Friday, June 18, 2010

Stepping Where I Shouldn't

Driving home from work one afternoon I was marveling at the stormy sky and brooding clouds hanging across the western sky. If I hurried I might have a chance to get outside of town to more open countryside and get some good shots. Instead, by the time I was in the truck and heading out of town, the clouds were breaking up and leaving a sky that leaned way too much to normal. I could have turned around and headed home with the idea of finding some cool images at a later time, but since I was already out, it seemed foolish to not look for something worthwhile.

About 10 miles outside of town, on one of the gravel back roads, I found this spot with flowers, dragonflies, bumblebees and a really cool seed pod about the size of a tennis ball known as goatsbeard, or Western Salsify.

I must have spent an hour and a half stomping around through the grass in the roadside ditch, panning with the bees, zeroing in on the dragonflies and exploring just how close I could get to the goatsbeard and make all of its parts look even more interesting.

Hopefully some of these images are worth what I'm going through now. After years of living in Northern Minnesota and not having to deal with poison ivy, I have now become painfully, frustratingly reaquainted with what happens when I come into contact with the stuff.

This shot of the Shasta Daisy with the firefly posing so nicely was done by my house later in the week as the first stages of rash were spreading up my legs. The price we sometimes pay for our passions and pursuits.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Little Bit of Color

Over in Missouri my sister and brother-in-law have a beautiful little house on a lake. Some weekends in the winter and many weekends throughout each summer they're over there getting away from the daily grind and routine of home. I went over with them last weekend where we had family time with nephews, nieces, teasing, cooking and for me, a chance to unwind a bit and just wander around with my camera.

I don't know the names of these flowers and plants. What I do know is that I found some color and light at the right time to press the shutter button and make some images. It was nice to have the time to relax and not feel any pressure to hurry an end result. I'm sure I'll be at the lake again sometime soon and maybe I'll come up with a few more examples to share.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Window Glass

Shooting glass can be a tricky proposition, unless you just let the light come through and then whatever's in the background can add or detract from the final image. I've been eyeing doing something like this for a while and with the sun coming from behind the blinds I sorted through the glassware I have available in the kitchen cabinets. The toughest part of making this image was getting the glass, some of which is fairly old and well used, as clean as possible and then figuring out the placement of each piece. I did some basic retouching in photoshop and then applied a high pass filter to get the final edge that seemed to give the best look to the image.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tabs On The Time

This is an image that happened while I was sitting at the computer, looked through a doorway into my bedroom and saw the cat, Tigger perched in the window. Her shape against the blinds, hovering over the clock and balancing with the edge of the lamp seemed intriguing. I knew right off I wanted to fill as much of the frame as I could and slipped the 70-200mm lens onto my D300 while hoping Tigger didn't start moving around. She did change her position a little, but I still had enough time to get the camera and lens on my tripod and got off several bracketed shots, looking for the right exposure.

I think if the finished image works at all, it's because of the adjustments I was able to make in photoshop. A little retouching here and there to clean things up and applying a high pass filter brought out the edge I think brings everything together. I considered taking the clock out and then decided to leave it. Does it work? I find myself asking that question a lot. I like the way the cat adds an organic quality, contrasting with the inanimate elements of her surroundings. All in all, not too bad for a grab shot.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Just For Fun

For quite some time my nephew Kevin has been leaning on me to do some family shots of him and his kids, Karter and Kady. We finally managed to get a day shortly after Christmas when all of us would be available at the same time, which proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the whole process when dealing with the crazy schedules that Karter and Kady keep.

After some discussion we decided it would be best to see what kinds of shots we could accomplish right at home. It was cold and snowy outside and having the family in familiar surroundings would help keep the mood relaxed. Kevin had made it clear that the last thing he wants are regular old family portraits. Of course, he wants some traditional looking images here and there, but for the most part he wants something fun, somewhat kooky and a little bit out there. So we played.

I set up a studio light with a 60" umbrella in the kitchen, positioned a portable flash on top of the refrigerator to bounce off the ceiling and added another portable flash shooting through a small umbrella from camera left to fill in some of the shadows from that side. This particular image gives a good idea of what the family dynamic is like: Kevin and Kady jousting constantly and big brother Karter rolling his eyes.

After trying a number of ideas in the kitchen, we moved into the living room. Kevin was getting ready to shampoo the carpet and had all of the furniture cleared out, except the sofa. Once again I set up the big umbrella overhead and slightly to camera right and added a portable umbrella from the left bounced into a small umbrella. And then we got creative. We tried the sofa, we tried the floor, we tried the wall. And we had fun.

That's something I'd like to inject more of into some of my images. I have plenty of ideas and concepts in mind that are glamorous, sexy, serious, edgy and brooding. Lately though I've been mulling over ideas that are more fun, lighthearted and in some cases, downright goofy. One thing about it: working with a young, energetic family makes it easy to add some goofy fun.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Old Man

Although there are some in the world who place a high sentimental value on a particular vehicle, the common consensus is that a car or truck is nothing more than a machine, a well designed collection of bolts and sheet metal, wiring and plastic, tires and glass. There’s a steering wheel, a gas pedal and nowadays hookups for portable music devices and cell phones. In some cases a car is a status symbol, a reflection and display of success. Some people, especially men, will refer to a favorite vehicle as their “baby” or “girl” or “best friend.” But when you get right down to it, a car or truck doesn’t have a heart, a soul, or feelings. Unless it has the distinction of being kept in some rich man’s collection, or sets in a museum reminding us of historical significance or current advances, or perhaps lies covered by a protective tarp in some isolated garage, most vehicles will end up as rusted heaps out in a field, or cannibalized for parts in a junk yard. Ultimately, does anyone really think these machines are more than just a bunch of parts?
I have a 1994 Chevy pick-up. It’s a three quarter ton with 4-wheel drive and an extended cab. In 1996 my world revolved around sled dogs. I had survived a year of working for an established and famous musher who had turned out to be one of the most confounding, difficult and infuriating individuals I have ever met. But I had learned a few things from him and in just two years of racing my own teams had won the first of what would be several championships. The little Mazda pick-up that had taken me from Kansas City to Minnesota and served well as both a dog truck and my only source of transportation was showing its age and limitations. Back in Kansas, a sister and brother-in-law found the big Chevy at a local dealership. It had been a lease truck for an oil company and whatever kind of toolbox or equipment it had carried had been removed leaving a bare chassis behind the cab. It was just about exactly what I needed for a more substantial truck that could help me reach my goals as a competitive sled dog racer. My mother pitched in to make the purchase possible and in the summer of 1996 the sister, brother-in-law and one of my brothers made sure there were working brake lights and a spare tire strapped to the frame and brought the big rig up to Minnesota, delivering it to my doorstep.
Not long after getting the Chevy, I drove it down to Duluth and had it outfitted with a gleaming black, steel flat bed. The body was still clean with hardly any dings in the paint. With the exception of some screw holes left from something that had been mounted on the dash, the interior looked almost new. There was an even, deep rumble from the engine and when I sat in that cab, gripped the steering wheel and looked out over the broad hood I couldn’t help but feel some pride. A local cabinet-maker put together a dog box for me as part of a sponsorship deal. I could carry up to twenty-four dogs, three sleds and a substantial amount of gear in that box. Altogether, it made for an impressive outfit.
That winter I won a second championship in a two-day race held in the middle of Wisconsin. There was no handler helping out at that race. It was just the dogs, the truck and me and together we claimed that race as our own. The drive back to Northern Minnesota and home took most of a night. With the team curled up on beds of straw in the compartments of the box, I pointed the nose of the Chevy northward and settled in for a long haul. Hour after hour I grooved to radio stations playing a mix of throbbing rock and roll, leaned on the arm rest of the door looking through a chilled window at the glow of distant, unnamed towns that warmed the darkness and marveled at a sliver of moon smiling at me from high above. Cocooned in the protective cab of the big truck and traveling with the dogs that were such a major part of my life, it doesn’t seem at all strange to me that a drive like that through a long winter night could be such a profound moment.
Unlike so many vehicles that get labeled as female, my Chevy is most definitely male. There’s nothing feminine about his wide stance and stature, the torque of his engine, stiffness of suspension and a particular personality that can only be described as masculine. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of many General Motors vehicles that were cursed with poor paint jobs and just a few years after getting him I noticed puckers in the finish on the hood and top of the cab that would eventually start to flake off, revealing gray, primed metal underneath. Although it didn’t affect his performance, it was discouraging to see his appearance marred.
Somewhere along the line upheavals in my personal life turned me inside out and my sled dog career coasted to a halt. Along with the changes in me the years crept up on the big Chevy and one day I realized he had become an old man. It wasn’t just the peeling paint over major sections of the cab. It was the corroding and flaking apart of the flat bed, the loss of the 4-wheel drive, the decay of brake lines and cables underneath and eventually some issues in the engine that had to be addressed. A few years ago I spent close to a thousand dollars getting him back to running fairly smoothly. Considering the work that had to be done on the engine and brakes and the fact that the 4-wheel drive would lie dormant without additional, major expense, the mechanic summed things up with a simple sentence. “It’s an old truck.”
Eventually I realized that my stay in Minnesota had run its course. With the fire that had driven me to championships as a sled dog racer extinguished, an old passion for photography had flared back up and as much as I love the northern forests and being so close to Lake Superior, I knew that it was time for some changes. Realistically, I waited longer than I should have to make such a change, but I try to look at it from the standpoint that life can’t always be carefully planned out. Sometimes it has to include some ducking, dodging and stumbling.
Stumbling was not something I think my mother did very often in her life. She was always a constant, so steady and dependable, loving, supportive, a consummate parent. Her life was her family. Her devotion to those she loved was what defined her and in so many ways the character and personality of our family is a reflection of her. I know she worried about me as I bounced from adventure to adventure over the years, never being able to quite sit still, but she also bragged about me and was always there cheering me on.
As strong as my mother was, age caught up to her the same way it did with the Chevy. In July of last year, at age 93, she finally fell. Although she was mainly just banged up, at her age that fall started a difficult journey of several months through hospitals and temporary nursing homes for physical rehab with the hope that she would be able to at least settle into an assisted living facility and maintain a decent quality of life. When I was back in Kansas in September for a niece’s wedding, I visited my mother in the nursing home where she had spent almost a full month building her strength. Over the summer I had formulated the plan that I would move back after the wedding, on one hand to start a new stage of my life and on the other hand to be there for Mom. The idea felt like one of those necessary things that made more sense than anything else. When I told her that I was planning on moving back and asked if it would be ok if I lived in her house for a while, you would have thought I had just announced that she had won the lottery. The next day, at the wedding, she must have told every single person she met that her little boy was moving back to Kansas. The day after the wedding she rode with me from Kansas City back to the little town of Iola and we got her moved into an assisted living facility.
The next few weeks proved to be a frenzy of activity, events and emotion. Back in Minnesota, I gave my notice at work that I was leaving and started trying to make some sort of organized sense of all my stuff. It would be a challenging combination of selling, recycling, giving away, throwing away and packing to have a chance of getting everything moved in one trip. I started organizing books, magazines, DVDs, clothes, cookware and a stunning amount of odds and ends. Having hinted to certain friends and acquaintances over previous weeks that I might be making a move, it was time to go around and announce that it was actually happening.
Barely a week and a half after settling into the assisted living facility, my elderly, e-mail loving mother was checking to see if there was a message from me after getting her computer set up in her room. The office chair she was using rolled out from under her as she was trying to sit down and this time when she went to the floor it resulted in a broken hip. She was transported to a hospital in Parsons, Kansas and underwent surgery to repair the break. As the days passed with regular reports from my sisters about the hardships and suffering our mother was going through I wrestled with whether or not to make a dash back to Kansas to be there for all of them, or to stick to the timeline I had set to make the move. Originally my sister, brother-in-law and a nephew had planned on driving up to Minnesota, helping me finish up the packing, then taking a couple days to play and relax before finding our way back to Kansas. As those last days before my moving date elapsed, there was a growing concern that my mother might not last much longer and while both sisters stayed with her, my brother-in-law and nephew mounted what was essentially a rescue mission to get me back as quickly as possible.
On a Friday afternoon after a stressful day of packing my brother-in-law’s car, my little pick-up and the big Chevy to almost overflowing, we pulled out of the driveway of the old cabin I had inhabited for a few too many years and headed south. We made it to a point mid-way between Duluth and the Twin Cites and checked into a motel room for the night. The report from my sister at that point was that Mom was doing better and it seemed as if we had some breathing room.
The next morning we were on the road again first thing with me leading the way in the Old Man. My brother-in-law’s reasoning was that if the big truck broke down it would be better if there was someone behind me. As the miles slipped by and the hours piled up into the day and I was taken farther away from the home I had known for the last sixteen years and some of the most profound experiences of my life, the memories of where I’ve been and what I’ve done curled up like smoke around me bringing sounds, scents and feelings . . . the dogs, the trails, the rhythm of the race, the burning contrast of exertion and cold, the breathing of my team hanging in the night, the joy of family visiting my northern world, that great lake I saw every day with it’s beautiful, fickle nature, how impressive it was when not just I, but we won races, those whisper quiet moments in a winter wonderland, the day a pair of wolves played hide and seek with me around the big truck on a snowy road . . .
All of this and more swirled inside me as the Old Man powered his way southward along I-35. Although he could easily maintain those highway speeds, he was never a fast truck. He was always more strong and tough, the kind of truck that would just get the job done without any complaint, without any need of attention. He made several trips back and forth to Kansas, getting me to presentations to schools, took me and my dogs to numerous races, clawed his way through deep, fresh snow with the soles of his tires, hauled massive amounts of firewood and was always there, willing to get me to where I needed to go. And again on this day, mile after mile, the Old Man kept his head down, his brawny fenders hunched forward, the pistons in his heart pumping hard, determined and so steady. Like some of the sled dogs who helped take me to championships, there’s no quit in this old truck, at least not yet. I can’t explain how I knew, but he wasn’t going to be breaking down on this day.
We got into the little town of Iola early Saturday night and I saw my mother briefly the next two days at the hospital. Her condition had improved enough that the doctor was ready to release her, as long as she was going to a nursing home with physical therapy services. During those two days when Mom was doing so much better, my sisters and I managed to pick what we thought would be the best choice in a nursing home and I made arrangements to ride with the van that would pick her up from the hospital and transport her so that she would have a familiar face close by.
That third day back in Kansas didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. My mother didn’t make it out of the hospital. During the night she had developed an internal infection. She was in pain, she was disoriented and I was helpless to do anything other than be there. After all my sisters had been through with Mom and without me, it was my time to step up and I elected to spend the night at the hospital. Leaving my mother at this time didn’t seem to be an option. A little before 10:30 that night I stood by her bedside as she quietly slipped away. She had said just days before that she was ready to give up and she wished I would get there. I hadn’t thought that maybe she had simply been waiting, even as I watched the life fade from her eyes. To have been away for so long, to have covered the hours, the miles in such a hard push and then to have had so short a time with her might have seemed completely unfair. My heart said it was unfair. My head and reasoning allowed that it was her time to rest. Without a hint of uncertainty I can say that I had a good mother and whether I win or fail throughout my life, I know how fortunate I am to have been loved by someone like her.
I doubt anyone believes a truck has a soul. It doesn’t feel, it doesn’t think, but at times during that long drive and others I would lay my hand on the dash and whisper, “Atta boy. You’re doing good. You’re a good ole truck.” I don’t know if he can hear me, can feel my admiration and know that I think highly of him. He won’t worry about a lack of attention, won’t complain about not being driven. At some point, probably in the near future, someone will buy him to be used for who-knows-what, or I’ll drop him off at a dealership as part of a trade and he will almost certainly end up in a junkyard. It sounds so sad, but that’s what happens to old, tired vehicles. Someday he’ll need to rest too. I wonder if he knows how happy my mother was to see me during her last days, how important it was that he helped get me back in time. I wonder if he really knows what a good truck he is. Maybe what could be his soul comes from somewhere deeper. All I know for sure, is that he’s a good old man.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Alley Shoot Behind The Scenes

I managed to get some behind the scenes shots this time around. Maybe one of these days I may have some videos to share.

Oh how glamorous a model's life is. Model Bree and makeup artist Jodi getting the makeup on.

Bree getting just a bit higher up the stairs than the light stand can handle. Julie makes sure things don't go toppling over.

The reason some models go blind. I never will know exactly what happened here, except that Julie was getting ready to make an adjustment to Bree's outfit and I hit the shutter button without considering where the flash was.

Jodi staying warm and helping me fine tune the lighting.