During these hopefully late stages of pandemic life I’ve been doing a regular morning walk around Sharon Park and the pond.
Last week the City of Menlo Park drained and cleaned the pond. It’s looking fresh again after a summer with some algae growth.
The last couple of early mornings have been foggy which adds a moodiness to the scene. And it’s usually pretty quiet early in the morning!
I’ve recently shared on Instagram a couple of photos taken on these recent morning walks. These photos have been post-processed using the iPhone Photos app along with DistressedFX+ and Snapseed. These apps have become my usual workflow for processing on my iPhone. These tools are quick and easy to use plus they help add some drama and a painterly effect to the images.
The problem of getting old is an old problem, which means there are plenty of established ways of coping. The new problem, the one harder to deal with, is the diminishing possibilities for our species. Settling down means something different now, because there is no long term. The best one can hope for is a temporary pocket of equilibrium, to be enjoyed while it lasts, and then mercilessly abandoned. …
…what links the vanlifers, the influencers and the get-rich-quick kids isn’t laziness or dreams of going viral, but rather a sense of precarity that they see all around them, whether in campgrounds filled with the homeless, in the ongoing climate disasters and now in a pandemic that has isolated them from their friends. …
In other news, I’ve recently discovered Ted Kooser (thanks to the By the Book profile of author William Kent Krueger in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). Kooser’s known for his plainsong poetry about the Great Plains. I’m really enjoying his prose – in particular his great memoir about life in rural Nebraska: Local Wonders. Highly recommended – his evocative sentences are a real delight to read!
Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you, Nebraska isn’t flat but slightly tilted, like a long church basement table with the legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place, not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato-chip casserole to slide off into the Missouri River. The high end is closest to the Rockies, and the entire state is made up of gravel, sand, and silt that ran off the front range over millions of years. …
During this time of much more limited opportunities to make new photographs, I’ve enjoyed going back through my back catalog of images (over 70,000!) and doing creative edits on them.
Most of these edits are done quickly – literally in the spur of a moment – when I get an inspiration. And the edits are almost always done on my iPhone – it’s become the workhorse of my photographic creativity!
A typical session involves me coming across an old image of mine (the Photos widget on the iPhone does an amazing job surfacing old yet interesting images). I’ll then make a duplicate of the image and open the duplicate in one of the editing programs I use (usually either Photos itself, Snapseed, or DistressedFX Pro). I’ll make whatever edits, crops, texturing, etc. that I’m inspired to make by the image itself.
A few minutes later, I’ll save the edited image back to Photos – and, if inspired, make one final edit pass – typically using Snapseed. Sometimes I’ll want to add a black border – I do that in Snapseed. Then I’ll post the image to my Instagram account. End-to-end this process usually takes 5-10 minutes. Once in a while I’ll stumble across another image in the process and go on another editing jag.
There’s a wide range of creativity that I’m applying during this process – depending on the image. Often I’ll be using DistressedFX Pro as I’ve come to love the addition of textures to many of my images. Other times I’ll take a color image to black and white, perhaps severely cropping it as well to reduce what I call “image noise” (distracting elements) and provide increased focus on what I find most interesting.
You can see some of the range of creativity in some of my images below. More can be found on my Instagram account.
After writing yesterday’s post including my book recommendation for Falling, I realized there were two other books that I really enjoyed reading in the last couple of months – and wanted to share them.
The first is Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, the 21st book in his long running series about Gabriel Allon. Silva rewrote a lot of this book after the events at the Capitol on January 6th. He lives in DC and is married to a CNN correspondent – so he was right in the midst of those January events. He masterfully weaves that story line into the end of The Cellist. There’s a great interview online with Silva talking about this book that’s worth watching.
The second is the The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. This is their second collaboration – I also enjoyed the first (The President is Missing) but found this second one even more enjoyable. Patterson’s use of plot twists along with Clinton’s “spice” of realism regarding the presidency and post-presidential life add a lot to this story. There’s also a great interview of the two of them with Lee Child that’s well worth watching.
Both of these books – along with Falling – are great summertime reads!
Back in May, I wrote about re-emergence – that feeling of coming out of the pandemic and “getting back to normal”. If only that had proven to have been true!
Instead, what’s happened is the “Delta relapse” – as this new Delta variant has demonstrated again that viruses are clever and have a “mind” of their own. A more contagious mutation – causing “breakthrough infections” even among dual vaccinated individuals – has thrown a new damper over those good feelings we had back in June.
For me personally, that’s meant staying closing to home again – avoiding group contact, etc. But it’s also been good in some ways – as I’ve added a new regular daily walk to my morning routine. That’s help me drop a few more pounds in weight – a very good thing – and provided a daily photography opportunity.
We’ll see where we are as we get through August – as schools try to re-open, traffic picks up again, and “normal” life tries to re-emerge again. Delta curves in India and the UK provide some hope that the US will see some stabilization and recovery soon. We also expect to hear soon about the need for a booster shot this fall for vaccinated individuals – wouldn’t it be wonderful if that got combined with this year’s flu shots?
Life goes on – just another roller coaster ride!…
Book recommendation: over the weekend I read Falling by T.J. Newman. It’s right at the top of my list of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read this year. Definitely not recommended for reading on a flight but otherwise it’s a great escape! I finished it in one day – a great example of a “page turner”!
This is, I believe, a permanent civilizational shift. It is perhaps the most important thing that’s happened in my lifetime, a consequence of the internet that’s maybe even more important than the internet. Permanently divorcing physical location from economic opportunity gives us a real shot at radically expanding the number of good jobs in the world while also dramatically improving quality of life for millions, or billions, of people. We may, at long last, shatter the geographic lottery, opening up opportunity to countless people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in the right place.
For the first time since January 2020 (15 months ago) I met my good friend Doug Kaye on the streets of San Francisco. It was a glorious day around the Bay and lovely to be back out if only for an hour or two. We have both been vaccinated a while back and it finally seemed like a good time to do this.
We had a delicious pizza lunch at A16 on Chestnut Street and then headed over to The Palace of Fine Arts for a quick walk around. We both reminisced that the last time either of us had visited this wonderful old place was a few years ago when we also did it together.
Doug had a new gadget (a digital back for his Hasselblad) and I had my trusty iPhone 12 Pro Max. While Doug explored with his big camera I played tourist and snapped a few snapshots to remember the day.
After so long avoiding public places like the streets of San Francisco during the pandemic it was great to get out in the fresh air and bright sun in the City!
Yesterday, the US CDC came out (at last!) with newly updated guidance for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In essence, masks are no longer needed for protection (for either you or people around you) if you have been fully vaccinated.
It’s been a difficult 15 months during this pandemic. Yesterday’s updated guidance from the CDC does feel like we’re emerging from the deep, dark tunnel we’ve been in. It’s almost hard to believe – we have been so accustomed to this weird way of hermit-like living. But here we are.
Thanks especially to all of the scientists and miracle workers who so rapidly developed the vaccines that deal with this nasty virus – and to the many healthcare workers who dedicated themselves to trying to save every life they could among those who became infected.
One of my favorite things to do is to visit one of the great local libraries in our area and just hang out. Browse the new books, look at some old classics, read the latest magazines, and just chill.
Since the start of the pandemic over a year ago all of our local libraries have been closed. They’ve continued to support their communities through drive-up pickup service and online ebook checkouts – but the quiet beauty of just being in a library space hasn’t been available.
On Thursday this began to change as the local libraries that are part of the San Mateo County Library system began re-opening – taking their first baby steps to re-emerge from the last year of forced isolation. Yesterday I stopped in at one of my favorites – the Portola Valley Library – just to get reminded once again of what a great place it is. A cheerful staff member greeted me as I walked through the open front door – both of us fully masked up of course. A delightful breeze was wafting through the place – keeping the air moving.
I took a few minutes just to browse the new books and to take a look around at the physical space. Much of it was still off-limits – including the lovely reading area near the front with its wonderful big leather chairs – but the study desks were reopened (with only one seat instead of two). You’re limited to a maximum of one hour inside until restrictions ease further.
But it’s a wonderful first step towards getting back to normalcy – and seems aligned very nicely with the spring season. I’m looking forward to heading back again, and again…
“It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries—and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up—not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.”
Back in 2018 I took a week-long photography workshop (“The Soul of a Photograph“) at Santa Fe Workshops led by Christopher Michel. Along with a dozen other photographers, we explored many aspects of creating images with impact while out and about in some of the beautiful venues in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It was a wonderful week with a great teacher who is famous for his beautiful and prolific work.
For most of the week I was teamed up with Cira Crowell, another great photographer who lives in Santa Fe. We had a great time together working on our images – including a particularly great day working with a few models at Eaves Movie Ranch outside of Santa Fe.
The following year Cira taught a new course in Santa Fe titled The Language of Black and White which I was also able to attend. Cira is passionate about the power of black and white imagery and she built her course on some of the earlier work and teachings of George DeWolfe who had also taught at Santa Fe Workshops. Coincidentally, I had met George on a visit to Havana in 2013 and had several wonderful chats with him over buffet breakfast at our hotel that week in Havana. Note: Cira is planning to teach another section of this course in July 2021 in Santa Fe.
Taking Cira’s course in Santa Fe opened my eyes to exploring new techniques to apply black and white processing to my images – in particular how to add depth to my images so that they take on more of a three dimensional look even though they’re just two dimensional by nature. I shared some of my thoughts about the course on our local InMenlo blog. One of the exercises involved taking one of the color paintings of a great master and converting it to black and white – while adding depth.
This month I started an online version of Cira’s course as a follow-up to the in-person workshop I took two years ago. While being together in a classroom seems ideal, an online workshop comes pretty close in terms of providing the vehicle for teaching and understanding. And it’s a necessary approach in this pandemic era where our travel opportunities are so severely restricted. What falls away with the online approach are the social dynamics of being together – an important aspect to the workshops held in Santa Fe.
In the workshop, we’ve been exploring post-processing in Lightroom – converting a color image to black and white – and using some of the tools available to move beyond just the default conversion from color to black and white. Below is an example – a simple color photograph of an orange on a countertop being converted to several different versions of black and white.
One of the important lessons in this process is understanding the difference between the values in an image versus the tones in an image. Different tones can result in the same values – creating some unusual situations such as red converting to the same tone as green, for example. If you have a red subject on a green foliage background, for example, the subject will almost disappear into the background.
This can be visualized by looking at these two images that depict the luminance values vs the color tones. You’ll notice that the reds and the greens have very similar grey tones while the yellows are much brighter grey and the blues are much darker greys.
Learning the language of black and white is all about learning how to translate these hues into greys so that the image of an image is enhanced.
When converting a color photo to black and white in Lightroom Classic, the color sliders can be used to change the tonal values of the different colors. You can actually adjust the colors first in color before converting to black and white and then take the image through a quick round trip through Photoshop to preserve your color edits before then converting to black and white and editing further. This technique provides the most control over the translation from hue to tone in the greyscale image.
A final round trip through Photoshop can also be used to add depth to the grayscale image. In Photoshop duplicate the background layer and change the blend mode to Soft Light. Adjust the opacity to a low value – say 15% as a starting point. If need be you can add a layer mask and control more precisely where the effect is applied. If you want even more you can duplicate the layer again and see how that works. Then save the image back to Lightroom Classic for any final edits.
And remember, black and white isn’t “plan b” – it’s an intentional approach to creating classic, more timeless looking images.