Weird, Wild Winter


This winter has been fairly mild, but if weather can be called bipolar, then that’s what we have. Last week we had temperatures of almost 70 degrees and within two days the temperatures were back down in the 30s, with tremendous wind gusts. Is it summer? Winter? Noooo …. it’s all-seasons-in-one. These meteorological mood swings are hard enough on people, but the spring flowering trees and bulbs don’t know whether to bloom or not, and this wreaks havoc on the cherry blossoms.

Nevertheless, it’s “crocus watch” season here. Sooner or later those cheerful little flowers are going to appear. I never see them coming. I look and look for their green leaves amongst the leaf litter, but I just don’t see it. And then, one day when the sun is out — Presto! It’s a crocus. I swear they pop out of the ground overnight! So, I’ve been keeping an eye out but it’s too early. This lovely purple and white crocus photo is from a few years ago and I’ve doctored it with Topaz Impressions filter and added some texture.

In other photography news, I’ve just bought a light tent and two LED tabletop lamps to do some still-life photography. The tent is much bigger than I thought it would be and frankly, the thing is big enough I could crawl into it. I’ve ironed the nylon backdrops but they’re still a bit creased, so I will deal with that when the time comes. This is where controlling aperture is a good thing — and that’s something phone cameras don’t allow you to do.

I’m assembling other things for the still-life photo shoots, too, such as art papers for backgrounds and an assortment of tools and clips for holding the papers in place. The lamps came with yellow and blue filters, but I’ve also ordered a swatch book of filter gels and hope they can be cut to fit the lamps. Stay tuned for more posts on photography in the near future.


Midnight Writing

Holiday decorations, New York Avenue, Washington, D.C. I took this photo in 2015 with a point-and-shoot infrared camera, then applied filters for a more artistic interpretation.

Holiday decorations, New York Avenue, Washington, D.C. I took this photo in 2015 with a point-and-shoot infrared camera, then applied the Topaz Adjust cross-process III filter in post-processing for a more artistic interpretation of the scene.

I slacked off writing last week and didn’t get very much done, so I had to do some late-night writing on Sunday to keep up with my weekly word-count goals. I know it’s too easy to fall behind and then not be able to catch up, and this past year’s NaNoWriMo I found myself continually treading that path between staying on par and falling behind. It was one reason that I found this last challenge so difficult. This year I’m determined to keep up my word count on a weekly basis so projects don’t get dragged on from one week to the next.

Last week I watched a video on food photography. It was pretty interesting and I especially liked some of the tips that the presenter had for setting up light reflectors. He used a floral frog, which is a metal or plastic circle with a bunch of pins stuck in it, like a porcupine. Of course I went to the hobby store this weekend with the idea of buying one and was unable to find them, so I ended up buying a set of six fancy place card holders that were clearance-priced.

They’re fairly heavy and they have a coil of wire designed to hold papers or cards, so I think they’ll work for holding the reflective papers that I have as long as I don’t use a large sheet at one time. On the plus side, if I keep them with my camera gear I won’t stick my hand into the bag and get stabbed the way I would with one of those metal floral frogs, so maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t find any of them!

I’ve been getting into cocktails and I have some ideas for taking photographs of the drinks, so I bought a bunch of printed papers to use as backgrounds for the photo sessions and some metallic-coated papers that should work well as reflectors. I have tomorrow off work for the holiday, so I’m going to take the time to do some creative photography and writing. I’ll post whatever works, but I suppose I’ll have to drink the failures. Get rid of the evidence, and all that. Ah well, all creatives must suffer for their art!

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 58

This achromatic photo of a white spider chrysanthemum resting on a piece of black velvet displays chiaroscuro effects.

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is a vocabulary booster. Since I’m reading all about the Renaissance, I’m going to give you a list of art-related terms to work into your writing. As with the other posts on vocabulary, you have to do the work of looking them up if you’re not already familiar with them.

Here are some basic art terms, although the list is far from complete:

Achromatic              Acrylic    
Armature                Chiaroscuro
Composition             Egg Tempera
Fresco                  Impasto
Oxides                  Perspective
Secco Fresco            Underpainting

Now, to add some pizazz, here’s a second list of art terms. These are names of oil paint colors. Some of them are named after the ingredient used to color the paint and have been in common usage for many years, while others are descriptive or perhaps given by the manufacturer of the paint. Consider adding some of these names to your writing instead of using the basic color names.

Titanium white            Cadmium yellow   
Naples yellow             Alizarin yellow
Cadmium red               Quinacridone magenta
Ultramarine violet        Sevres blue
Phthalo blue              Viridian
Prussian blue             Veronese green
Sap green                 Payne's grey
Raw sienna                Red ochre
Mars red                  Dutch brown
Van Dyke brown            Lamp black

Vacuum Tubes and the Zone System

Vacuum tubes (triodes) inside an old radio.

The Maker Faire in New York City had a lot of new stuff, but there was a lot of good old stuff there, too. I found some vintage radio equipment that was on display and got in close to take this photo.

I took the photo with a Nikon Coolpix 210. Because the tubes are so reflective, you can actually see me if you look close enough.  I’m wearing a brown denim jacket. There were a couple of “floating heads” in the tubes — other reflections of just parts of people’s faces, so I used the rubber stamp tool to get rid of them. It looked weird and I have no idea who those people were. I converted the image to black-and-white using the Topaz filter plug-ins.

I’m getting a lot of mileage out of those filters because I used to do black-and-white darkroom photography, and I still tend to compose my images based on tonal values instead of just the colors in the scene. If you’ve never heard of Ansel Adams’s Zone System, take a look at this article, The Digital Zone System, on the Outdoor Photographer website. I learned the system using black-and-white film, but the principles are just as valid with color film or digital images.

One caveat that I’d like to offer is that if you intend to print your images, you might have trouble with any part of your image that’s in Zones 1 to 3. This has to do with the physics of ink on paper: paper absorbs ink, and even tiny amounts of ink can spread through the paper fibers like wildfire, particularly if you are using an uncoated paper. Any part of your printed picture that has lots of dark color can turn out muddy because there’s simply too much ink for the paper to absorb. When this happens, your image loses detail in the darker areas.

When I worked in the printing industry, we avoided this by editing black-and-white photos in Photoshop and making sure that the darkest part of the image didn’t go beyond 92% to 95% black. It gets worse with color photos, because four colors of ink are used for full-color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Instead of percentage of black, we used a total-ink formula of about 320 (100 percent of each ink would equal 400).

As far as Zone 0, or paper white, that part of your image has absolutely no detail. Or, no dot, as printers would say. Another term for it is “specular white.” Try to keep bright reflections from metal and other similar small parts of your image at Zone 0. Too much Zone 0, and your image becomes a zero. No joke.

This vacuum-tube picture probably ranges from Zone 2 to Zone 8. The solid black border is Zone 0. Nothing in the image is bright enough to reach Zones 9 or 10. The compressed tonal range adds to the antique appearance of the image, as though it has faded over time. So, the Zone System as its broadest gives you a dynamic image, but purposely compressing the range gives you other effects. It’s up to your creative muse which way you want your work to go, but definitely add the Zone System to your toolbox.