I look for something else interesting to try.  I decide to try panning with passing cars to see what I get.  This is just good fun.  Don’t ask me why I have so much fun creating completely bizarre images that really don’t work well, but I do.  I particularly like the one shot of the car crossing the Market Street bridge off in the distance.  Maybe it’s the blurred Christmas lights in the foreground that I like so much?

I am reminded of a photography workshop where the instructor talked about how at least one thing must be in focus for a shot to work.  He’s probably right.

Monkey Feet

It all started on the hike to Grinnell Glacier in Montanna.  Pat and I were working our way up the mountain trail with me in my hiking boots that felt like giant led-filled balloons when we passed a couple on their way back down.  They looked impossibly fresh.  They weren’t limping.  They looked relaxed and comfortable.  As I looked down to find footing, I noticed their feet.  Low and behold, they were wearing fivefingers shoes.  I had heard of fivefingers before, but it hadn’t occurred to me people would wear them on the trail.

After limping our way back at the end of the hike with me barely able to put weight on my knees and hips, I found myself wanting to try fivefinger shoes.

When we got home, I bought a pair like the ones we saw on the trail–black neoprene.  Although I didn’t give them a true trail test for many months, they turned out to be a miracle on the treadmill.  My knees and hips felt better than they’d felt in years after the initial adjustment period.

There definitely is an adjustment period!  A whole bunch of tiny muscles in my feet and ankles had to be reborn and developed before I could walk as fast or as far as I had been walking.  But, once I’d adjusted my stride and footfall and developed weakened muscles, I was pretty sure I could walk forever without getting the shooting pains I’d become accustomed to.

Alas, the neoprene was hot.  It was hot indoors and hot in the fall and spring, but not warm enough for the colder temperatures I’d hoped to wear them in.  That led to the trekking pair.  They have a mesh weave that breathes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t made to be drug across the ground on their tops, which is exactly what happens when one is learning to hang glide, resulting in excess wear and tear.  My feet also do not like the tread on those shoes.  If I walk on hard surfaces in them, I get blisters on my big toes.

This led to the much softer and cushier black and gray pair, which I love.  However, they are a little too soft for the trail, which brings us to the orange pair.  They are supposed to have some extra support to protect against rocks.  I’m testing them tomorrow for the first time on the trail.

There are definitely tradeoffs.  Kicking a rock or stepping on something sharp feels a lot different (and not good!) in fivefinger shoes than in hiking boots.   They are also not good in cold and/or wet conditions.  My feet turned to blocks of ice on a short 2 mile walk that started off slogging through mud last November.  I was glad I’d brought my boots for the longer hike we did right after that.  For this reason, I bought a new pair of boots, too, much lighter than my previous pair.  I wish I didn’t need them.

Mimosa Anyone?

For those of us who appreciate an excuse to drink champagne for breakfast, a mimosa is a tasty beverage that someone invented most likely because they spent too much money on a bad bottle of champagne (my apologies to any French readers, I really mean sparkling white wine that may or may not be from the Champagne region of France) and didn’t want to waste it.  Sweetening up sparkling wine with orange juice was a stroke of genius in my opinion.

But it does not explain how it got its name.  For that, I am forced to google.  Apparently, I have never had a mimosa that was made correctly–they are supposed to have a foamy head that resembles the flower on the mimosa tree.

In Ohio, the crabapple trees bloom fantastically in the early spring.  But I can’t remember ever being over powered by their smell.  And they burst into blossoms that seem to disappear within a week.

This is my first spring where mimosa’s are common.  In Ohio, you might discover this strange tree tucked into a protected corner of someone’s garden, but I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.  Here in Tennessee, they start a sneak attack with their sweet scent.  I walked through the park smelling the perfume in the air for days before I finally figured out what it was.  That was at least 2 weeks ago–they are still blooming like mad.

Unlike the crabapples, the mimosa trees tend to be tall, keeping their blooms out of reach.  This makes them a bit of a photographic challenge.  And, as you may know by now, I seem to gravitate towards challenges.  But it’s not the challenge of capturing them from a distance that attracts me, it’s the way the light hits them in the evening, suddenly spotlighting their pink foam flowers in golden light.

I may have to get a ladder and go back for some close-ups.  I wonder what the maintenance crew would do if they saw me carrying a step ladder?

I spotted a small mimosa tree down by the river.  The best time to shoot it would be around 8AM when the sun is still low but high enough above the Eastern horizon to send a few rays over the steep bank above the tree.  But, I decided evening would be a good time to experiment with my flash outdoors.

I set up my flash on a stand so I could put it as close to the tree as possible while I shot further back and to the side enough to keep the flash out of my frame.  However, if there is any light on the mimosa, it’s because I lightened it in post-processing, not because the flash threw so much as a single random shiny spot on it.  A disappointing experiment.

The good news is that the mimosas seem to just keep on blooming.  Maybe I’ll get a chance for that close up over the weekend.

A Shot in the Dark

I arranged to meet my trainer and his fiancee at the sculpture garden in the Bluffview Art District an hour and a half before sunset.  I have no portable lighting, so the timing is critical.  They have agreed to model for me so I can try shooting portraits on location for the first time.

I get there early so I can walk around and look for good places to shoot.  I discover the tall building across the street from the park casts an enormous shadow and the shadow is growing rapidly.

When my models arrive, the light is not good in the park any longer.  But we take a quick stroll through the middle of the district (it’s a bit optimistic to refer to it as a district; it’s more like a short block) reveals some interesting architecture between historical buildings with a nice gate with an arch over it.  Of course, it’s even darker between the buildings, but we give it a try while it’s still bright enough.

We work our way around the area, trying shooting against a variety of backdrops–Bluffview affords a lot of interesting choices in a really short walk, so it’s perfect for this.  We end up at the Hunter Museum on the porch of the Georgian style mansion portion of the museum, sticking with the historical theme rather than walking over to the extremely modern side of the museum.

We play on the porch with the sun setting in the background.  Some red stripes start to appear in the sky and I attempt to get a few shots with the sun-streaked sky as a background.  This does not work at all.  I keep trying to get my subjects positioned so the spot lights on the building are lighting them, but, as shocking as this may be, architectural lighting doesn’t really work well for lighting people.  My shutter speed is way too slow–I coach my models to hold as still as possible, but let’s face it, I need a strobe.

When I review the photos later, I realize one reason why professional photographers often have an assistant.  I failed to notice when my subjects’ clothing did awkward things (like an errant tie that pops out of the bottom of a jacket like a pet snake).  This makes some of the shots I otherwise like annoying.  While the fiancee asked me to watch for her bra straps showing and my trainer was worried about his jacket not fitting properly, I really had trouble remembering to think about it.

I will have to bring Pat next time so I don’t get overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to use whatever portable strobe arrangement I end up with and watching clothing at the same time.

Tisen was happy to see me when I got home.  He thinks he’s my assistant and was mad I went without him.  I didn’t tell Tisen that Princeton, my trainer’s dog, was at the shoot while Tisen stayed home.

Tisen’s Night Out

Tisen had a hard day on Thursday.  Normally, Tisen’s day is filled with the following duties:

  1. Guarding Mommy from displays of affection from Daddy
  2. Cleaning his food bowl with his tongue
  3. Taking Duck, Mr. Beaver, Lamb, ‘Possum, Eddie, or Minnie for a walk around the park 3 times a day
  4. Taking Daddy for a walk around the neighborhood to make sure all is secure before bed
  5. Rolling the lawn at the park to make sure it’s bump free by using his own body weight
  6. Looking adorable
  7. And, most importantly, napping.

Since we had a date night Thursday night, Tisen had to spend the night with some friends.  The pooch party started late in the afternoon–he went to the tail end (hee hee!) of day care so he could have play time with his new friends before bedding down for the night.

I had a very hard time with this.  I’ve never sent a dog on a sleep over before.  We always had dog sitters who could come to our house.  Now, we were leaving Tisen in the care of relative strangers overnight.  And we didn’t even know the other kids invited to the party!

I thought since he’s been going there to play, it wouldn’t be so hard on him or me.  But, he didn’t want to go in with the other dogs when we got there.  Even though I’ve watched him on the webcam and know once he gets inside, he has a good time, it broke my heart to have to walk back with him to get him to go in.  I left quickly and tried not to cry on the way home.

He was absolutely livid with me when I went to pick him up in the morning.  I gave him Duck to hold in his mouth so he wouldn’t try to grab my hands with his teeth.  I had trouble paying because he was trying to drag me out the door.  I guess he thought he was going back to a dog kennel for good.

Today, he seems to be back in his normal routine.  Napping every thirty minutes (assuming he bothered to wake up between naps), taking a walk every 4 hours, and being generally cute.

But, yesterday, I thought he might have permanent psychological damage.  He followed me around like he was afraid I’d disappear.  When he napped, he napped at my feet with some part of him in physical contact.

Is sleeping in a kennel in his own bed really so different from sleeping at the foot of our bed?

As for the pictures, having gotten advice from a friend to work with one light until I can predict what it will do, I’m happy to catch Tisen napping on the couch.  By keeping the light far away, he only opens his eyes into tiny slits every once in a while.  The other two pictures used available (if bad) light.  Tisen’s a good model when he’s trying to catch up on sleep.