Boring is the new cool

September 19th, 2010

tilthharvestfair_20100911-84I’m excited about my latest photographic equipment acquisition.

Is it a new super-wide-angle lens? The latest full-featured camera body? No, it’s…

A normal lens.

Yes, it’s the most boring of all the lens possibilities – what is sometimes called a “kit lens”. That’s the lens you get when you buy the camera – the assumption being that sooner or later you’ll get bored with its limitations and start buying more interesting lenses. Like telephotos, wide-angles and zooms.

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iStock – what’s the point?

March 29th, 2009

That’s a pretty depressing-sounding title. What’s the deal?

Over the past month and a half or so – after finally getting accepted – I’ve been uploading photos to iStock. It’s been an arduous process. I retouch each image within what I think are “reasonable” bounds: cropping, boost the contrast a little, lightweight sharpening. Then I generate a batch of keywords using Yuri Arcurs’ clever and helpful keywording service. The result is usually good but requires a bit more editing before being ready to upload. Then upload the image. Paste in the keywords and “disambiguate” – the keywords have to match words in iStock’s lexicon, and usually that means selecting something similar or related from their auto-generated suggestons. Then try to choose 2-3 categories from the extremely limited list. Then wait.

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UPS Mail Call

December 24th, 2008

Got an interesting email this morning from our neighborhood mailing list:

This is a notice to all neighborhood residents about problems the UPS delivery lady (Dawn) is having reaching our neighborhood.

She has over 200 packages for our neighborhood that she can’t deliver because she can’t get her truck up the hills. However, she can make it to 45th St.

She would like me to tell you all that she will wait in the truck tomorrow between 11:30 and 12:30 pm at 8850 Paisley Drive, which is in front of the Morse’s house. (She asks that you be patient with her as she will need to search through them to get your packages). If anyone is expecting a package that they absolutely cannot retrieve tomorrow at that time, perhaps you can notify me and my boys can collect them and deliver them to your house, or at least bring them down to our garage, if you wish.

Let me know… And enjoy your holidays!
[neighborly neighbor]

I thought this had a certain end-of-the-world ring to it, and even though we weren’t expecting any packages, I figured it would be worth getting out of the house for (having been snowed in for the past week).

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December 18th, 2008


iStock rejected my submissions.

The stated reason for each of the three was:

This file contains artifacting when viewed at full size. This technical issue is commonly created by the quality settings in-camera, in post-processing or in RAWsettings. Artifacting may be the result of other factors such as excessive level adjustments.

I said “no way – those images are great”. Couldn’t believe they found “artifacts” – these were RAW images, never seriously compressed or post-processed.

After being dejected for a while I went on the iStock forum and did some searching on the subject. I realized there were two possible reasons for their response:

  1. Sharpening. I tend to like to sharpen, sometimes a bit heavy-handedly. It improves the pop when printed on my Epson, and helps maintain crispness when resized smaller for the web.
  2. Chromatic aberration (CA). CA is a by-product of the way light bends as it passes through glass. Different wavelengths (colors) of light bend differently when they pass through the air-glass boundary. This is how white light separates into a rainbow when it passes through a prism [illustrated in classic rock style here]. CA is more likely to occur in inexpensive lenses, but it happens in good ones too. These photos were shot with a Nikon 18-200 zoom – a flexible and useful lens for walking around, and considered very good (both Thom Hogan and Ken Rockwell like it a lot), but obviously it suffers from a little CA.

So I re-opened the raw images, didn’t sharpen them at all, and did some careful correction to minimize the CA. Resubmitted them and now…well…I guess I have to wait another 4 weeks.

Kind of an enthusiasm damper.

On the other hand, anything worth doing is worth doing well. I should probably be glad iStock is kicking my butt.

Seems like a great time to get into the stock market…

November 28th, 2008

OK – a statement like that sounds crazy given the current financial situation. But I’m talking about stock photography.

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Canyon Run 2007 – Day 13

May 24th, 2007

We left Iowa City early today as Donald was headed to the airport.

We put in an hour of riding before we stopped for breakfast in Iowa at the World’s Largest Truck Stop. If you have a semi and want to cover it with colored lights, this place is for you. They also have a large collection of religious t-shirts. The food was pretty good.

After breakfast we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and turned north along the east bank of the river. It was bliss to get off the interstate after 1000 miles or so, and to get the wind finally at our backs. We went through a number of small towns until at last we passed through Savanna and turned east onto Scenic Ridge Route. With a name like that, it had to be good, and it was good. Winding, climbing and dipping, the road took us through farmland to the farm of Kevin and Karen Ward. This farm lies about 100 miles from their home in Barrington, Illinois and is home to a pair of horses and a cozy farmhouse from the 1930’s.

The plan was to hole up at the farmhouse for a couple of hours, then proceed to Barrington. Kevin wouldn’t be home from work until later, so he figured we might as well enjoy a little quiet time here. Willo brewed us up some iced tea and we relaxed out of the wind for a bit. (The plan had been to hole up and wash the bikes, but the wind was just too strong to make it anything but a major chore.) Then it was on to Barrington, including another good dose of crosswind on the freeway.

We arrived at the Wards around 5 pm and immediately broke into Kevin’s excellent homemade beer (on tap, no less). Kevin and Karen had no shortage of delicious snacks (including a Mallomar clone called a Whippet that was very popular with everyone), and Karen prepared a delicious and diverse dinner for us all (I think there were at least three different main courses).

Today marked the end of our travels. The following days were a scramble of washing bikes, performing periodic maintenance (oil and filter changes, tightening bolts, examining brakes, etc.) and packing up the riding gear to UPS home to Seattle. But the bikes are ready for our return in September, when we’ll set off eastward again to Virginia for the Flyers’ Blue Ridge Run.

Canyon Run 2007 – Day 12

May 23rd, 2007

We breakfasted at the Terrace Grille in the hotel. This restaurant is decorated on every wall with detailed frescoes of Roman and tropical scenes. We sat close to one and are pretty sure it was hand-painted in place.

Apparently we were not supposed to park in this garage. When we tried to leave the attendant pointed at the “circle-slash motorcycle” symbol on the gate. Hey, we just did what they told us at the hotel. It took a 10-minute phone call with the supervisor for her to finally let us out – at the cost of one parking space.

We had hoped to avoid the wind by getting an early start, but it decided to start early too. Thus it was another 300 mile eastward slog leaning the whole way. Reports had the winds at 20-35 knots. Willo’s tank bag came loose again, and she also lost her iPod remote. This was too bad as it was a piece of junk and she was hoping to return it. The buttons on this remote had the habit of sticking “on” – so if you push the “volume up” button you end up with full-blast audio; if you push the fast-forward button you scan through an entire 18-hour audio book at munchkin speed. Do not buy a Monster brand remote for your iPod.

I was beginning to recant on my earlier opinion of the midwest as “not boring”. The land itself is beautiful, but everywhere else I’ve traveled, country like this is always followed by something else – mountains, ocean, river, something. This was all drum-roll and no cymbal crash.

We arrived at the house of Donald Chi in the early afternoon. Donald is in dental grad school in Iowa City, and he took us on a tour of the town. This was the perfect day to visit – school was out for the summer, so there weren’t too many people, but those who were around seemed young and hip. The day was warm but not muggy. The town felt like a miniature version of London or some other European city, full of coffee shops, pubs, bookstores and other interesting places. We paid a visit to the weekly farmer’s market, where we loaded up on cookies (not having any use for produce on the bikes – nor was there much, it being so early in the season). We found a great independent bookstore, where almost everything begged to be read. We dined outdoors at an excellent Italian restaurant. It seems we happened upon the tourist-brochure-perfect day in Iowa City, since in winter it’s miserably cold and in summer it’s sweltering and muggy. It was a wonderful way to finish the day.

Canyon Run 2007 – Day 11

May 22nd, 2007

Todd joined us early this morning for a last visit to the Concierge Suite, featuring a very well-appointed buffet. Then it was off to drive in one direction for a few days. Today we covered almost 500 miles, from Denver northeast on I-78, connecting to I-80 just inside Nebraska.

I was surprised to find Nebraska not nearly as boring as I’d expected. I thought I’d be seeing bleak, flat, desolate land, but it was pretty green, and paralleling the freeway to the north was a band of trees and periodic small towns – clearly following the course of a river.

What was difficult was the wind. We rode in a near-constant wind from the southwest, so we were forced to lean to the right almost constantly to compensate. Except when we passed…anything…at which point we’d have to sit upright or lean to the left if we didn’t want to shoot off the road. This grew very tiresome on the neck, and by the end of the day we’d had enough.

We wound up in Lincoln, Nebraska. We’d talked of finding a decent chain hotel and just calling it good, but I decided to push on into the downtown area. Lincoln being the state capitol, it was bound to have some decent hotels and restaurants for the politicians, lobbyists and other business people who came to town. Sure enough, we located another Marriott, the Cornhusker. More modest than the Denver Marriott, it was nevertheless very comfortable and welcome at the end of a long day. We were sent to the adjacent city garage to park this time, and this time we went through the gate side by side (we figured we’d only take up one space, so why pay for two).

Dinner was at a restaurant called Dish, which would pass for at least “good” in Seattle, and probably “great” in Lincoln.

Canyon Run 2007 – Day 10

May 21st, 2007

Today we breakfasted at The Bean in Gunnison. Very good coffee. One very nice server and one very sour server. Heading east we crossed another pass (and picked up a couple of bikes along the way), then angled northeast to Denver.

We reached Denver around lunchtime and found our way to Willo’s brother Todd’s garage. Todd works on German cars – mainly Audis and Porsches – tuning them for performance. While we lunched with Todd at a local biker bar (coincidence only – Todd doesn’t ride) he told us of a car they’d managed to extract incredible performance from running on E-85 (85% ethanol – a commonly available fuel throughout the Midwest), with relatively few modifications. Todd knows a LOT about cars.

After lunch we made our way to our hotel – the deluxe J.W. Marriott in the Cherry Creek shopping district. We unloaded at the curb onto a luggage cart and then followed the valet’s directions around the building and into the parking garage. The valet buzzed me through the gate but as Willo followed the gate descended and she caught it almost perfectly across the face of her helmet. The gate flexed as she powered right through it, no worse for the experience except for a smear of black rubber across her face shield. When we mentioned our narrow escape to the desk clerk, he thoughtfully upgraded our reservation with access to the Concierge Suite, with complementary snacks, bar, dessert and breakfast in the morning.

(We are subsequently considering adopting this as an upscale ambulance-chasing technique – at least as long as Willo’s neck holds out.)

We squeezed in a little furniture browsing in the neighborhood, then Todd joined us to explore our complementary drinks and appetizers. When we’d had enough of those we headed out to Ocean, a very nice Asian restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel. We made sure to leave room (and time) to come back for dessert.

Canyon Run 2007 – Day 9

May 20th, 2007

The last day of Canyon Run is traditionally a scramble north to Park City, as most of the Flyers have flights back east that tend to leave in the afternoon. Our plans were more relaxed: we would take two days to travel east to Denver, where Willo’s brother lives. We had a leisurely breakfast with the Beilmans (who were also in no hurry) and then departed.

[Bob Kirby in fashion headgear]

kirby headgear

[the hotel cat]

hotel cat

The first stretch took us through Capitol Reef National Park, whose winding road leads between dramatic rock formations on either side. Next was 100+ miles of less interesting scenery, punctuated by the stunning Lake Powell overlook opposite the Hite marina. Lake Powell was considerably more full than the previous two years, but still fell well below the bottom of the Hite boat ramp.

lake powell 1

lake powell 2

Traveling from Lake Powell to Blanding, we came upon an automated stoplight at a construction site. This being Sunday, the workers were somewhere else lounging and the light was flashing red, not steady. Unfortunately the three vehicles ahead of us remained frozen like deer in the (stop)light for what seemed like forever. We finally tired of the tedium, whipped out our biker bravado and pulled out around them and down the gravel bypass. We encountered no trouble and I waved them on once we reached solid ground on the other side, but for all we know they’re still waiting.

After lunch in Blanding we headed north to La Sal junction and then turned east, repeating our ride to Bedrock and toward Telluride. This time though we were chasing thunderstorms. When we stopped for a break at the Bedrock store we had to take shelter from two serious squalls, and when we set out again it was with some trepidation. Being on a motorcycle is no insurance against lightning strikes. But we survived, and after riding north-east to Ridgway, we continued north to Montrose and then turned east and climbed sharply to Gunnison. The road between Montrose and Gunnison is curving and dramatic. North of the road lies the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, with its own unique rock formations and a beautiful high mountain lake.
In Gunnison we sought out a “good enough” lodging and ended up at the ABC Motel, run by an inebriated, chain-smoking Russian. It wasn’t quite the kind of place where you’re afraid to touch the carpet. Almost, but not quite.