Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Okay..."Eye" Admit It...

...I am having a really hard time keeping up with everything: the special events company, the magic shows, learning the new software and designing new websites.

I see on the handy dandy Google reports that upwards of six hundred of you a day pop by this humble little blog. But I don't hear from you...and I don't see you...and other than a few emails, there's nothing other than Google to tell me you've even been here.

This is, of course, your prerogative, since the internet is a vast sea of "free" information. And if I had more time in my day, I would happily be maintaining this blog. But the internet also seems to encourage "lurkers" -- a vast silent majority of people who come, read, enjoy...and fade away with nary a word. I've done it myself...and I understand.

You just never think about the PERSON behind the writing. Sometimes it feels to me like there is no person, but that the Internet is this vast super-consciousness you can tap into at will, creepy and Matrix-like though it may sound.

But the fact is that I don't have more time...and it bugs me when so much of it goes by without updates here. It's not that I don't think about this blog. I just don't really have the time or motivation to constantly be working on it.

So here it is: I'll update it occasionally when I think there's something you, oh mysterious and silent Reader, need to know about. Or if I write something on flickr (you can find me there as magic_fella) that I want to share here, I'll cut and paste it up.

I've written a book which is called "Crap I Think About" with a bunch of stuff I've written here, there and everywhere. If you get so lonely for me that you can no longer contain yourselves, let me suggest you check it out here. It's not a Photoshop book. It's about travels and photography and...well...a bunch of crap I have had occupy my attentions.

I am still trying to finish the final draft of The Novel (Stokers: An Urban Fantasy) but the editing is going very slowly.

SO...let me suggest that you begin "following" this blog because that way you will be alerted each time I do a new submission and pearls of wisdom fall from my fingers, through my computer and onto the Internet. Ahem.

Personally -- I am going to make a point of at least saying "hello" to the people I check regularly on the Internet. It really sometimes DOES feel like we are talking to ourselves, you know.

Talk with you all again.

David

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Little Peace



"Did you like my book?" asked Sheree. (Our lives, both of them, revolve around The Books lately.)

"Yes. I did. Good book. Except for the mushy parts," replied our friend J.

We laugh out loud. J calls them like he sees them. There are many interesting things about him...not the least of which is his absolute sincerity, often wrapped up in a dry, dry sense of humor you really have to be listening for.

This is a guy who telephones from his truck parked outside our house to ask if we want to join him for dinner, take a crossbow lesson or photograph ghost towns.

J joined our grandson and us for brunch this afternoon. When Caedmon wasn't sure where the desserts were, J walked him over there. We watched as the kid returned wide-eyed with a freaking dinner plate piled HIGH with slabs of cake, pie, squares and a bunch of custard stuff. We're talking PILED. Small countries could live on the contents of that plate alone for a couple of weeks.

"You try a little of everything," J told him. "That way when you go back you know what you want more of."

Like Sheree, J prefers to eat his dessert first. So far neither one has had any trouble from the Dinner Police...

Caedmon liked J and talked about him long after he'd left. High praise indeed from this little guy.

This image is for you, J. May you stay safe. May you walk always with courage and honor. May you always accomplish precisely what you have set out to do.

This shot is from Africa, which is appropriate. It's in the mysterious Drakensberg mountains, more often than not, shrouded in mist...which is also kind of appropriate.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Indy Heat



"You want us to WHAT?" I ask the very serious looking security guy.

"You need to be wearing pants and closed shoes," he tells me.

I look around me. The temperature is well over 35 degrees (for my American friends, 35c is VFH..."Very Fricking Hot.")

There's hardly anyone not in sandals and shorts. And the forecast for tomorrow is even hotter.

"I mean it," he says, waggling his eyebrows to emphasize the fact that he is really serious.

"I got it," I say, using my #5 Charming Grin to no apparent effect whatsoever.

"Good. Because I mean it," he says again.

I look around. We are standing on black concrete. It seems to intensify the heat before throwing it back up in shimmering waves.

A race car screams out of the pits, leaving an acrid cloud of smoke in its wake. It seems like it only arrived a few seconds ago.

I see the crew stepping away from the vacuum left by the car.

I've watched these crews swarm over the cars, changing the tires, filling the gas tank...and doing a whole bunch of mysterious crap to the engine. They move in a perfectly orchestrated dance.

One of the crew members looks exhausted and way too hot.

Poor guy.

I see their fully insulated jumpsuits, and have just witnessed the frenzied activity that takes place when the car arrives…and suddenly pants and closed shoes don’t seem so bad at all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Waiting...



I spent several fascinated hours in Pit Row during the Edmonton Indy.

For those who don’t know, Pit Row is were the drivers get into their cars, where they interact with their crews and where they come for pit stops during the race.

Most of the time, I stayed in the background, watching and photographing the people. But I was also trying to imprint on my mind what it felt like to be that close to these fast machines, intense drivers and utterly dedicated pit crews.

Pit Row smells not unpleasantly of exhaust, oil and sweat. There are two speeds of activity. There’s an affable sloth-like purposeful motion: guys moving equipment around, laughing and chatter. And there’s hyper-drive getthecarbackontothetrackNOW perfectly orchestrated frenzy when the vehicle tears into the pits.

There are always the fans: pressed up against the fence, as close as they can get. They stake out their favourite driver’s pits and wait. They will stand there for hours in the hot sun, hoping for a glimpse of their heroes, often calling their name.

And there are cameras: hundreds of them. The fans carry them, of course. So do the reporters and media photographers. There are video cameras operating on huge booms and carried by puffing steady looking men following reporters around.

There’s the constant sound of machinery and power tools, the clanking of metal on metal, the drone of the track announcer and the sound of the fans. But it’s all purposeful. It’s all very much “on purpose” – tasks carried out by crews that have done them a hundred times before and consider competency, speed and excellence as the sacred trinity of their jobs.

These are all people who spend their lives in a fishbowl and have grown used to it.

I saw Helio Castroneves arrive on a scooter. He chatted with some fans, posed for pictures, got interviewed and flashed his smile.

But then he went off by himself to watch his competitors.

He looked very much alone to me…and content to stay that way. He was motionless, watching the other drivers, seeing things I wouldn’t even notice.

I wonder what drivers think about…how they prepare for the race. I wonder if they consider that they might get killed or set on fire. I wonder if they refuse to even let these thoughts into their mind.

I wonder what Helio Castroneves was thinking about as he sat by himself under my fishbowl.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fearsome Danica...

"I heard a little boy asked her for an autograph and she just walked away and he started to cry," says one breathless volunteer.

"Yeah? Well I heard her whole pit crew is scared of making her mad," responds another.

They are talking about Indy's legendary beauty, Danica Patrick. She was racing yesterday.

She arrived on a scooter, looking neither right or left, ignoring the myriad of cameras clicking as she passed.

Patrick chatted with her crew and laughed often and I saw no sign that people were afraid of her. She seemed like a race car driver concentrating on her job.

I shot a LOT of photos in the pits yesterday -- and am going back this morning.

PDTBVE ("Pretty Darn Tired But Very Excited")

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Graham Rahal In The Pits




I highly recommend getting a media pass for events like the Edmonton Indy.

It hangs around your neck and lets you into places like the Media Walk. Visualize this: the stadium seating is behind a fence. In front of the stadium is a walk right next to the track. There are holes cut into the fence at strategic places and when the cars come snarling by, you are just a few feet away from them.

So there I was, leaning into one of the conveniently placed holes in the fence. My leg was braced against the concrete block for stability when I saw two magazine type photographers standing behind me.

One of them had a lens longer than my car. He was wearing a seriously disapproving look. I shrugged and went back to shooting. The cars were coming so fast and I was trying to track them and get my shot.

When I turned back, the Serious Photographer Guy was frowning so deeply his eyes disappeared. He was looking right at me. The cars were loud but the tisking sound was loud enough to be heard over the roar.

“What?” I asked.

He gestured to my feet.

“You got to step back from that block, guy,” he said.

“Huh?” I inquire shrewdly.

He pointed to the concrete block again. Then he pointed to the track.

“One of those cars crash into the concrete,” he paused to smack his hands together, hard enough to startle me just a little. “If that happens, your ankle snaps.”

He holds his fists together and snaps them apart like he’s breaking a pencil in two.

I realize that this guy isn’t being a jerk. He’s looking out for me…so I thank him, step back and we both start shooting again.

We stood side by side for a while – he wielding a lens that could capture a pimple on the butt of a naked astronaut on the moon – and me with my Olympus telephoto.

“So…I haven’t shot at the races before,” I started.

He looked at me like he’d sort of suspected this already.

“Are there other things…etiquette…for shooting at the track?” I asked.

“Don’t put your crap on the walls,” he says. “Don’t ever lean your camera against the wall. Shooting is cool, but when you are looking at your shots, move aside for the next guy. We all have our shots to get.”

Serious Photographer Guy points to Not Quite So Serious Photographer Guy, who is standing beside him.

(I know he is not quite a serious because his lens is shorter than the one the Serious Photographer Guy has...and he is only carrying two cameras, whereas my mentor has FOUR cameras. All serious looking Canons. Geez.)

SPG points to NQSSPG and says "He has to get shots of specific drivers," he says.

"I do not," says NQSSPG with a self conscious laugh.

SPG ignores him. "One of those cars crashes against the wall, crap goes everywhere, tiny bits of it. You want to be out of the way."

I nod in agreement. I have a sneaking suspicion they are having me on a little...but still, it makes sense.

"Have you ever seen a crash?" I ask.

"Well...no..." responds SPG. "But I've heard it's bad."

I nod again.

“That’s it?” I ask. "That's all I need to know about shooting here?"

“Yup,” he says.

I thank him again and he smiles and wanders off, his good deed done for the day. I was actually grateful that he took the time to tell me this stuff. How else am I going to know?

So I stay and shoot some more. But before long I come to the conclusion that photographing cars isn’t all that interesting to me.

So, a few minutes later I am back in the pits again. It has become my favourite place. I love the sounds and the people and the colors. Besides, I realize I may never be in this position again…with a media pass and access to the pits…and the media walk.

A car rolls into the pit a few feet away from me. These drivers really are the rock stars of the weekend. When the drivers come into the pits, someone stands over them with an umbrella to keep the sun off of them. Someone else puts a blower directly in their faces. I can only guess how hot it is in those suits.

One of the biggest drivers, Graham Rahal is in the pit, a few feet away. He is waiting for his car to be put back on the track. I know he’s only going to be here for about 45 seconds.

I step into the pit and raise the camera. Rahal looks at me and I look at him. I take the shot and smile a thank you. It would be cool to say he nodded or waved back. He didn’t. He just fixed his eyes back on the track.

I am learning a LOT about photographing at the Indy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One and a Half Seconds



I am standing in the pit on a blisteringly hot summer day.

The "pit" is an area of frenzied activity at the Edmonton Indy. Cars snarl in for quick service from their crews and seconds later, tear back onto the track with an almost deafening screaming of their engines.

It is an exhilirating thing to watch. I have never been in the pits before and am not quite sure what the rules are.

Can you walk right into the area beside the track? I have a sneaking suspicion that these guys would walk right over anyone who got in their way and kill them later.

Still...I know I have only a few seconds here before the drivers take off.

I step into the area behind the pit on the opposite side of the crew hut, train my telephoto on the driver and shoot.

There is the space of a second. Maybe a second and a half.

The crew lowers the car. The driver shifts slightly and I can feel sudden intensity bristling from him. He is total focus.

I am in a race of my own, because an instant after I take the picture, he's gone.

I watch him go, the rear end of his car fishtailing just a little as it seeks purchase on the hot track.

No one killed me. No one walked over me. No one told me to get the hell out of the pit area.

And I got my shot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Danica Patrick



The first thing I noticed about Danica Patrick is that she’s very small. Her body is slender and I don’t think she even comes up to my shoulder. I doubt she weighs a hundred pounds.

The second thing I noticed is that this girl has a serious presence. She’s intense and that intensity crackles in the air around her.

Contrary to popular opinion, I did not see flames shooting from her mouth. I smelled no brimstone. No children cried. No women screamed. As I stood in the pit and watched her interact with her crew, she seemed relaxed. She smiled often and frequently touched the person she was talking to.

This doesn’t compute with her rep as the driving diva, the Indy beauty with a fiery temper.

I was interested in photographing her because she really is an enigma.

The other thing I noticed is now often people in the crowd call her name. They are, of course, trying to get her to look their way so they can take a picture. Sometimes the sound is coming from round men in way too tight “Danica Rules Indy” t-shirts. Other times it’s women in stretch pants or children that sound like they live just on the edge of panic, are not really sure who she is but know she’s somebody and really need to blow their nose.

Is it a surprise that she totally ignored the fans? She didn’t look at them, didn’t speak to them and appeared completely indifferent as to whether or not they took her picture. If you wanted the shot you had to be quick. Even from my vantage point in the Pit Walk, I had to time my shots perfectly.

Unlike the other drivers, she didn’t pose for pictures with fans and I don’t think she signed a single autograph.

But I wondered how it would feel to be her. People constantly calling to you, wanting you to look their way. What would it feel like to have every move scrutinized?

She had just finished a lackluster time trial – and was about to hop onto her scooter and take off. She was standing in front the small tent her crew was working in. She was blocked from the view of most of her fans and she seemed to be thinking some deep thoughts. That’s when I took this shot.

I wonder what she was thinking about.

I wonder what it would be like to be a woman racing cars…and constantly be described as an Indy babe. I wonder what actually happens inside her head before, during and after the race.

That’s what this image is about. It’s all about “wondering.”

And of course, the fact that she is a total Indy babe doesn’t hurt either…

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Fricking Sunflower



God has a sense of humor.

Aardvarks, for example. Or the fact that I keep winding up in places where the only logical attraction is...flowers.

We wound up in gardens on a day trip to Calgary and on the Kelby Photo Walk, we wound up in gardens again.

Whatcha gonna do? If you're me, you start off looking everywhere else for anything else.

Then you take pictures of that "anything" knowing full well that the images are going to be 100% crap...but you stay stubborn and shoot anyway.

It's not like I hate flower pictures. I'm just indifferent to most of them. I look and say "aha...a flower. Oooo."

Then, having saved face, you sigh and turn your attention back to the fricking flowers.

It was a wonderful day: perfect weather. Nice people (photographers of all sizes and experience levels) too.

This flower simply wouldn't cooperate. I wanted to make an HDR exposure and it kept moving in the wind.

"Let me hold that for you," said Lady Caroline (who is brand new to flickr. Her stuff is here: www.flickr.com/photos/capturingmemoriesandmagic/) who bustled up, took the flower in a death grip and waited patiently for me to finish shooting.

We got to talking. Carolyn has just retired and she's getting serious about photography.

She has a bag full of gadgets that made Sheree go "oooo" and "ahhhh."

Carolyn also has a patient husband who follows her around carrying her tripod.

Why not pop by her site and welcome her to flickr? She's a nice person.

In the meantime here's another fricking flower. Tuh Dum.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Angel for Dave and His Better Half...



Our flickr friend Dave H. (who has some excellent images here: www.flickr.com/photos/22775126@N00/ ) gave us the gift of showing us around London on our last day here.

Dave knows our fascination with graveyards and went out of his way to take us to Highgate, a very old cemetery.

Later on his wife Jenny joined us for a lovely supper.

Thank you very much for your time, Dave. And thank you for introducing us to your vastly better half.

This image is for both of you with our warmest thanks...and the certainty that we will see you again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Changing of the Guard



There have been a number of theories advanced as to what actually is going on during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Contrary to popular opinion, it has nothing to do with diapers...or 'nappies' as they are known on this side of the pond.

Here's what is REALLY going on: the guys in the funny hairy hats have lost a bet and so they have to wear them in front of everyone.

As a part of the "lost bet" they must also apply huge amounts of starch to their underwear, which explains the funny way they walk.

All the rifle guys are followed with one guy with a sword...to ensure they follow through on the bet. He is also a handy back-up in case an enemy army attacks and the troops run out of bullets.

The soldiers simply cannot get things right, so an old guy comes out and yells at them.

Now you know everything about the Changing of the Guard...quite unlike all the tourists I saw when we were there. They had no idea at all what they were lining up to see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Soft Kiss Goodbye to Africa



I don't want to go.

Sheree has been asking me what's bugging me today, since I am not my ordinarily sunshiny self. (You just shush.) It's because I know I am leaving Africa.

Tonight we fly to London which, under ordinary circumstances would be a good thing. But it means leaving South Africa and I don't know when I will be back...only that I WILL be back. Some day.

**sigh**

This shot was taken one perfect summer morning when some school children sang for us. It was hot and sweat was pouring off me. When we left, a little boy with impossible eyes asked for our water bottle. Sheree gave it to him and he scampered away and had it immediately taken away by bigger boys and bigger boys took it away from them...and so it went.

How do you say goodbye to nights so dark that the stars glitter in the sky with other-worldly brightness and it feels like you could reach out and thrust a handful of them into your pocket?

I stood and watched sheet lightning show that went all night. Not a whisper of thunder...but such brilliant light!

Cape Town is a place where the wind gets so strong that you actually need to hang onto something...as you walk by beaches so perfect that they make your heart hurt.

There's something so exotic here, something that dances in the air like a capricious sprite you can only catch a glimpse of at the best of times...and then only when you're REALLY looking for it.

There's danger, of course...and the constant sense you are an outsider longing to join in..but there's magic here too.

I stood on top of a mountain and felt cool cloud against my skin. I have felt the hot sun on my face and I have been mere feet from majestic elephants.

Africa is magical. Wildly exotic. Wonderful...so very lovely. Dark and dangerous...but perfect in its way.

It is as wild as a Mardi Gras and as stealthy as a stalking lion. It is as distant as a glittering star and as lovely as a child's smile.

I just never imagined I would like it this much...after all: I have sore muscles, a few bug bites (though no where near as many as poor Sheree)...and a thousand perfectly preserved memories.

Does it make sense to fly away from this? Does it ever make sense to leave a place that has touched your heart?

I am shrugging...but I didn't quite know how to convey how it all feels right now. As I was trying to pick a shot to go with this text, this one felt right.

Monday, May 17, 2010

At the End of Africa



We were at the southernmost point of the African Continent.

Most people posed at the tourist monument. This was a place where you could put one foot on either side of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I stand to be corrected, but it seemed to me that most people made a bee-line for the monument...and just didn't look around much. They just got into the line-up of tourists waiting for their turn at the monument.

This girl chose to go onto the rocks and sit, looking out at the ocean.

She was much closer to the most Southern part of Africa than the tourists were.

I really liked that.

There was the steady pounding of the ocean, the call of birds and scent of the sea in the air. It all happened under a perfect African sky on an equally perfect summer day.

It was a Perfect Moment.

I thought you might like to share it.

I am working on the final draft of my novel with the help of great readers and one particularly comely blue eyed editor (who is very likely rolling her eyes as she reads this), the company is busy (thank you, God!) and we're prepping for a little hop to Florida next month to visit Susan, Bill and Mickey.

Just sit quietly for a second (particularly if it's been a hectic day) and try to imagine the sound of the ocean waves washing up on the African coast, a cool breeze on your face and a wonderful moment of peace in your heart.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roger, Wilco



You start with a 25 year old guide.

You add 15 people, 14 of whom are over 50, four which are self - professed 'REALLY picky eaters' -- add 14 km hikes UP mountains and stops everywhere from spider infested 'hobbit holes' to beachfront resorts.

You make the old people carry sleeping bags into most of the venues and you send them on road trips that can be up to 11 hours long.

Back to the guide. This guy (remember he's like 25) has to be able to drive a huge truck over rutted roads, make impossible turns and do MOST of the cooking from the side of a truck.

If one of his aging brood is missing, say on a massively difficult trail (and NO...it wasn't me), this guide has to put down his lunch and go back over the trail until he finds, rescues him and brings him back to the fold...having remembered to set a plate of food aside in case he's hungry.

He also tackles hills and trails and slippery rocks with speed that would make Superman pee his pants...and he does it in flip flops. Then he smokes a cigarette. Or three. (**sigh** Who said 'Youth is wasted on the young?')

Amazing guy, this Wilco (pronounced "VIL-ko.) Here he is being asked questions by three people at a time before making six km hike along the beach and into the forest.

The only time he was left alone was when he was on one of those marathon drives across this vast country. Then he plugs in his ancient iPod and listens to Disney tunes as he navigates the roads and rutted paths with unerring precision.

He was offered a new iPod (no names of course) with Ozzy, AC/DC, Led Zep...and other music more befitting a 25 year old...but he politely declined. He likes the Disney tunes better.

He speaks with that smooth South African accent. He teaches us that "now now" means 'Yes, I heard you and I'll get to it...soon." He also teaches us that 'a little hike' CAN mean scrambling over rocks, in unreasonably high winds and along the side of a mountain for miles.

When I was 25, I considered myself a success if I remembered to pull up my fly...and responsible if I could remember where I parked my car.

So here's to you, Wilco. You did a splendid job. We enjoyed having our lives cross with yours. Stay well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Neil: Out of Africa



Our safari truck growls into a tiny South African town. It is one of the few stops I haven't been looking forward to much. Here we are offered one of two options: We can go to a micro brewery or we can take in some arts and crafts. This is most unlike the rest of the Drifter's tour. It's touristy...and we never like touristy.

Sheree and I exchange looks and decide not to do either. We will pack up our cameras and take a walk and meet people.

We wander into "The Village Inn Restaurant and Karoo Kitchen."

The Karoo is a vast beautiful place. The day is searingly hot with just enough of a breeze to keep certain Canadians from melting, leaving only cameras, sunglasses and garish colored shorts in haltng little bilingual puddles.

We step into a dark interior, twice as dark because the sun outside is so very bright.

The menu is hand printed on a fireplace. It offers items like ice cold ginger beer, lemonade and fresh scones.

I am struck by the idea that I have walked ito a hobbit hole because the rooms are crowded with lovingly placed bric-a-brac. Everything has a place.

No one's here. But there is someone humming a softly off-key tune in the distance.

We stand and chat with another tour-fleeing couple and poke around at the stuff on the shelves.

Eventually a voice that has seen a LOT of miles cheerily calls he's 'on his way.'

Shuffling feet that sound like they're encased in favorite slippers. Into the room walks an old guy who looks a lot like James Whitmore.

He's a friendly little fellow whose face lights up at the prospect of actual customers.

"Hello," he says. "I'm Neil."

It feels strange to be introducing ourselves at a restaurant, but we all do and shake his hand.

Sheree orders a coffee and I opt for ginger beer. He nods again, increasing my suspicion that I am with an affable hobbit and shuffles off into a back room.

He's gone a really long time. I mean a REALLY long time. I start to wonder if he has died. Eventually he shows up again, carrying a small kettle and a frosty glass of ginger beer.

After putting the drinks on the table, he settles into the table next to us, for a little chat.

He's very curious about Canada. Having farmed until recently in South Africa, he wants to know about how farming works here. Personally, I have no idea.

We chat about how proud he is that his wife is the official translator of plays for a South African playwright I have never heard of.

Sheree takes a sip and declares she's never had coffee this good. She's not making it up...she's really impressed.

I sip the ginger beer. It's really sweet.But it's cold and it's wet...and there's this wonderful bite to it.

Neil is impressed with our cameras and he asks about them. He doesn't seem to know much about photography but he's interested.

I am replying to his questions...but I am thinking, not unkindly that Neil has the bushiest eyebrows I've ever seen.

"We've got just under a thousand people here," he says. "A 40% unemployment rate and 23 restaurants."

"That seems like a lot," I observe shrewdly.

He nods again "It is. But tourism is increasing every day."

I am thinking of the rutted African goat trails we took to get here. Neil is, apparently, an optimist.

He tells us about some of the photographic opportunities in the area.

Sheree thrusts the kettle at me. "You have to try this COFFEE," she says.

We've been living with instant truck slop so long I have forgotten what coffee tastes like.

This stuff is dusky, buttery and rich. It is amazing. I want to order a pot of my own, but can't afford to wait the seven hours it will take to make...and our time is already running out.

If we are going to take any pictures, we have to go.

So we say goodbye to Neil and his charming restaurant and his classic coffee and walk out into the African sun.

I thought you would like to meet Neil. But then I think EVERYONE should meet at least one Neil in their lives.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not Just Another Pretty Face



When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in doctor's offices. And nearly all of them had this hardcover with DO NOT REMOVE emblazoned across the cover.

But there were great Bible stories in there: and the kind of illustrations you only see in books from the 60's: lush colors, idyllic subjects. Everyone was smiling. Adam and Eve stood behind strategically located trees and palm fronds.

But the image that interested me the most was of Eden where a bunch of animals were displayed: lions and elephants, big birds and turtles. They just kind of lounged around together. No one ate anyone.

I loved that picture: and can still see it clearly in my mind.

And that shot is pretty much like what Kruger National Park in South Africa is like. The vegetation is so lush and green, and there are animals everywhere.

We were lucky because I've seen pictures of Kruger where the traffic is so thick it's a constant gridlock. We went several minutes without seeing another vehicle.

But SO many animals!

The herbivores travel together. Usually there's a giraffe in there somewhere because they have the longest necks and the sharpest eyes and when they start to freak out, the rest of the animals know there's a nasty something with teeth and claws lurking in the undergrowth.

This elephant sauntered out about twenty feet from our truck. It was like rounding a corner in Rome and seeing the Colosseum for the first time. It was magic. It was right there...HUGE...munching on a tree.

I was speechless, jaw open and very possibly a trail of drool working down my chin. It was...amazing...so amazing I forgot to take a shot for the longest time. The whirring and clicking of cameras around me brought me to my senses...and I took some shots. But all the while I was so completely aware of the majesty of what was before me.

Elephants are cool.

So is Africa.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Take My Picture"



I don't know why it is that so many South Africans saw me with my camera and demanded "Take my picture."

It happened a number of times during our too brief 20 days there.

They didn't want money. They didn't want anything except to have their picture taken. When I showed it to them on the screen, they were unfailingly delighted.

This guy was by the beach on the Dolphin Coast. He was a big fella, lounging around by a fence. His eyes were fixed on me from a block away.

I kept walking, but kept everything close. When I got there, he put up his hand and said "Take my picture."

Big sorta scary dude talk? Me listen.

So I did take his picture. Here it is....and he liked it. Thank God.

I think a lot about Africa these days...and London...and a serious tug to be back on the road again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We are NOT GAY!



God has a sense of humor.

Every TINY African town we go into, Sheree goes rushing about looking for an Internet cafe. That woman can sniff out an internet connection in a mud hut...

I, on the other hand am not addicted to the internet and so I dawdle and take pictures and hang out. I also carry stuff, since I am male and this is my apparent function.

Right now Sheree is on a boat looking for whales. Since I vividly recall my last time on a boat "Five Hours of HELL" due to seasickness and very poor judgment, I wandered around the town which is (I think Knysna?) and I come across an Internet cafe all on my own.

So here I am, somewhere in Africa writing to you guys to say HELLO!

These two "no doubt about it MALE zebras" (which is apparently pronounced 'ZEB-ra') were in the midst of some very heated...interaction...as we rounded a corner in the world famous Kruger National Park.

Our tour guide, a mega-man type, actually blushed and insisted hotly that there was nothing at all going on and there are, in fact NO gay "ZEB-ras." Maybe they were just wrestling...

It looked pretty gay to me...and the one who was doing the...ummm...well...male part...ahem...got very upset and gave us the ZEB-ra stinkeye and bared teeth at being interrupted.

I could wax on about the amazing sunsets and the fabulous people, the many razor wire fences and repeated warnings not to go out after dark. I could tell you about the most spectacular lightning displays I have ever seen, or sitting on a porch watching the astounding stars...because we've done all that.

But the un-gay zebras were among the most interesting things I've seen so far.

I thought you might get a bang out of it. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whisper of a Lioness



Here's what a safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park feels like.

You ride in an enormous truck with massive windows and all around you is tall grass, exotic flat topped trees and the steady hum of vibrant African wildlife. The sun is very hot on your skin and the stark scent of pure life crackles in the air.

The first time you see an impala, the whole bus goes bugshit and there is a frenzy of camera clicking. Before long you see hundreds of them. There are so many, so close to road that you simply yawn and shrug after a while.

There are long periods of relative quiet with people staring intently out the windows, each one trying to be the first to glimpse an animal that is not some form of deer.

Suddenly someone hollers (despite repeated warnings to keep our voices down) "LION! THERE'S A FRICKING LION OVER THERE!!!"

Everyone on the tram oooohs and ahhhhs...even the people who don't see a thing because no one wants to look like some loser who came all the way to Africa and missed the fricking lion.

I look hard into the bushes and at first I don't see a thing. Sheree is snapping and enthusing like crazy.

I look in the general direction of her lens and then I see something move in the bushes. It is the slightest movement and when my eyes finally make sense of what is before me, I see a lioness and two cubs, hidden, unmoving in the tall grass.

Cameras around me are clicking and people are whispering excitedly to each other that it's a 'lion' (which is, without doubt, most useful information).

To be honest, I realize I should be taking pictures. But something so profound is going on inside me that I can't raise my camera.

It is a M.T.M. (Magical Travel Moment) because I am mere feet away from a beautiful animal and I am seeing her in her own environment. She's not miserably pacing the confines of a cage in a circus, or looking out with trapped eyes at the hundreds of people examining her mysteries in a zoo. This is a lioness seen the way she is meant to be seen.

I loved that I really had to look for her. I loved that she started grooming one of her cubs and the moment seemed so tender and natural that some part of my spirit soared at seeing it.

I did take a picture, of course. But I think that for a flash of a second, I truly understood Africa. An instant later that understanding was burned away like morning mist and I was reduced again to being an outsider, looking with absolute wonder at what can only be described (at the risk of sounding a little trite) as a savage beauty that was far far beyond anything I could possibly comprehend.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Revenge of the Wetsuit...



Here’s the idea: you put on a wetsuit. One of the crew members tosses a decapitated tuna head into the water, affixed to a tow rope. Another crew guy spills a steady trickle of fish guts into the water. Since we are in South Africa's “Shark Alley” – the cunning plan is to draw as many sharks as possible so that when we get into the “shark cage” the sharks will come along, expecting to eat something.

“You should go in,” says Sheree…who is the only one who wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. It’s one of those adventures where I would look at a brochure; roll my eyes and wonder briefly what kind of moron would be stupid enough to pay money and actually go into shark infested waters ON PURPOSE.

“Me?” I ask, squeaking just a little. “I should go in?”

“Yup. I’m going to take pictures from here. Do something I’m not doing,” she says.

I decide not to point out that I do lots of things she doesn’t do: peeing standing up, for example. But I have already made up my mind to go into the cage. I am, after all, paying two hundred dollars so that I could get up a little past four, and finish my morning in the water with sharks. My mom didn’t raise any idiots. (Well she did…but I am not one of them.)

“All divers must pick up their wetsuits on the first deck,” says the captain, an affable craggy faced man who drops tourists into shark water for a living.

With one final thought of “What the HELL ARE YOU DOING???” I join the line up of brain dead prospective chum donors. Most of them are twenty-somethings from around the globe. There are several blond gym bunnies and their attending frat boy/muscle head/young-guys-who-can’t-seem-to-keep-their-pants-up companions.

The captain sizes me up and hands me a wet suit. It’s sopping wet and heavy and looks like it’s designed for someone of more conventional size. (I am a touch rotund.) I look at the rubber scrap.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

He nods and responds “Ja Ja” which is South African for “Yes Yes.”

I go to the head to put the wet suit on – having no desire to do what I am certain will wind up being a very undignified procedure in front of the gym bunnies.

As I stand locked in the tiny room with the outer space looking toilet in my underwear, the ship takes off. It seems to me they could give some warning…that someone could call out: “Hey Disgruntled Little Fat Guy In His Underwear In The Head: We Are Planning To Take Off With a REAL Joyful Spurt of Speed Now.”

I lurch to one side, banging my head on some mysterious pipe, begin cursing anyone and everyone as someone knocks on the door.

“In a minute,” I call.

The fricking wet suit is inside out. I pull at it, still as dubious as an elephant contemplating a napkin tutu…but the idea of bravely facing sharks in their own environment without peeing my pants sustains me.

I settle onto the tiny toilet seat and thrust one leg into the wet suit. No. That’s not the right word: I TRY to put my leg into the leg and am stopped by clammy rubber. It feels gross. But I, Great White Hunter, do not know the meaning of the word "gross." Ahem.

I try to work the rubber over my leg and it isn’t going.

Someone knocks again. The boat lurches to one side. I bang my head again. Shit.

“In a minute,” I call cheerily. Dork, I think. Did you SEE me come out of here since the last time you knocked?

I have the wet suit leg almost up to my knee now and am slowly working the rubber down my ankle.

Sheree forgot her sea bands somewhere. And I have taken seasick medication…so I gave mine to her. And the head is starting to smell bad. Diesel fumes? Poop? Sea? I stop my brain right there, resolving NOT to think about it. For the love of God: don’t go there. Nossir. Four fricking hours on the fricking water surrounded by gym bunnies…and me heaving my guts into the water? No way the Great White Hunter will be seen like that.

The leg finally kind of is on and I must now raise my other leg, while balancing one butt cheek on the toilet seat in the rocking boat while I try get my other foot in. (Like that’s gonna happen.)

The boat pitches again and my precarious balance is disrupted and I slide off the toilet and, with a fleeting thought “this is really gonna hurt,” slam onto the hard metal floor.

Knocking again. This time more insistent.

I ignore it.

I am pinned on the floor, one leg straight, the other bent at a vaguely unnatural angle because I can’t get it through the rubber. I try to think through the motions that will allow me to get up. I brace my hands on the toilet seat (don’t even think about it)…and the almost smooth wall and shove. It almost works, but the boat runs into another ice burg and it lurches and I thump to the floor.

Fury charges my muscles and, in the midst of a fifty-something tantrum I thrash and shove that fricking leg forward with all that is within me and am rewarded by the appearance of a big toe…nearly…at the bottom of the leg. The knee pad is still around my ankle…but I choose to celebrate the small things.

Seizing the moment, I struggle to my feet and try to thrust my arms through the microscopic arm holes. Does the head actually stink more than it did a minute ago? Are they piping the diesel fumes directly in here? Who the hell is smoking? Are they hitting waves on PURPOSE?

I am suddenly and without warning in the familiar position of being driven to the floor, only now I have one arm trapped under me.

Knocking again.

“Piss off,” I call out cheerily.

Arms are easier than legs and I get both of them into the wet suit finally and realize there’s no way I can stand up. The rubber traps me in a forward leaning position and I look like I should be ringing the bell at Notre Dame, not facing down sharks.

No way this suit is the right size.

I sigh…ignore the knocking…and work the suit off.

When I go up top Sheree shrewdly observes. “You’re not in a wet suit.”

I just look at her.

“How come?”

“They didn’t have my color.”

“Really…how come?”

I just look at her for a long moment. She shrugs and goes back to snapping pictures, enthusing about what wonderful shots she’s getting, completely indifferent to my recent suffering and obvious need for a touch of human comfort.

I shrug and decide I wanted to take pictures from the start.

This is one of them.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Da Feet of Africa



We spent a morning at a school in a VERY rural part of Africa. We rumbled up hot dusty back roads in the Apparently Indestructible Truck Thingie and after a number of spine jarring bumps, we rolled up in front of a brick building.

It was a drab brick affair with peeling paint and a tired principal standing out front. My expectations weren't all that high.

But there were kids singing inside and despite the drab feel of the place, there seemed to be a little cloud of joy surrounding it.

We were led into a grade eleven classroom and the kids sat there looking at us with shy eyes and we looked back, nodding and smiling and feeling like nasty interruptions in an otherwise lovely day.

The principal assembled the kids and they started to sing.

Okay: I admit it. I put my polite face on. I was prepared to endure a school assembly type of thing.

That lasted five minutes. As the kids sang and the audience clapped something PDC (Pretty Darn Cool) happened.

The kids started to laugh and really sing and dance. Energy infused the room and suddenly everything was magical. Inside of a few minutes, we were all laughing and clapping along with them.

It was one of those wonderful travel moments where two completely different cultures meet, shake hands and actually like each other.

It happened in a "way too hot" classroom in a town so small I'm not sure it even has a name.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Midnight Visitor



It was our second night in Africa. Our guide warned us to watch the path carefully at night for scorpions. So Sheree and I made our way back to our little cabin sweeping our headlamps back and forth looking for these venomous little peckers.

It was sort of exciting in a strange way,. We don't get a lot of scorpions in Edmonton...although I felt a geek wearing a headlamp. (I knew a kid who was president of the Science Club who took a headlamp to camp once...enough said.)

Anyway: since the room lights ran off a generator and we were asked to keep the power uses down, I decided to read my book using my headlamp.

Sheree was sleeping beside me and I was turning pages on a Mankell thriller about a guy in South Africa during the bloody uprising era waiting for the machete to fall.

Time passes and I am deeper and deeper into this book. Then all of a sudden there's this humming thrumming sound and something flies into my face.

I assume it's a bug, but it's a fast little sucker. It smacks me in the face and flies away. Since the only light source in the room is currently on my forehead, I accept it. (I don't like it, of course and am better than half way grossed out by it, but I accept it.)

Since the hero of the book is landing in serious doo-doo, I go back to my book. A few minutes later it smacks me in the face again -- and I am starting to get better than half pissed now.

It must be some serious kind of bug, I think. And, being a great white hunter, I shrewdly evolve a clever plan: I shall hang my lit headlamp on the bedpost, wait for the insect to be drawn to the light again and I will squish it with my book (being very careful not to get any African bug guts on me because...well y'know.).

(Sometimes I surprise myself with my own cunning.)

So I sit there in the dark, novel poised, every sense alert and tuned to the whispering darkness. I was quivering with a hunter's anticipation.

Nothing.

I wait.

Pretty smart bug I think.

I get tired and begin to think it's a little silly for a grown man to be waiting in the darkness to outsmart and then ambush a bug.

That little sucker comes round again, with the usual soft whispering thrumming sound I can't identify...and I see it's not a bug at all. In the flash I see it's a BAT. A little tiny bat.

I abandon the "wait and squish strategy," turn out the light and go to sleep.
Being a Great White Hunter, I most definitely do NOT pull the covers over my head.

Score?

Bat: one.

Great African/Canadian hunter: zero.

I love Africa. I really really do. This is an amazing place.

We're here for another two...almost three days...before we leave for London.

Thought you guys might like to see The Headlamp...and it makes for an excellent excuse to tell the story.

Tomorrow, Sheree and I are going into a shark cage in Great White Shark infested waters. They promise up-close interactions with the most ferocious ocean predator on the planet. Seriously...we are. Her idea. Of course. Imagine that: going into a cage in the water...with sharks. On PURPOSE. Geez.

I think I'll take my novel with me in case I need to squish the shark.

**sigh**

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Once Upon a Time...



I was in a South African city. I can't remember which one. I was out with Sheree looking for (what else...?) an Internet Cafe.

Our course took us into a seedy part of town, lots of people standing idly on the stoops of worn out looking shops, talking and sitting and watching us.

We found two Internet Cafes. One was closed and the clerk in the other looked up and said "Not working," with a sad shake of her head. Many things don't work in Africa.

We were walking along the seafront and saw a fascinating old building: broken down with shattered windows that looked like broken bones to me.

I tried to photograph it from different angles, but nothing was working.

An old man came by and I stopped him.

"Are you from around here?" I asked.

He nodded. "All my life," he said.

"Do you know what this building is...was?" I asked.

He nodded, and stood looking at me.

I raised my eyebrows in the universal "Ummm...well?" gesture.

"I was born there," he said finally, looking at the broken windows, the peeling paint and the graffiti.

"It was a hospital?" I asked, seizing on the obvious.

"Yes. A hospital only for children. It's been closed for years. The government can't decide what to do with it." He looked at the building for a long moment. "Very sad to me."

The desertion of things, people and places in Africa make a strange kind of sense after a while. So many beautiful things are ignored and forgotten...so many lovely things are treated casually or allowed to stand and rot away...but then there are SO many wonderful things there you can sort of understand it. Most of these people are just trying to live through the day, to get enough to eat. Buildings fall low priority lists.

Still it was such a lovely old place: with a grand edifice and superb old world touches...

I played around with this image for a while. But nothing was working until I took a child's face and put it into the corner. This child was a student in a remote school not far from the seriously wild areas of Africa.

I loved Africa. There is something utterly mystical there. Maybe it's a vibrant quality in the air or the exotic nature of the people. Maybe it's the way you can turn a corner on a dusty road and see something amazing...or stand mere feet from an elephant or lion going about their business.

I loved Africa. I loved being there. Part of me still is.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mystical Focus from Auto FX

It's been a bumper crop for new releases from the long silent Auto FX. You'll see information on Mystical Lighting & Ambiance 2.0 a little further down. But brand new on the market is another package called Mystical Focus.

I spent some time with Auto FX's Cliff Weems and asked him about Mystical Focus.

What sets this Mystical Focus apart from other options on the market?

Our framework allows us to dynamically render and combine different filters together. We can combine a Focal Plane with a Focal Brush effect then add in a Panning Focus to just a small part of the image. We have robust brush-on / brush-off tools as well as ellipse controls / path controls and focal mask controls that are really easy and fast to work with.

There is another release on the market that seems to have a similar "focus." How does Mystical Focus compare to Alien Skin's Bokeh release?

Jeff Butterworth has done a fantastic job with all the plug-ins at Alien Skin - they are a top notch company and we like all of their products. Our Focus has taken a creative approach to setting moods and looks and combining different filters together to generate new and exciting looks. Bokeh has taken more of a traditional approach to matching the camera lens types that a photographer can identify with.

When Bokeh was launched, the reaction from some parts of the market were "I can already do that in Photoshop." Can people make the same comment about MF?

If you take enough time you can do just about anything in Photoshop - but we have some looks that you'd be hard pressed to duplicate in Photoshop without spending tons of time. You can rapidly (in just a minute or less) combine filters and capture a look - I will stress that Mystical Focus is not a collection of Blur filters - it is MUCH, MUCH more.

What was the toughest part of this development?

Capturing the looks and making it easy to just brush-on / and go. Our customers need a FAST solution that lets them get creative right without spending a lot of time trying to get what they want. I am really anxious to see our multi-core engine come out as that will make much of our software close-to-real time and we want to do this for our customers very soon.

Who's the primary market for this package?

We see this being attractive to photographers who are both novice and looking to capture some high-end professional looks and moods as well as being attractive to the pro who values the artistry of the software and how it can help them in post-production. Even the best photographer / Photoshop artist has one commonality - saving time while providing a superior end-result / work of art to their customer.

That's it for the interview with Cliff Weens of Auto FX.

I've been working with Mystical Focus for a week and a half now, trying out the various filters.

The effect at the top of this posting was accomplished in less than a minute. It uses the Radial Focus, which has a "global effect." An Ellipse can be applied to change the effect of the blur on the image.

The filter applies with lightning speed and I have been utterly delighted with how quickly professional effects can be applied and then customized to suit the precise parameters of the project.

There are eight Focal effects simulating a really broad spectrum of results.

The really interesting options are presented under the Atmosphere Menu. Here are six outstanding options that add the kind of stuff you expect like "Grain and Noise" to stuff you never expected like Highlight Smear and a Vignetting option guaranteed to blow your socks off.

Here is a filter set that hits a home run in areas like ease of use, and application speed. The interface is intuitive and extra Auto FX touches like instant explanation of the control your cursor is resting on eases the learning curve very significantly.

It's a package designed to save you time, vast amounts of it, even as it delivers genuinely clean and easy-to-customize results.

Overall rating: 9/10

You owe it to yourself to take a hard look at Mystical Focus. It's one of the best new filter sets on the market. It's selling for $149. You can get an additional 10% off using a time limited code.

If a rich relative has died, or you are casting about for something worthwhile to "invest" that income tax refund money in, you may even want to consider the whole Mystical Suite, composed of Mystical Lighting & Ambiance 2.0, Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 and Mystical Focus. This suite is marketed for $399.00 and qualifies for the 10% discount.

Auto FX makes some of the most inventive software around for graphic designers and photographers. Take a few minutes to download the demo version. And let me know what YOU think, okay?

As Weems said, the real power of this package, in addition to the speed and specialization of the effects, is in the ability to blend them. Layers can be created within Mystical Focus and then blended and combined with other effects from the Atmosphere menu OR any of the other Mystical Suite effects. As you can probably tell: I really like this whole package.

Find all the goodies at www.autofx.com

A FINAL NOTE ABOUT REVIEWS: I don't make anything for recommending or reviewing the software on this site. I don't get a commission and you will notice there are NO banner ads for any of the software companies -- even the ones I like. I know times are tight for a lot of us in the design/photography field and it's important that you be able to trust someone to tell you what they REALLY think.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

For Those About To Rock...



Sheree and I got up at 4:00 IN THE MORNING.

She wanted to capture a sunrise. I, on the other hand, longed to point out that sunrises happen pretty much every day and that I saw no reason to drag my lazy butt out of a warm comfortable bed for this particular one.

The conclusion, to no one’s surprise was never in doubt. My lazy butt was in the shower and then we were in the car with Sheree chirping on about how GREAT it was going to be to watch the sun come up and how we were going to find the PERFECT place to photograph it from. Her optimism grated on my jagged disposition.

I tried not to sigh too loud, sipping coffee and praying that God would just take me now.

The morning eventually took us to a field of flowers (big surprise) and so there I stood feeling foul(er), glaring at the flowers and their fricking happy colors and apparent inability to understand that sometimes the day just sucks.

Then I saw this little flower in a direct beam of light.

“Hey…over here you floral Luddite,” it whispered.

I ignored it because it is patently obvious to any thinking being that flowers can’t talk.

“Pssssst,” it hissed.

I chanced a glance that way and saw it gently moving in the breeze in a decidedly “come hither” fashion.

I snorted.

“C’mon,” it whispered. “Admit it. I’m pretty. You KNOW I am.”

I snorted. Again.

“Look. It’ll be just between the two of us,” the persuasive petals posited. “You can tell people you ripped me out of the ground after you took my picture. It’s okay. I won’t tell.”

I felt myself wavering. But my testosterone kicked in and, as I considered actually WANTING to take a picture of a fricking flower, my resolve hardened.

“Hey, Daaaaaviiiiddd….take my picture. You know all the other photographers are doing it. C’mon. How can one little picture hurt? Just so you’ll know what it’s like.”

“I’ve taken pictures of flowers before,” I said in my best make-my-day-you-punk-flower growl. “I just never liked it much.”

I raised my camera and took a picture of a stoooopid bench. The picture sucked, but at least it wasn’t a fricking flower.

I concentrated all my attention on trying to turn the image of the bench into something decent. Time passed pleasantly.

Then I heard a soft floral sob from somewhere behind me.

I looked around. Sheree was happily and unselfconsciously intent on photographing a fricking flower some distance away. I peeked back at the yellow flower…and something that looked like dew ran a tragic wet course down its petals. The sound of inconsolable floral grief.

“Knock it off,” I hissed. “I refuse to surrender to a flower.”

It said nothing, simply turning a fraction of an angle toward the sun, which only served to highlight the wetness now running freely down its petals.

I took another shot of the bench. Stoooopid bench.

I turned and looked and saw the yellow flower shining bright in a perfect ray of light.

The flower caught me looking and instantly stopped sobbing. It looked as hopeful as a little flower can look.

“Take my picture,” it pleaded.

I didn’t say anything.

“C’mon. Take my picture. Why not? I’m pretty. Pretty is what I am all about. It’s what I’m for. So why not take a picture? C’mooooon.”

I looked around me. No one anywhere near. No one to see.

“In a few weeks I am going to be all crusty and dried up. Now…I’m beautiful. Take my picture, okay? Justonelittlepictureandyoudon’tevenhavetoenjoyit.”

I crept over and raised my camera. The flower perked right up, smoothing its petals and turning its most flattering angle toward me.

I raised the camera. My hand was shaking. I took the picture.

I think it smiled at me as I took the shot.

Maybe.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMUgmU_Hsjc

Friday, April 23, 2010

Non Conformists Are Often Nuts



“You go ask,” says Sheree. “I’m shooting pictures.”

I look blankly at her. This is not what I had in mind at all.

“You’re the people person,” I remind her. “And you’re naturally cute. YOU should ask.”

“You’re the husband,” she says. “Go.”

My mental referee calls it “Game, Set and Match.” Sheree has played the Husband Card, which actually counts for double, since today is our anniversary.

We are in an auto wrecking yard near Lamont, Alberta. There is a fence with no nonsense barbed wire. It is festooned with “NO TRESSPASSING” signs. The only thing missing from the picture is a hillbilly in an ancient rocking chair with a shotgun across his lap and an inbred dog with yellow teeth, bloodshot eyes and a nasty disposition lying in a puddle of its own drool.

Sheree has decided we are going to shoot here. Geez.

It’s an amazing place. There are over four thousand cars waiting to be chopped and crushed. I am remembering how often movies link gangsters to wrecking yards, and I am thinking about a scene where a would-be informant was crushed alive in his own car as I cross the dusty yard.

The sun is warm on my skin. I love the sun, I think. I am going to miss it after I am dead, trapped in a cube of crushed metal. I sigh.

I open the office door, and peer into the way too dim interior.

“How you doing?” booms a friendly voice from behind the counter. I cross the room and see a blonde guy with a biker’s nap on his head. He’s standing there like he’s been waiting for me and he’s grinning. At me. Maybe I’m not going to die after all…

“Beautiful day,” I observe shrewdly. I am, of course, procrastinating. I am trying to come up with an excuse for why an apparently brain dead photographer ignores all the “NO TRESSPASSING” signs and is standing in an office in the middle of rural Alberta (where a person could, like just disappear…) about to ask if he can take pictures.

“Yup,” the biker guy booms. Again. “You a photographer, huh?”

I nod, not trusting my voice.

“You want to take pictures, huh?”

I nod again. After all – it’s been working for me so far.

“Go ahead,” he says. “We used to get a lot of photographers out here.”

I decide not to ask where the bodies are buried, since he doesn’t seem to be the body burying type. Instead, I thank him and head back out into the sunlight. Sweet sunlight.

Sheree is engrossed in photographing a broken down tractor.

“So?” she asks.

“Well…it took some persuading,” I say shaking my head wearily. I am the Returning Hero. “But I talked them into it.”

She nods, like she expected no less and turns her attention back to the tragic looking tractor she is shooting. I consider telling her the truth about the biker guy and the fact that they are really friendly after all.

…nah.

So we spent two plus hours of our anniversary together shooting. She goes her way and I go mine and we meet up every once in a while. This seems to fit us way better than a dinner out or a houseful of friends.

I came across these lug nuts on the rusted seat of a tractor. Seizing the opportunity to turn my art to a communication of yet another cosmic truth, I shot this image.

So here it is.

Tuh dum.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sweet Dreams



I spent most of my childhood crawling deep into books. The deeper the better.

We moved frequently. Being the New Kid at school, in a class full of other kids who had grown up together, was a thing I expected to endure each September.

Eventually, I figured out I had no more control over whether or not we moved, than I had over whether the Russians bombed the shit out of me. (It was, after all, the sixties…) But one day I realized that I could always choose the things that occupied my mind.

I started light with Dick and Jane – and that wonderfully antiseptic world they lived in where Father always wore a suit and Mother even wore a frilly dress to fix supper. The kids all got along and Spot was a cool dog. Even Sally was mostly okay…vacuous as hell…but mostly okay.

Then I moved over to the Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew when no one was watching since they were basically the same kind of story…although one was ostensibly for girls). After that I main-lined Doc Savage and Tarzan, Sam Spade and Miss Marple. I ate up AA Merit and Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson. My heroes weren’t actors or athletes. They were Heinlein and Asimov, King and Matheson. On my more shadowy days I read Edgar Allan Poe and the Dark Shadows series. I totally bought into all of it.

Why am I telling you this?

Because remembering my childhood is a little like photographing old cars. They awaken the same sense of longing I used to feel reading fiction. I have this powerful sense that nothing bad could possibly happen in these beauties.

In the world these cars came from Father would always have time to play catch and Mother would bake endless cookies and the house would look like a photographer from Good Housekeeping was expected at any moment. Sally could always be counted on to say something cute. And Spot would never EVER pee on the floor.

There’s something majestic about these regal vehicles, something utterly surreal. They carry in the very fabric of their metal, something wonderful. Simply sitting a car like that would be like breathing magic, right?

In my mind’s eye I can see the whole family cruising down the highway listening to the radio and singing along with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. These cars were designed to go out on frosty Christmas Eves and return home with the perfect tree tied to the roof as the snow gently falls and everyone inside is smiling.

They are tough little time travellers because they are survivors, rolling gently into our world from a time when making something beautiful was more important than gas mileage, when designers put fins on their cars because they added elegance and, let’s face it, just looked really cool.

This car was magical to me. I could smell sweet dreams all over it. This image is about trying to infuse that sense of wonder and longing in a picture.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mystical Lighting and Ambiance 2.0



Doing a review of Auto FX releases is sort of like trying to count chickens. You think you're done -- but you inevitably see something new. The reason? There are simply too many things to look at and evaluate if you're going to do a thorough job.

Regular readers of this blog (and who isn't...?) know that Mystical Lighting 1.0 is one of my absolute favorite utilities. Often a simple nudge from one of the utilities in Mystical Lighting can be used to make any image really pop.



So I was delighted to get the latest "Mystical Lighting & Ambiance 2.0" just before I left for Florida. It gave me an opportunity to really play around (oops...I mean "Make a meaningful examination of...") this filter set.

It's split into three broad categories.

LIGHTING
This is where 1.0 really shone. (Pun intended.)It's where 2.0 shines as well. There are a number of outstanding "easy to use" lighting effects. In 2.0 you can brighten highlights, infuse the image with wonderful warm sunlight -- a total of 14 different effects are here.

Admittedly, some will be very specific in their applications -- but I think most graphic artists and photographers will find really useful options here. Effects can be subtle or "in your face" splashes of color and light.

I very much like what has been done with my favorite from 1.0: radial light caster. Very simple to use -- and much more easily customizable in 2.0. "Light in the Dark" and "Mood Lighting" are both excellent utilities. They are not as easy to use as other filters in the set. But you'll be wise to spend a few minutes learning them.

SHADING
Here's where the real treasures lie in 2.0. You can create vast mood and atmosphere with the careful application of what's waiting inside this category. Try Black Shade for instant jaw dropping atmosphere...or try Shadow Play to take your images to whole new levels. There are 5 very good shading options here.

AMBIANCE
Here's where I found myself really looking forward to seeing the new stuff. There are eight options here. Add Ethereal lighting...or paint with rainbows and mist. I found it fairly similar to 1.0 in many respects -- although it's a package geared to allow for easier, faster customization of effect.

Some software manufactures issue upgrades with cosmetic changes, but very little little that is actually NEW. Mystical Lighting and Ambiance 2.0 isn't one of those. A lot of thought went into each filter, and how best to create practical applications. Overall, it's a good upgrade. If you haven't had this filter set in your arsenal at all -- you really need to give it your attention.

If you're considering upgrading from 1.0, let me suggest that you download the demo from Auto FX and look it over. There's some great new stuff here which, to my mind, easily justifies the upgrade price. (There are some time sensitive discounts available as well. Check out the interview with Cliff Weems just below.)

Did Mystical Lighting and Ambiance blow me away? Not exactly. But in all fairness, my expectations were so high, and my use of 1.0 so common, I don't know what Auto FX could have done to send me into the "Blown away" zone -- as they did with their outstanding upgrade to Mystical Tint Tone and Color.

As with all filter sets from Auto FX, you really need to sit down and take a hard look at each option, spending a little time on learning how to use it properly. It's an excellent investment of time.

In summary: great creative options here. You can build fabulous atmosphere into your images with just a few keystrokes. Smart designers will really make a study of the many options built into this upgrade to learn how to use them most effectively.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Auto FX Releases a New Mystical Lighting Package



Here's Mary Poppins. Okay. She's an actress in the role of Mary Poppins at Disney's Magical Kingdom. I used ONLY filters from Auto FX in the processing of this image. Specifics on this later in the week.

I've been in Florida for nearly a week poking around. Just before I left, I had the opportunity to download the latest Mystical Lighting & Ambiance package from Auto FX.

It's a package I've been looking forward to for months. You'll recall that Auto FX launched the blockbuster upgrade to the lackluster Mystical Tint Tone and Color 1.0 and blew me away.

I've been working with a hands-on copy of ML&A for a week now. My review of the package will be published next week. But in the meanwhile, I had an opportunity to chat with Cliff Weens of Auto FX about their package. Here it is:

1) What are you MOST proud of in Mystical Lighting 2.0?

The photo-realistic, natural way in which our light rendering engine capture the essence of real-life streaming light.

2) What are the three most significant differences between 1.0 and 2.0 in your view?

Number one would have to be the interface with features like the Brush Palette and new brush shapes. Number two would be the new atmospheric effects and the addition of over a dozen new filters in the suite. Number three would have to be the way it is integrated into the Mystical Suite allowing you to combine Mystical Lighting and Ambiance 2.0 with 80 other filters from the Mystical Focus and Mystical Tint Tone and Color suites. This gives the new version of Lighting a vast amount of power as you can add Focal effects and Color and Tonal effects to set the scene up for a photo-realism that is really beautiful to see.

3) Was "ease of use" a key consideration in your development of 2.0?

Absolutely - we wanted to proceed the first version which was released 7 years ago with something worthy of an upgrade ... we wanted to make it as easy as humanly possible so we worked really hard to improve the look and feel of the interface.

3a) Are there significant changes to the user interface?

One of the features we really liked in this release was the larger Before / After presets that let the user select from our instant presets or save their own and see the original then the effect version of the preset. It makes storing the instant presets so much nicer.

4) Has processing speed been enhanced?

By around 30%. We do have a multi-core version releasing this summer that is a free update - it has an extremely fast performance ratio and will improve speeds up to 5x faster on just about every effect and on some it will be close to real-time.

5) You've added "Ambiance" to the title. What are the key package differences that led to this?

When you see how Mystical Lighting can set the mood for the scene you immediately see where the Ambiance idea comes from - the new atmospherics are also a part of this name addition.

6) Which of the filter options do you use most often?

I am a huge fan of Light in the Dark and the Rainy Light / Haze filters as they add lots of drama to a scene.

7) What were the big challenges in developing the new package?

We spent lots of time with studying what we had already done and how it was being used - this meant seeing photographers like Lisa Jane (http://www.lisajane.com/) were using our solutions in their workflow.

8) What's BRAND NEW in Mystical Lighting 2.0?

We added twice as many effect filters. The new Snowy Light / Rainy Light let you stream lighting and rain / snow across your scene so you can really create some amazing looks.

9) Where do you see the primary applications for the filter sets?

Setting the tone and mood for a photo in a post-production environment. Many times studio photographers don't want to setup a fog machine and try to fight with creating real haze in the studio. Or when on an outdoor shoot they can't always control the lighting ... Mystical Lighting and Ambiance gives the photographer the ability to control this aspect of their work in a digital suite of filters.

10) Can upgrades be made on-line?

Sure can ... we have the upgrade priced at $129 and it is downloadable as well as available in a physical copy too.

11) Any purchase discounts available?

Sure are - between now and July 30, 2010 users can upgrade or purchase a new copy with a 10% discount if they use coupon code: P24568

12) What's next for Auto FX?

We're working heavily on the 64 bit Mac version right now (out in a couple of weeks) as well as making sure support for CS5 is rock-solid. We also have a team working on multi-processor support with a new rendering engine that is very fast. So the biggest work we have are the optimizations we're applying across our portfolio of over 150 filters.

That's the interview. The review comes next week, and will probably be composed on a plane in the middle of the night.

Auto FX has also released an interesting little "Mystical Focus" package. We'll have information on that next week as well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Danger is Not My Middle Name #20



All detective movies finish in a drawing room. This is where the detective has assembled all the suspects, witnesses and assorted sidekicks into one room. A hush falls over the crowd as he starts to speak and untangle the twisted web of the mystery.

The conclusion of this story takes place in a tiny car…one I suspect Europeans did not design with humans in mind. I was in the back seat with my knees braced to my chest, trying not to look like an accordion…or sound like one for that matter.

“You’re Greta?” I asked, a little wheezy from the lack of oxygen.

Jennifer nodded.

“I’m the voice you heard on the phone. Yes. I needed to bring you into the case,” she said.

I smiled my most world-weary smile. “Because I was the first detective you saw?”

She shook her head. “No. I just said that because I wanted you to stop calling me ‘Toots.’ You have a special quality to you. Something we needed.”

“Oh?”

Pretty much every overweight Dungeons and Dragons player has a genetic predisposition to getting suspicious when a pretty girl tells them they’re ‘special.’ Comments like that are usually followed by ‘So do you want a date?’”

But she was nodding, looking me directly in the eyes. I noticed her eyes, one blue and the other green, were large and round and so very sincere. There was a little dimple that moved at the lower corner of her mouth when she spoke that made me very glad my knees were pressed against my chest.

“When I was looking for help, I simply passed my hand over the phone book and my finger came down on your name.”

I settled back. “I get it. Sure. Coincidence.”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. Guidance. Destiny. You were supposed to be here. Without you, we could never have recovered the coin.”

Gerald was nodding.

“He already had the coin,” I pointed out.

She was nodding too. “Yes. You were chosen to help. Without you, he would never have made it out alive….plus you found the secret door no one else could find. Something happened in there…in the chapel, right?”

I remembered the strange sense of following the music to the keystone. I nodded.

“How did Gerald get in?” I asked.

She laughed. So did Gerald – which was not a pleasant sound.

“He was captured at the end of our fight. We knew we were losing. He surrendered, hopefully to be taken into their lair and very hopefully get the coin. Which he did. But he had no way to get out. Until you came along to unlock the door.

“We agreed beforehand that if the battle should appear lost, for me to meet him here. And I have been here every day since. Waiting.”

She finished with a smile, a flash of white teeth and something that almost approached shyness.

“So you followed me, and pretended to be Greta, because you didn’t think I could get the job done,” I said.

She thought about it and then nodded. “Well…would you have trusted you?”

Finally I nodded back, smiling.

“Do you know what happened to me in the chapel?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No. But I know it was destined to happen.”

I told her about the vision (okay…I felt a little silly using the word ‘vision’ but there was no other way to describe it) of the man of fire.

She exchanged a sharp look with Gerald. Their eyes were talking to each other. In the end she shook her head.

“Strong suspicions. Nothing’s certain.” She stopped talking and looked me square in the eyes. “The driver, this McGee person, was sent by them. The Stokers must have intercepted our message to you.”

“He would have killed you and taken the coin,” said Gerald.

I gulped, which was difficult because my mouth was suddenly very dry. I turned and looked at Jennifer for a long moment and she looked back at me. We both knew something heavy was blowing in the breeze. Finally she spoke: “I hope you will stick around long enough so we can figure it out…together.”

I half laughed, half snorted. “You want me to?”

Her face was suddenly serious. She nodded. “Stay with us. Work with us. Become a Keeper.”

My jaw dropped and my heart was already setting up all the many reasons we should tell her to forget the whole thing.

“You want me to hunt vampires? With you?”

She nodded. “With us.”

I thought about it. My life flashed before my eyes. I thought about returning to an empty office, friendless and client challenged. I though about what an eternity of thinking about her and wondering how things WOULD have been with her. The decision was made.

“Jennifer,” I growled. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“We’ll always have Glasgow,” said Gerald, laughing and it didn’t so bad this time.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” said Jennifer.

We all were laughing .I knew I was with my people. The fact that we hunt vampires for a living? That’s just a bonus.

***************************************

So that’s it for Mr. Diamond for the moment. Thank you all for your kind attention, your comments and your patience with someone who insisted on writing a story on a photography blog.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #19




A pair of students were wolfing down a meal as we staggered out of the chapel into the fading sunlight. It looked strange to see something so normal only feet away from where we had just come from. Had it been only a few minutes ago we’d been fleeing some clawed creature in the dark?

“I have a ride,” I told Gerald. “Greta sent him.”

He stopped and looked at me, suspicion painted stark on his sharp features. “Greta did?”

I nodded. “She sent him to pick me up at the ship.”

“How do you know?”

“When I got off the ship, he was there with my name on a placard.”

“And?”

I was offended. I was sore and my ankle was bleeding profusely from where the minion had clawed at it.

“And what?” I demanded, dismayed to hear the slight whine in my voice.

“Greta didn’t send him,” Gerald said.

“Yes she did,” I insisted. But the look in his eyes and the sense of my heart were sinking the declaration.

We’d been walking. More precisely, Gerald had been walking and I had been limping. We rounded the corner and before us was one of those tiny cars the Europeans favor. Leaning against it was Jennifer.

She watched us approach with interest. As she recognized me, her eyes widened and she rushed forward, nearly knocking me down as she threw her arms around me.

“Sam!” she said. I don’t think my name has ever sounded better.

“Jennifer,” I responded, since that seemed the appropriate thing to say.

Gerald was standing, arms folded, a crooked smile on his lips. He gestured toward Jennifer.

“Mr. Diamond, allow me to present….Greta.”