Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Malibu Fire

During Debra's last summer in Malibu, she and I went walking in a park near Pepperdine. It seems to have several names, the Michael Landon Park and Malibu Bluffs. It was a great place to walk or jog through the shrub brush with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Her landlady regularly walked her dog there in the evenings. I enjoyed the bunny rabbits that peeked out from the tall grass and that came out on the fields after sunset.

About two weeks ago a fire ravaged the area. On our way to the Malibu Beach RV Park, I could see where the fire had burned right up to the PCH in front of Pepperdine. I knew that it had burned all the way down to the ocean and had taken some of the beach houses in the process.

Before we left Malibu, I needed to see and comprehend the fire. I went over to the park and took a short walk on the paved walkway. I talked to a couple of local people. Apparently they think the fire was caused when someone pitched their cigarette butt out of the car window. That makes sense, because the fire is the narrowest right by the stoplight. So probably someone stopped at the light threw the cigarette out the window. The dry grass caught quickly and the fire roared to life, destroying all the vegetation in its path. Now you can see all the pathways, all the shrub brush is dead. I wonder if the rabbits found shelter and protection from the heat.

While I did not linger by the burned houses, I drove by - grieving with the owners. But I have to say that with the beach houses so close together, it is a miracle that so few burned. At the park, the community center was just a few feet from the fire, but untouched. All the sport fields are still green. The firefighters deserve a lot of praise for doing such a good job extinguishing the fire and saving as much as they did. I hear the winds were very high that night, making this a tough job.

While I am glad this was not an intentionally set fire, carelessness caused a lot of damage. That hillside will take years to recover.

New Digital Techniques in Landscape and Macro Photography - George Lepp

I have found that any time George Lepp is presenting, one should make the effort to attend. Not only is he a skilled and talented photographer, he is an expert in the newest, latest, and greatest technology for photographers. To check and see if he is presenting near you, his website has a calendar of upcoming events. Well worth your time and money to go. He also has a column in the Outdoor Photographer Magazine.

I had gone to his presentation at Photo Expo a year or so ago. While there were some repeated information, several of the programs had updates. Plus he went over Adobe's Lightroom. I had downloaded Lightroom early, but after hearing his presentation, I'm going to get the newest version. He uses Lightroom to do his initial sort of his images. You can add metadata to all your photos in Lightroom - in fact you can set it up so that your copyright information is automatically entered in every photo you import to Lightroom. I would certainly use that feature.

While the new Photoshop CS3 may have a better photo stitch for Panorama's, Arcsoft Panorama Maker 4 has features my version lacks. I liked the ease with which Panorama Maker stitches photos. So I'm hoping the new version I've bought takes care of some issues that I was having difficulties with. I'll let you know when I have time to play with it. In terms of taking photos to stitch - level the tripod, level the camera, set a manual white balance (so it won't shift between shots) and manual aperture.

He also gave a demonstration on how to use photoshop to do HDR - I'm going to have to play with that one. This one is probably worth hearing the tape

Another set of software worth checking out is Helicon Filter. Now available for both Mac and Windows, this program allows you to take a sequence of photos of a macro subject using different focus and then combines them to give you a photo that is completely sharp through all the depths of field. There is a demonstration on the website. The pro version has a few extra features that will probably be worth it to me.

I love the demonstration of time lapse photography. You need a special cable release to enable you to take one shot every 10 seconds. Apparently you shoot this in the smallest jpg, and you need to have your camera plugged into a reliable power source. You put it together in Quick Time. I don't have the equipment to do it . . . but it sure looks like it would be fun!

And last, he talked about ways to do Infrared photography. I have not started trying to do that. I'm not ready to permanently alter a camera. But apparently there are filters you can buy that allow you to use your regular camera to do infrared. His infrared photos were stunning.

This breakout session was definitely worth my time.

Monday, January 22, 2007

NANPA Road Shows

NANPA Road Shows

For the third year, a NANPA is sending talented professional photographers on the road to bring wonderful workshops to areas spread out through the United States.

This year's calendar:

Washington, DC - March 2-4
St. Louis, Missouri - May 4-6
Vancouver, British Columbia - August 10-12
Denver, Colorado - September 14-16

Presenters this year are Jim Clark, Richard Day, and Tim Grey.

I've been to presentations by Jim Clark and Tim Grey. You will learn a lot. So if any of these locations are near you, click on the link above and make your plans to go. You won't be disappointed.

NANPA Recordings

At each of the Summits, NANPA records the various presentations. If you attend the summit and order while you are there, you get it a little cheaper. But for those of us that can not make it to each Summit, the tapes provide a wonderful way of getting the information. Kathy Adams Clark has a great presentation on How to Survive Your First Five Years which is available on one of these recordings. While they are expensive when you are not ordering at the Summit, they have information that may well be worth the cost.

The ones I ordered from this year were:

Rick Sammon's "The Fun-Filled Digital World of Rick Sammon"

Dewitt Jones' "A Chat with Dewitt Jones"

Last year I ordered Nancy Rotenberg's Workshop.

NANPA Summit 2000

NANPA Summit 2001

NANPA Summit 2003

NANPA Summit 2004

NANPA Suummit 2005

NANPA Summit 2006

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Keynote Speaker - Frans Lanting - Life, A Journey through Time

Saturday's Keynote Address was Frans Lanting. WOW!!!!! His photography will take your breath away. Fortunately, I can share it with you. LIFE, A Journey through Time is the official website. When you click on "Start the Journey", you will see a remarkable photographic journey that chronicles the scientific studies on the history of life on earth.

As a Christian, this graphic presentation really helps me appreciate God's creation - the intricacy and delicacy of life. The music was specially composed and live presentations of the photos and orchestral music are beginning to be performed in cities around the world.

I felt that hearing Frans Lanting present this added something very special. To hear the creator of this calibre work talk about how and why he took some of these photos added dimension to the work. He is a quiet, dedicated, artistic individual. This is an amazing project.

I plan to send an email to my friends recommending that they spend some time and watch this unique presentation.


NANPA - The Law for Photographers

Saturday morning I attended the breakout session "The Law for Photographers" by Carolyn Wright. She delivered an amazing amount of information in a very short period of time. I have gone to her blog, Photo Attorney, and I've read all the posts.

Since you can read her blog and get most of the information direct from "the horse's mouth" - I'll just say that the thing that impacts me the most is the need to get all my photos registered with the copyright office. Most of the photos that I have posted on the web or displayed, I will register in the year I first posted them. "Published photos" can be registered in a group by the year you published them. Unpublished photos can be registered in one big group. It may take me awhile, but this is something I need to do.

Other topics of interest to photographers:

When do you need a property release?

When do you need a model release?

What is the truth about photographing the National Parks?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Be patient more NANPA blogs coming!

Today was a wonderful day, but VERY busy. I'll try to get my blogs written tomorrow. I took notes . . . so I should be able to remember the important information I wanted to share here.

Highlights -how to make contacts, Darrel Gulin's presentation, and the pros meeting.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Fun Filled Digital Photography World of Rick Sammon

At the Opening Session of the North American Nature Photographers 2007 Summit, we were treated to a wonderful presentation by Rick Sammon. It was amazing how quickly he drew us into his photos and gave us an amazing everything you ever wanted to know about photography session in just one hour.

Useful information:

1. Fill the frame . . .
2. Be creative. He shoots both scientifically where you don't want to do digital enhancement and he shoots for creative art. Since I found that to be an issue at one of my portfolio reviews - I was glad to hear his viewpoint and that he seems to have been successful using both philosophies.
3. Shoot the "big picture." This is one of my failings - I get caught up in the details and then don't get the entire scene. He shoots verticals, horizontals, closeups, wide frames. He shoots the nature part of the scene, but also the human and mechanical elements - such as the vehicles that carried them around the snowy Antarctic.
4. Get your work out there. That is what I'm trying to do now . . . but I liked the way he stressed getting your work out, submit it over and over, don't leave it sitting on your hard drive.
5. And he talked about being a good "businessman." Yes, the fun part is going out there and taking the photos, but for this to work as a business you have to make your submissions and do your paperwork.

I also felt like I had a trip around the world in one hour - undersea photos, African photos, Churchhill polar bear photos. His work is amazing and he has published lots of books.

Another aspect that I really appreciated was when he talked about taking people on tours, he stressed the importance of helping the other people get their shots. He may get some good shots on his group trips, but he wants the people he is teaching to be his top priority.

The Summit is off to a good start!

Portfolio Reviews

This is my third Summit. Each time I have brought my work to have professional people examine and evaluate it. My first year was a little overwhelming when I realized the calibre people here. And my work was lacking - it was not up to professional standards. Last year, my reviews went better, my work was better and I left the Summit pleased that I was moving in the right direction.

So far I've had three reviews. While it is MUCH more fun when the reviewer genuinely likes your work, I also tried to pay attention the the reviewer who focused on the things that did need improvement. Some of it was similar to information I had received before. Most of my animal shots were closeups that did not show the environment. I had pulled some shots that did a better job of that, but the bottom line - I need a mix of shots. I think I prefer the close, more intimate views of wildlife, but I need to have both in the portfolio. Also I was reminded of presentation . . . I had grouped like shots together - the ocean shots, the fall foliage shots. But from his perspective that made all my shots run together. I also tend to put multiple shots of the same thing . . .this reviewer would have preferred fewer shots - choosing just one in many instances.

Another thing that was brought up had to do with manipulating photos. With photoshop it is SO easy to clone out distracting elements and create "better" photography. However, it is still controversial. One reviewer told me that some magazines will not buy your work - even if you have not manipulated the things you send them, when they know that you do submit work elsewhere that has been manipulated. The keynote speaker, Rick Sammon, seems to be an exception. Or it may have been the bias of the reviewer. I think I have to do the best work I know how to do - and sometimes that means manipulation. BUT, I will make every effort to let the buyers of my work be aware of what has been done to the photo.

The nice thing about going to several different people, it makes it easier to handle the reviewers that don't really like your work. Photography is artistic. There are lots of styles and philosophies. What will please one person may not please the next one.

I have more reviews tomorrow. I had arranged my books especially for the reviewers today. I have different reviewers tomorrow - so I need to rearrange. I think I'll add some shots that I had removed.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Out for Adventure

Whether on the road or at home, life can be full of adventure. But once we head out in the RV, I always feel as though we are headed out for adventures.

After spending a week or so with Evelyn and Gene, the incoming bad weather had us stowing our stuff and trying to get out early. When I opened the RV door Friday morning, I knew it was time to go. Amarillo is a dry climate zone. But Friday, it was like walking out in Austin or on the coast - the air was laden with moisture. You could feel and smell it. While the precipitation was not forecast until the afternoon . . . it was already starting. I could see snow in the air along with the mist.

We said our good-byes and went back to the RV to hit the road . . . . uh . . . we need to leave quickly . . . uh . . . the RV is NOT starting. This is not a good sign. It had only happened once before - on the day we were heading home from our last trip. It had seemed a fluke, because it had started up every time since. My brother-in-law, Walter, got it started, but warned us he had not fixed anything.

Our plan was to head south and to move as quickly as possible out of the freezing zone. That part of the plan worked. The road south of Amarillo were not bad, but Mary told us Amarillo had already started icing up. Sure enough by the time we reached Lubbock we were out of freezing temperatures. By the time we hit I-10 we had some sunshine and blue sky.

Fearing problems, we did not turn the engine off when we got gas . . . yes, a risk of fire . . . but since it is not a habit, it seemed the wise thing to do today. We made it to our planned destination . . . the El Paso area and shut down for the night.

We got up the next morning and had a leisurely start with breakfast and coffee. We weren't worried because Walter had shown us how he had started the car. We figured we would make it to my convention and then head over to a car dealership in Thousand Oaks and get the repair work done. Sigh . . . WRONG! Henry had been working through the problem - trying to juggle the gear shift to make the neutral safety switch let the key start the ignition. When all of a sudden the key switch moved freely . . . no stops . . . free spin, we knew we had a new problem.

In almost 5 years of RV ownership, we've never had to be towed in . . . . until now. AAA RV Plus is a very good thing. They came and got us, found us a place that would take the RV for repair on a Saturday morning, and delivered us there. I liked our mechanic - he went right to work to determine the problem so that perhaps he could get the parts before the parts places closed at noon . . . . sigh . . . three or four dealerships, but no one had our part in stock. The part will be ordered Monday. Hopefully, it will come in on Tuesday around noon. Five hours of labor later, it should be ready to travel. But I've got to be in Palm Springs by noon Wednesday. So, I'll finish up the things I need to print for my portfolio and leave Monday.

Now granted, car trouble is no fun. But . . . we made the choice to buy an older RV. We've heard tales that even new RV's can have mechanical problems. So far, we've always been able to take the jeep and make it to our events in spite of car trouble. Hopefully this will not be the exception. But we've learned to try to get places a day or so early to allow time for these kinds of things.

I made it to Phoenix today (Monday). If I get up early enough in the morning, I should be in Palm Springs by mid afternoon. Should our trusty jeep fail me . . .my plan C is to rent a car. Hopefully my next post will be from the Motel 6 in Palm Springs.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lake Tanglewood Mornings

My in-laws live at Lake Tanglewood near Amarillo. We've been making trips up there for over 25 years. Lake Tanglewood is one of the hidden gems in the Panhandle. As the flat treeless plains give way to the lake filled canyon, everything changes. The prairie grass gives way to cottonwood trees and small cedar trees. As you cross the bridge you can see grebes, coots, and assorted ducks.

We wake up to the call of turkeys outside the RV. The ravine near my sister-in-law's house is the evening roost for a large flock of turkeys. They start their morning on Mary's yard. Henry counted 24 one morning as he walked from Mary's house to his parents' home.

Because there is no hunting and this are is protected from the panhandle wind by the canyon walls, deer abound. As I drive into Evelyn's driveway there are usually 5 or 6 deer either foraging or laying down. This year there was one buck with a tremendous rack. There were also a couple of bucks with little tiny horns - almost reminded me of horns I see on costumes at Halloween or at science fiction conventions. If your ranking in the herd is based on the size of your horns, these young bucks are at the bottom of the line. But as with many things in life - that's where they are right now. This is a safe environment and each of these young bucks is likely to have a full life with a large rack. But for now they will have to wait, probably without the knowledge that they won't always be at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Each morning as I sit in the den, I see many small birds. I don't have time this trip to identify all of the birds that perch in the shrubs near the house. I did identify dark eyed junkos and probably a red headed woodpecker. And, of course, the turkeys stroll through the yard every day as well.

I'm glad my inlaws chose this part of paradise to spend their retirement years. We have been blessed by our visits here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Making Life Count

The sermon this morning talked about the days of our lives and what we are doing with them. Are we doing things that really matter? The sermon even mentioned thinking about one's obituary. What will be said about us when we are gone? What is our lasting legacy to our children, our friends, our neighbors, our community, and our church? While the sermon rambled around the topic, it was still food for thought.

I'm trying to become a professional, photo selling nature photographer. I want to share the beauty and wealth of God's creation with people who may not get the opportunities I do to experience it first hand. Because I believe that we have a spiritual connection with nature, I would like my photos to encourage others to spend more time exploring and learning spiritual concepts from that creation. It would please me if my work influenced people to protect the world that God made for us.

I'm also nearing the end of "middle age" and I am beginning to enter the world of "senior citizen." I don't feel like a senior citizen, (I'm way too young . . . ) but the days go by fast. Some days are filled with accomplishment, others are marked by mundane, ordinary activities, others seem to slide by with no obvious accomplishment. My energy is finite. There are still more possibilities of good things to do than one person can do. I can do fewer of them than in the past. I must make choices. Which of all the many things that I could do in a given day are the most important?

My "Grace Notes" passages echo this theme.

"In order to carry out great enterprises, one must live as if one will never have to die." Marquis de Vauvenargues

"The people who inspire us the most are those who plant trees they will never see mature, and who live at full tilt every day, even on the day they die. "

"Dream big dreams . . . . Fill your days with ambitious goals."

"the Good Life is waiting for us - here and now!" B.F. Skinner

"All we will ever experience is the present moment as we live it. Each moment is a microcosm of our whole life, who we are."

Spending time with my inlaws in their "winter years" reinforces these concepts of staying busy, filling my days with ambitious goals, and working toward those goals. I often find it very easy to allow this "slowing down" process to bog me down. I don't move as fast as I once did. It is easy to say I'll go exercise . . . . tomorrow. But one of my goals matches the phrase above . . .I want to live my life at full tilt every day. I want to be the Energizer bunny who just keeps going and going and going.

My choices right now will shape the senior citizen I will become. So, I'm on the uphill battle to get back to regular exercise, to keep my spiritual life healthy with time spent in prayer and contemplation each day, and to set goals (both ambitious and realistic) that help make each day one that is lived deliberately. I have a scheduling book that I try to set goals and record what I've done and a journal to record the spiritual.

I hope and pray that God will guide those goals - so that what I am doing is pleasing to him and part of his plan for me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Getting off!

Getting off on a trip is ALWAY chaos at our house. This time was no exception. When you know you are going to be gone awhile, there is so much you need to take care of or pack to work on along the way. Poor Henry . . . I kept laying things out for him to carry out to the RV. And, bless his heart, he found places to stow most of it - when I finally made it out there carrying some things myself, I was surprised that it was still fairly neat.

After several abortive attempts to get the barn roof repaired, hearing the weather forecast for the next few days made me rush around and get the horse boarded for at least a week or so until the barn is fixed back up. I'd worry too much about Gambler given the leaky, noisy state of the barn.

I'm carrying papers and software to work on Income Taxes. I brought all my hard drives and many of the DVD backups so that I can update my portfolios for the North American Nature Photographer's Association Summit. Bill paying stuff had to come along (I have a small file box dedicated to that - all can be done on the road even if I don't have the most current bill.)

And then there's clothes. Clothes for the dressy times, shoes to wade in the waves when I take my new sunset photos, clothes for winter. Clothes for exercise.

We finally got off and headed to Georgetown to eat one last meal with Jonathan and Debra. Yes, already I was remembering things that I had thought about but had not packed. If it is small, Debra can mail it to me if I really need it.

Henry and I were both tired and sore, but it is so nice once you are finally OFF. And for us it is better to get off and at least a little way down the road - so we don't find ten dozen things to keep working on before we would leave the next morning.

The adventure begins . . . First stop . . . Amarillo.

My Sharp Shinned Hawk

Recently, I looked out my living room window and to my surprise and delight there was a little hawk perched in the tree right outside the window. I ran for my camera and first shot through the window so i could have something with which to better identify it later after it flew. Then I sneaked out the front door and got a few more shots.

I went to my bird identification books and puzzled over the ID, studying each of the hawks and their relative sizes. I narrowed my choice down to the Sharp Shinned Hawk, a juvenile. To verify and have a more positive ID, I posted a photo on my website and posted to Texbirds. Texbirds is really great. I got lots of posts and emails with so much help in nailing an identification. I also learned a lot about another very similar hawk - the Cooper's hawk.

From the information I've been given and based upon the size (which since it shows up so close to the house and to me even when I sneak out), I'm pretty sure I have a juvenile Sharp shinned. This is a very small hawk. Its tail seems to be squared. The streaks on its breast are wide and broad with some barring. And even the white tip on the tail is narrow and appears notched like the sharp shin description in my Peterson Field Guide. Since the RGV Birding Festival, I've been using the Sibley guide, but one of my responders mentioned that I should go back to Petersen's. I don't think I could have made the initial ID from Petersens guide, but the details to look for made this identification easier.

But now the fun begins. As we were packing up for our Amarillo trip, I glanced out the window again. There was my "sharpie" on the ground under the rosebushes. This was the second time I'd seen him under the rose bushes, although the first time he was under a different bush. I thought then that perhaps he was trying to get to a suet packet that had fallen down there. But this time, I watched him almost fly through the densely branched (and thorned) bush chasing a little bird. He then moved over to a more open area under some other bushes and waited, biding his time hoping for dinner. I did not have time to watch all of the drama, but in my viewing he never caught his dinner. But I learned some things about his behavior . . . I was expecting him to swoop down from the tree to get his prey, not run them down or try to scramble through the dense rose bushes. Why doesn't he get scratched? Will he still be there when we get back home?

Another interesting side note to this story: When I went to stock up on the seed cylinders that help keep my bird feeding consistent even when we are gone, I mentioned that I had attracted some hawks. The first thing the owner said was that I should scare them off. I mentioned that on Texbirds and the feedback was mixed. Yes, this bird is a hawk. Yes, he will eat some of the little birds I am attracting. Yes, I love my chickadees, white crowned sparrows, Harris sparrows, orange crowned warblers, ruby crowned kinglets . . . . But . . . . I like hawks too. At the moment, I think it is pretty cool that my feeding over the last few years has attracted enough little birds that my property is now attractive to the raptors as well. And my property has always had water birds because of the pond. At the moment we like having the full spectrum of an ecosystem. I guess we'll have to wait and watch what happens. And I have noticed that I don't have quite as many little birds in the mornings, they're a little skittish.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Beginnings

While January 1st is just an arbitrary date on a calendar, it is a good benchmark for a new start, a new beginning. Each year I find myself using it as a date to begin a new goal, whether weight loss or homemanagement, or photography. December 31st is a good time for reflection on how the "old" year went and what could have been done better.

For me 2006 was a pretty good year. I was successful in getting several photos published. I had two photos in the North American Nature Photographer's (NANPA) Annual Showcase. Two photos appeared in Texas Highways magazine. I had photos exhibited both at the Hubbard Museum and at the Festival of the Cranes and I "placed" at each event. In January I'll have photos that will be exhibited in Toronto. While I still have not sold any photos through stock, I am now represented by three stock agencies. My job for 2007 will be to get more images uploaded or sent to each place. I have many images that just need the final workup to send.

In 2007, I need to focus more on my weight and physical conditioning. I did better in 2005 than in 2006. At my age every pound makes a difference in my mobility. So a major goal in 2007 will be to at least get back to the weight I was in December 2005. The physcial conditioning is also important because hiking and carrying my photo gear is critical to getting some of the images I want.

I also have some long term goals around the house that have been neglected due to the travel schedule. I have found that by having a monthly scheduling book that I have a visual record of what I need to do and a way of judging whether I am actually getting things done. I looked back at December's specific tasks and I had completed all of them. But Christmas activities and preparation eat up a lot of time in December. I still have photos in my camera from early December . . . .

Spiritual life is also an important component. Two different lessons at church have been about judging how you are growing spiritually - one about personal spiritual growth, the other about what you are doing to make your congregation a better place. Even with the travel, I do have a home congregation. When we get back in town, I just slide right back into the swing of things. But I don't do as much overall as when we were home all the time. Chorus and Care Groups are the big things that I can still participate in. This year it is unlikely that I will make the Ladies' Retreat. I am still likely to be in California. I am hoping that I get to go to the Family Retreat in April. While I don't get quiet time every day in the year, it is an important part of my daily routine.

While there are always regrets about things that did not work out as well over the year, I think it is more important to focus on the positive. Learning to accept who you are, knowing that God created you as a unique individual with unique strengths and weaknesses frees you and enables you to grow in the ways where God is guiding you. Never from guilt rather through joy.

I'm looking forward to the opportunities that 2007 will present.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Puppy Love

I was in the doldrums. Taking down Christmas is really not much fun. I think I've always had problems saying "goodbye." As a child when we would leave the mountains, I would turn around in the car and watch them until they were totally out of sight. I savored my senior year of high school knowing that part of my life was coming to an end. I've saved my children's toys and school papers (my attic is full.) Removing the ornaments from the tree and putting the decorations up for the year is an acknowledgement that the festivities are over. But part of me wants to hang on to the festive Christmas "magic."

I was determined to get the job done before we leave on Tuesday. Taking down Christmas at New Year's is bad enough. Taking down Christmas in February (and coming home to Christmas still up in February) is the pits. Thomas had left to go back to Dallas. Yep, I had the doldrums.

Debra called. They were up in Dallas visiting with Jonathan's family. Would I go check on the puppies? You betcha! Nothing like the unconditional love of puppies to brighten the day. Being grandmother to puppies is a foretaste of what being a grandmother will be like. You get to love on these puppies and then send them home. But I also find myself worrying that my house is not "puppy proof." What will they get into? Will they get hurt? I feel the irrational need to watch them every minute. They are kennel trained, so we are alternating with playing with them and putting them back in the kennel so we can still get things done.

But when they are out, they are so fun to watch as they chase each other in circles around my house. And they are so fast! And best of all, are those wonderful puppy "kisses."