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 Lynda.com 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!

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Main Street Photography

Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, looking east. I applied effects with Topaz filters to give a surreal look to the image. No cars were removed or harmed during the photo shoot.

Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, looking east. I applied effects with Topaz filters to give a surreal look to the image. No cars were removed or harmed during the photo shoot.

I want to get back into photography. My camera gear has been closeted far too much, and I have been holed up in the house way too much. I’m telecommuting full-time now, which is great for some things but not so much for others. And I’ve gotten so fed up with traffic around here that I just don’t want to go out. There has to be something to draw me out. Years ago I would go out driving just to explore, but we have so much rubber-stamp development there’s really no point driving 20 miles just to see what’s 15 miles from your house. Yawn.

There aren’t a lot of vistas around here, either, so taking landscape photos is a bit difficult. But I am interested in doing some urban/architectural photography. I went out to Laurel’s Main Street several years ago to take a series of photographs for a class project. It was a rainy day and traffic was incredibly sparse, so I took advantage of it to take this rather desolate-looking photograph. I like how the road leads the eye to the horizon, and the adventurer in me wants to travel that road and see what’s up ahead.

Today is overcast and now I’m wondering if I could find something that interests me enough to take some photos with emotional vibe, but I don’t want to drive that much. There are plenty of buildings here, just so much of it is generic uber-development that it doesn’t seem to have any soul. But there are some odd shops along Route 1. Maybe I’ll pry myself away from my desk and step outside, despite the 23-degree weather. Yikes!

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.

Playing with Photos

billboard photo of a cockatiel

I used PhotoFunia to put Zim on a billboard poster.


I’m trying to break through the pack ice of my creativity and see if I can break loose a few ideas. The problem with getting caught up with the idea of trying to sell your creative work, whether it’s writing or photography, is that you start to think in terms of whether or not you can sell a piece. I’m trying to back far enough away from that mindset so that I can take some throw-away pictures and see if I can come up with something fun. I’m trying not to think of it as a waste of time, because it really isn’t.

Having a smartphone with a camera has given me a “toy” to play with, as far as photography is concerned. Since I’m not carrying around my big camera I don’t feel like I have to produce a really good photo. It’s no big deal if the photo doesn’t turn out well because there’s no danger of it being “wrong.” So I take pictures of my birds occasionally simply because they’re available as (more or less willing) models. This usually gives me a bit of a challenge because they tend to move around a lot, and they can change from oh-so-cute little fluff balls into the meanest, angriest birds you’re likely to see this side of that popular game. Small they may be, but let me tell you, they know exactly where to bite your hand. And forget that nonsense about not biting the hand that feeds you — these birds have never heard that expression and wouldn’t understand it, either.

Zim poses for a Xolaroid 2000 portrait.

This is the original photo taken with the Retro Camera phone app, using the Xolaroid camera.


Okay, so on to photography. I used my Droid smartphone and Retro Camera to take the picture of Zim, and then I used the PhotoFunia application to upload the image and paste Zim’s photo into this billboard. You can see some of the graininess in the black-and-white image compared to the smoothness of the color part of the image. The whole thing is a bit silly, but it might be useful for a creativity prompt. I’m thinking of experimenting with some more of my informal pictures to use them for the Thursday Writing Prompts posts. This one would be a bit of a head-scratcher for a story, but maybe that’s what creative folks need — a bit of a jolt to get pushed off from those mental icebergs.