The Casual Blog

Tag: Lightroom

Learning photography in western N.C., and saving the wild places

Last week I went to the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina for a photography workshop.  I was hoping to improve my camera and processing skills, take in some natural beauty, and meet some nice people.  That all happened, and I also made these pictures.

The workshop was led by Chas Glatzer, a master nature photographer and gifted teacher.  He was friendly, patient, and nonjudgmental. He got our group to good vantage points for sunrise and sunset and tried to make sure we didn’t slip on the rocks near waterfalls or get mauled by a herd of elk.  

Chas coached us individually on composition and camera settings.  He also explained the work behind some of his stunning animal shots in harsh and remote places.  He was ably assisted by Dave Kelly, who taught us some good Lightroom processing techniques, and helped me figure out more about my Nikon D850, which he also uses.    

We stayed in the Hampton Inn in Pisgah Forest, Brevard County, N.C.  Brevard bills itself as the U.S. mecca for waterfalls, with 250 of them, and the ones we saw were beautiful  The trees were changing colors, though the colors were muted this year. We also saw an impressive herd of elk (28) and a flock of wild turkeys. 

The majority of our group was older, with several retirees, and most were quite knowledgeable and experienced in photography.  We talked a lot about equipment and techniques. I got some good tips, and also enjoyed hearing about their lives. Some were dealing with serious health conditions and other tough circumstances, but they seemed absorbed and happy in their efforts to make better photos.  There’s a lesson there on dealing with personal adversity.

The mountains of western NC, with their dense forests and wildlife, are special for me:  I always feel my head getting clearer and my heart expanding there. I remember visiting these forests as a kid and assuming they and their inhabitants would last forever, but now I’m very conscious of their fragility.  Trying to catch part of their essence in photographs and share it with others seems more urgent than in times past.

The NY Times reported on a scientific study this week on the dire situation of the world’s remaining wilderness areas.  The scientists found that humans had modified 77 percent of the earth’s surface, and the remaining wild areas could disappear in a matter of decades.  They pointed out that these areas “provide a lot of life support systems for the planet,” including storing carbon dioxide. The scientists called for urgent action to save these remaining wild areas.

This week that Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss businessman and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $1 billion for a conservation effort aimed at protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface.  Wyss wrote a short essay explaining that preserving wild places is necessary to prevent the extinction of a majority of plant and animal species.   

Hats off to Wyss.  Of course, most of us don’t have an extra billion dollars to contribute to the cause, but there are some things we can do.  One timely one is to vote this week in favor of politicians who recognize the urgency of our climate crisis, and oppose those who deny or equivocate on the issue.  Neither of our major political parties has been as strong as needed on behalf of environment, but one has been much worse than the other. Please let me know if you need any help in figuring out which is which.  

I learned this week about the iNaturalist project , which involves citizen-naturalists posting photographs of wildlife and plants on a site, expanding the base of knowledge and getting help in identifying the subjects.  It’s the brainchild of Dr. Rob Dunn of N.C. State. The account the project in the Times focused on the project’s work in the wonderful world of indoor insects.  I downloaded the app and am looking forward to making some observations.

Dodging the hurricane, music therapy, and photo processing

A tiny lizard last week at Durant Park

Hurricane Florence got our full attention in Raleigh this week.  I usually take storm warnings with a large grain of salt, since there’s usually a lot of media hype in a feedback loop with people’s tendency to exaggerate certain kinds of danger.  But early projections showed a storm big enough to cover North Carolina with powerful winds and massive amounts of water, with the eye headed right towards here. We got extra food, charged our batteries, and filled the bathtub with water.  Sally’s sister Ann, who lives in Wilmington, heeded the official calls to evacuate, and came to stay with us.

The storm hit Wilmington hard, but then turned south and west, dumping record amounts of rain and causing widespread flooding.  In Raleigh, we got rain, but not in dramatic quantities. We had time to talk and do indoorsy things.

Like playing the piano — some Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, and Bartok.  Why I enjoy this isn’t so clear.  There’s close to zero chance that making music will improve my economic or social status.  And there are negatives — periods of social isolation, time lost for other things, and possibly annoying the neighbors.

Part of the answer was suggested in a podcast I heard a while back about music therapy, which was being used in hospices to help dying people.  Most days just by playing I give myself some music therapy, relieving stress and anxiety, finding comfort and peace. But at the same time it’s challenging and energizing. Also, at times there are new discoveries, leaps across space and time, engaging with great musical minds of times past.  

Lately I’ve also been learning to play by ear.  This was not a part of my early musical training, and with so much else to learn about the written language of music and technique, I just didn’t get around to it.  But it turns out to be fun. There are large quantities of children’s songs, hymns, and assorted pop tunes rattling around in my head, and it’s entertaining to try them in different keys and styles.  I’m looking forward to sharing the songs of my childhood with my future grandchildren.

Because of the rain this weekend, I did not get outside with my camera, but I spent some time looking at and refining recent images.  These last few weeks I’ve been getting help from D.A. Wagner, a/k/a The Lightroom Guy, in getting my digital photo files organized and improving my Lightroom and Photoshop processing skills.   My processing typically involves cropping and experimenting with small variations in exposure, tone, and color in different parts of the image.  D.A. recently gave me some helpful ways to approach spot removal and similar edits, some of which I used with these pictures.  

 

Ice, dark matter, Photoshop, AlphaGo, and Haydn

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The forecast on Friday called for major snow, but in downtown Raleigh we only got a couple of inches.  Still, the roads got very icy and temperatures went down into the teens.  We stayed home, cozy and warm, and caught up on backlogged magazines and Netflix.  

One of the New Year’s thoughts I saw recently was a tough one:  a wish for lots of failure in 2017.  The idea is, if you’re operating outside your comfort zone and trying new things, you’ll be doing some stumbling and falling.  Failure doesn’t usually feel good, but it can be a sign that you’re going somewhere.  On the other hand, if you aren’t having any failures, either you’re the luckiest human in history or you’re stuck.  

One way to assure a level of failure is to try keeping up with contemporary physics.  I’d thought it was reasonably well settled that a quarter or so of the universe was made up of so-far undetected dark matter.  But the BBC  reported last week that after recent failures of big experiments to verify the theory, some reputable scientists are reconsidering.    It sometimes seems that there is so much human knowledge you could never get to the bottom of it, but there is still so much we do not understand.  

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to plenty of failures in the coming year.  In photography, I’ve been struggling to get a thorough working knowledge of the relevant tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  They’re wonderful, but far from intuitive, and at times intensely frustrating.

This week I made up my mind to get a level of competence at using Photoshop layers to combine images.  Being iced in gave me a chance to practice, and I discovered many methods that do not work before getting on the right path.

As one of my colleagues recently noted, if you need to know something, you should always try asking Google.  Whatever you need to know, there’s usually already a video or a blog post with an answer on the internet.  This is certainly generally true for Lightroom and Photoshop, though it took several tries to find the necessary guide post for my layers problem.

Speaking of Google, a word of congratulations to the AI researchers at its DeepMind unit for the latest advances of AlphaGo. Go, which is more complex than chess, was until recently well beyond the reach of artificial intelligence.  No more.  AlphaGo, which beat a famous Go master a few months ago, last week took on the world’s top player and other distinguished masters and beat them all, 60 games to nil.   

In the Wall Street Journal’s reportthe vanquished masters seemed stunned by the unconventional and varied style of AlphaGo.  It seemed to have absorbed all existing human Go experience and wisdom, and gone far beyond.  This is exciting, but also scary.  The singularity may be closer than we thought.  

To stay calm and balanced, I recommend listening to some Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).  Perhaps because of so many unsettling current events, I’ve been spending time with his piano trios and string quartets, of which there are many.  This is really charming classical music, which tends to get overshadowed by Mozart.  There are many fine recordings easily available on Spotify.

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In Antelope Canyon

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Each week for the Casual Blog I try to make some new photographs that I like well enough to share. This forces me to get outside and explore, which is fun. To avoid the obvious and keep from repeating myself, I have to keep experimenting and learning. It’s challenging, and also sort of a virtuous cycle. At any rate, I enjoy it, and feel like I'm getting better.
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But I’m departing from custom this week. I’ve been sorting through photos from my photo workshop trip to Utah and Arizona (described in my last post), and post processing some of them.
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The ones here are from lower Antelope Canyon. It’s a narrow slot canyon with red sandstone cliffs of flowing serpentine shapes. The location is in the Navaho Nation, near Page, Arizona. You may have seen a popular Windows screen saver that depicts one of the areas we passed. There were so many amazing spots.
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Our group was privileged to be led by local Navaho guys who knew the terrain well and understood the needs of photographers. We were working with tripods and taking long exposures, which required patience of both us and other visitors.
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In places the passage was only wide enough for one person. There were stairs that were almost ladders. Getting ourselves and gear along was challenging, particularly with other visitors coming in the opposite direction. But by golly, we did it!
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During the Southwestern workshop, leaders Scott and Phil helped me up the learning curve in photo processing with Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, my RAW images are getting more vivid and closer to my impressions and intentions. I still find Photoshop daunting in its complexity, but I’ve got a better understanding of the key photography tools, and am getting proficient in doing some kinds of repairs. I’m looking forward to learning more.

Ordinary health matters, learning Lightroom, and seeing sweet Cinderella

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I took these pictures late Friday afternoon at Raulston Arboretum. The fresh blooms of early spring are gone, but there was a richness to the atmosphere, and great smells. I tweaked these with my brand new software, Lightroom 6, which I decided to buy on DVD, rather than the subscription service. After watching a number of instructional videos, getting a short lesson from my friend and colleague Ruth S., and experimenting a bit, I’m starting to get the hang of what Lightroom will do, and looking forward to improving some of my image making and storing.

Jocelyn’s been running, and texted this week that she’d taken two minutes off of her four-mile time. She was pleased! When we talked, she reported that running was helping her get to know her neighborhood Fort Green and the environs. I’m so glad she’s taking good care of herself!

Here in Raleigh, Gabe has been running, too, at a nothing-to-sneeze-at pace of 8 minutes. Thinking of his health, I asked what he was doing about health insurance since leaving his job last month, and determined he hadn’t really addressed it. I briefly panicked, since one serious accident could mean financial ruin for us all.
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Sally has long been a skeptical critic of the American health care system, and pointed up an on-point new piece by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker. It’s about the incredible waste in our system from the many unnecessary medical tests, drugs that don’t’ make people better, and surgeries with more risks than benefits. Gawande is a practicing surgeon, and thus has a fair bit of credibility, as well as interesting personal anecdotes. The legal scholar in me would have appreciated more citations, but I don’t have much doubt as to Gawande’s basic point: our system is optimized to make money for hospitals and the medical establishment, rather than to keep people well, and is horribly inefficient. It’s remarkable to me that we can’t get general agreement that we need major reform.

Anyhow, we live in the world that is. At my urging, Gabe figured out how to get an ACA silver plan, which doesn’t kick in until the first of next month. Meanwhile, I counseled him to cool it for a couple or weeks on skateboarding. Also, he should be particularly conscious of looking both ways before crossing the street, and watch out for falling flower pots.
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On Saturday afternoon, I took a short walk from our apartment over to K2 Massage, where I had an extraordinary therapeutic massage experience with Ken Katchuk. For this first visit, Ken told me to allow for two and a half hours, and ended up needing about three. He spent time debriefing me on ailments and old injuries, and on things I liked to do. Then he got down to the business of figuring out where my areas of tension were, and going after them. It was difficult by moments, but I felt that I was in good, experienced hands, and my body was being helped.

That evening we had dinner with friends at Buku, and saw the Carolina Ballet’s new Cinderella program. Margaret Severin-Hanson was a lovely, graceful Cinderella, and Alicia Fabry and Randi Osetek were very funny as the mean stepsisters. Fabry’s tango solo was a hoot! I wish, though, the score were less sweet and repetitious. In the second half, I really liked Zalman Rafael’s new piece, In the Gray. Set to music by Philip Glass, it is sort of an anti-Cinderella, emphasizing kinetic abstract shapes rather than characters. The dramatic side lighting deemphasized the dancer’s individuality, but Jan Burkhard, Cecilia Iliesiu, and Adam Crawford Chavis made powerful individual impressions. As with other Rafael work, this one shows deep comprehension of the music and unites with it.
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A homecoming, new flowers, and a Shakespeare concert

Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC  May 9, 2015

Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC May 9, 2015

Our Gabe sold or tossed most of his possessions and loaded up the car with the rest, then he drove east, along with his golden retriever, Mowgli. He’d lived in the beautiful ski town of Telluride, Colorado for six years, and had decided that that was enough. He enjoyed the long drive, until his car broke down in eastern Tennessee on Sunday. He had to wait there until Monday to get it fixed. He arrived in Raleigh Monday night, and we gave him a big hug. Mowgli and Stuart sniffed each other.

Gabe, who’s been working as an accountant, is thinking of taking a new career direction. He’s planning to stay with us for a bit and consider his options. We’re all hoping to stay good friends and not make each other crazy. In his younger days, he had a bad habit of borrowing my clothes without permission, but so far he’s been good about that.
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I made a quick trip to Raulston Arboretum on Saturday morning and took a close look at some new flowers. There were lots of little insects at work on them, and I had a go at capturing their images, but with limited success. Afterwards I went to Flywheel for a spin class, which was tough. I was happy to finish in the top four, but was way behind the champion.
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In the afternoon, I spent some time experimenting with Lightroom, Adobe’s photography database program. I’m in the middle of my 30-day free trial, and am determined to test it out, if I can figure it out. I get the basics, but a lot of it isn’t at all intuitive. I’ve been reading and watching videos, and making some progress.
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We went to the N.C. Symphony on Saturday night, where they were joined by actors from the Playmakers Repertory company and the N.C. School of the Arts in performing a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We enjoyed the wonderful Mendelssohn and other music, but were less enamoured of the acting. In recent seasons, the Symphony’s programming has gotten increasingly conservative (lots of warhorses), and, for us, not very exciting. It’s good to see them trying something different, but this program didn’t really work for me.
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