An Auburn Alley or Two

Afternoon Alley Sun

The sun in the late afternoon in the alley near J&M Bookstore in Auburn

As of late I seem to be going from one day shooting thousands of images of an event to shooting almost nothing. Shooting nothing serious for days drives me nuts. But those are the times I try to get out of my comfort zone, slow down, and tackle subjects that have no deadlines, that interest me personally, but also will advance my knowledge and experience as a photographer.

It’s quiet here in Auburn right now. The calm before the fall-sports-storm, when you can get a table at a restaurant and find a parking place. But that makes street/people subjects challenging. In my ongoing series The Streets of Auburn Project, I have added a few from the “Alleys of Auburn,” but this is just a start of that point of view, or a first initial look at the alleyways, and I didn’t make it very far that day.

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The Streets of Auburn, Part 1

Toomer's Corner in Auburn

The famous Toomer’s Corner Drugstore in Auburn in the summer

This week I finally had a few spare minutes to get downtown to take some street shots. I’ve been wanting to practice up on my black and white technique and revisit street photography for a long time but just never made time to do it. Auburn is generally a fantastic place for street photography for several reasons; people are super friendly (almost overly so which also has it’s challenges in shooting), there is almost always something going on that makes for interesting subjects (especially during football season), and it’s a small condensed area so you can cover a lot of ground by foot quickly.

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Don’t Include Power Lines in Your Photography

Power Line Sunrise

Power lines run all over the place in rural Alabama, no such thing as underground lines.

Since January I’ve spent a good bit of time reading and re-reading all of Eric Kim’s books on street photography. There is so much practical real world advise in each one of his books that they are probably the few collection of books I’ve read multiple times. While we share different philosophies on life, we both share a love of photography, and it seems, a driving desire to continue to learn and improve. One of the reasons I continued to read and follow Eric Kim’s work over the years is he has completely changed and rearranged how I think about photography.

He’s made me re-think how I view my own personal photography, what’s acceptable as a quality image and what’s not, and even what equipment is actually truly needed. All those rules I spent years learning, like “don’t include power lines in your photography” it will ruin the shot, were disseminated by Kim’s books. I think I was 10 years into photography before I actually realized it was ok to include people in the images (my main teacher and book learning early on was 100% nature photography).

When you have been doing something, like practicing photography for 25 years, you don’t often come across new ways of thinking about the art, so it’s been a super refreshing experience so far this year. The ideas below came straight out of one of his books, The Street Photography Project Manual, which I was able to read because of his vision on open source information.

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This was Someday Saturday Today with Pine Needles

Pine Needles in the Garden

I really hate “someday,” because usually, someday is just no-day. That usually ends up being my answer when I don’t want to do something, or can just put it off to some unknown time in the future that may or may not ever come. This is why people create bucket lists, so some day doesn’t turn into never-day. Well today, and just about every Saturday for the last 4-5 weeks, has been someday Saturday. Sometimes around 2008 Deborah and I decided we were finally going to clean out the attic, the garage, and do some of the things around the house we have been wanting to do for years. That was back in 2008.

A few weeks ago we finally got tired of putting it off, and started working on all of the above, a little at a time, each Saturday morning. We have a very small one car garage, (which the car has been been in before) and today ended up being peg-board and organization day as you can see Deborah doing below, then pine-mulch in the garden. The pine straw required picking up 15 bales of pine needles at the local feed store, which was weird since we basically live amongst a pine forest, and spreading them out in the 90 degree high humidity heat of Alabama.

I know these aren’t life changing events here, but they aren’t unimportant either. I think I read somewhere recently that there really are only a few days in everyone’s life that are super important, the rest is life, just living life. That’s what this post is about… this is just what we have been doing on Saturday mornings around here. Life isn’t always about the super high and super low points, but the events this week in Aurora Colorado just reminded me how precious life is, and how quickly it can change.

Hand Made Smocked Clothes and Gowns for Preemie or Premature Babies

Hand Made Smocked Preemie Premature Clothes

This is slightly off-topic for my blog (hence my need and reason for having a Sidenotes Category), but well worth some publicity to lovingly brag on my wife, Deborah. In case you didn’t know, Deborah is about the best seamstress I know (just check out her blog or her custom made items on the Etsy store), and her work is in the category of heirloom clothes, depending on the particular project she’s working on. She has made, and is making, everything from Easter (see Easter Order) and Christmas gowns (see here), to fun football dresses (here) babies and girls can wear to any worthy SEC game, though she doesn’t discriminate against any school. If you are looking for an incredible dress or gown, get in touch with Deborah for details.

All of this is custom made to order per each individual, and all is hand made one individual stitch at a time. The most amazing work I’ve seen come out of her sewing room lately are these preemie clothes I photographed above. While each ministry is different, specifically because God has gifted each one of us in totally unique ways, this work is over the top awesome. Deborah started making these hand-made smocked (the crinkled stuff around the chest area for the guys reading this post) preemie gowns and clothes for parents who would normally never get the honor of having something special for their own child.

You can’t tell from this photo, but these clothes are teeny-tiny. Deborah even included one for a boy, which most of the time parents never have any clothes for at all. It is just amazing to me to think that somewhere, some as of yet unknown parents, are going to be presented with one of these gowns to put on their baby, probably during a very difficult time in their own lives. For parents to be able to receive something like this (for free), of this quality, hopefully says to them, God loves you, and He loves your child as well, no matter what happens.

This set of preemie clothes was just shipped this week to a large hospital in Miami where the need far exceeded the supply. If you are at all interested in helping with this type of ministry work I am sure Deborah would be more than happy to talk to you about it. For today, it is my Photo of the Day, and quite a challenging photo to take at that.

Lent Has Brought Us To This Maundy Thursday Prayer

Maundy Thursday Chalkboard Prayer Vigil

Every year, on this day, Maundy Thursday, we come to the Lord in prayer, as Jesus did with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that night, Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray… because our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:36-46), and then Jesus was betrayed by one of his own inner circle friends. Every year at our church is slightly different, but each year, this evening is set aside for prayer, the Lord’s supper, and meditation on what our Lord went through on Good Friday. I love that image above from last year (see also Messages from the Heart to God in Chalk Board Prayers :: Photos) where everyone wrote their prayers in chalk as they moved through the night.

I looked back over and read some of my journal entries from that night a few years ago, and it’s amazing what that great spiritual discipline of meditation can do for the soul.  In my entry from 2009 I wrote this sentence after being there for an hour or so.

It is almost impossible to wrap your mind around what everything here tonight represents in history. I understand nothing, but I love what I don’t understand.

There are only a few more days of Lent for 2012, today being Day 44 (if you count Sunday’s), and our reading today came from the Book of Common Prayer (only $2.99 on Kindle by the way). Something I don’t get a chance to read all that often, but love its wisdom.

Almighty God, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May that be the prayer for today.

Trying to Remember the Why in the Go in the Middle of Life

The last few days has really kicked me in the back side, and I know it’s just because I’m just trying to get too much done before I leave. That time is gone now since there is no time left, but packing all this stuff reminded me of the why in the go. I get frustrating with packing all this stuff, because it’s stuff, and stuff just seems to get in the way, it takes up time, money, and in the larger scheme of things, probably isn’t necessary. But, on this side of eternity, we all need a certain amount of stuff I guess. A good friend of mine put it to me like this today when I said that I hate cars, “you do until you need to go somewhere”, which pretty much makes the point.

At some point tonight I did manage to get all that stuff, stuffed into a suit case, and then I looked at the photo above and remembered why all the effort to actually go is worth everything is takes to get there. I can’t wait to get under way tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to seeing Joanita again (the girl in the photo above), there’s just only so much packing and preparation one can do before it about drives you in sane.

Understanding Exposure is More than Just Point and Shoot

I thought I would do a little photography 101 slash book review for this Saturday’s post. Only one more week before Auburn opens the 2011 football season so today is sort of the last “free” day before the fall goes into full swing, so to speak. The changes in photography over the last 10-15 years has been amazing to watch, and I’m glad I started shooting when film was the only option. Just about anyone can pick up a digital SLR today that is capable of taking photos that weren’t even possible a few years ago. Thankfully, it still takes more than just a finger pushing a button to take shots that look like more than just vacation photos. It’s quite possible to take great shots with a point-n-shoot and lousy shots with a professional camera (my nephew who is 12 takes amazing shots with his $150 Canon PowerShot SD1300).

One of the aspects of photography that attracted me to the art years and years ago was how easy it was to take a photo, and how hard it was to master the art. Just like anything worth doing, it takes a lot of time, study, experience, and a determination to get beyond the basics. One of the very basics of photography, and also one of the most difficult to master, is exposure. There are three basic elements to exposure in photography that make an image possible. These have never changed since the very first piece of film was exposed to light. For a “proper” exposure you need a combination of aperture (lens opening), shutter speed, and ISO value (film or sensitivity speed). Today’s cameras all have what is called a “P” or “program” mode that automatically calculates all three of these in an instant and creates what it thinks is the proper exposure. The only problem with that is the meter always exposes for a “middle grey”, or average, which attempts to take every lighting situation in the frame, average it out for medium, and that’s the “proper” exposure. That not necessarily bad, or wrong, and it’s probably how about 90% of all images shot are taken, but it also doesn’t always make the most exciting photograph either.

The two examples above I shot in the fading sun over the Atlantic, and both are considered to be improperly exposed according to the camera meter at the time. One is significantly “over exposed” (too light or bright) and one “under exposed” (too dark). I took several shots back to back and the “properly exposed” shot was quite boring. I love how both of these shots show a different mood and many different details. What often determines a “proper” exposure is what you are trying to create when you take the shot. What story are you trying to tell often determines what exposure best portrays your vision when you pull the trigger.

If you are interested in learning more about exposure and how light is used in creating an image I recommend the updated edition of Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson. I have no affiliation with Peterson but I did read his first edition that came out many years ago and recently finished the updated version published last year. Peterson goes through an easy to understand explanation of how to best use exposure in your photography beyond just pulling the trigger. Anyone who is interested in improving their photography should start off with Peterson’s book and move out from there, it’s a great place to start.

Amsterdam Airport Photos and a 50mm Lens :: AMS-EBB

This is a continuation of my series, airports and a 50mm lens. Since I was in Europe this time I didn’t really get quite a much material as I normally do in a place like Atlanta. For one thing, once I get outside the United States shooting [photos] in an airport isn’t quite the same. The laws are different all over the world. I know what I can and can’t shoot in the U.S., and I can stand my ground in most cases in my own country. Not so much once I get outside the U.S., so this series changes a bit, to err on the side of caution.

Europe is usually ok about photographers as long as you aren’t obnoxious and you don’t look too suspicious but Entebbe is another story. I didn’t take hardly anything once we landed over there but on my next trip I know on the way back home there are a few things I would like to capture. I’ll see. In October I may be as tired as I was when we left in August, but EBB right now is about one single shot.

Here is a quick shoot of Amsterdam. There was a lot I didn’t get since our connection was so short, but next time I have a 5 hour connection so I should be able to improve upon this shoot. If you are wondering what’s the point… well, I actually consider this street photography, something I have really come to love over the years. Trying to capture a mood, or an expression, without someone standing in front of you going “smile” isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it’s just more genuine. To me it shows a more realistic view of life. Everything in this (and all my 50mm airport series) is shot with one single focal length lens (obviously a 50mm), and to me, it tells a totally different story than the post from Atlanta 8 hours earlier told.

Cultural Priorities and the Breakneck Speed of the West

I love this shot of Jason, Eddie (our driver in Uganda), and myself. If you are holding a machete in the middle of the woods-jungle I think it’s a rule, you have to stop to have a photo taken. Jason and I were attempting to clear a few branches away for a lady who lived on the property and to say thanks she gave Eddie these awesome avocados (you can just see her in the photo in the upper right background). Actually, we both thought it would be really cool to get to use a machete to do some actual real work, and I ended up with the machete and Jason the axe pipe thing (sorry Jason).

I know I have said it before but it still amazes me. The speed and priorities of life in Bulboa where this lady lives is so extremely different from the west, even different from just up the road in Kampala. Life down in Buloba isn’t really run by a clock on a wall like we know it, and no one seems to be in a hurry to do anything, it’s just TIA (this is Africa). I didn’t really hear that said too much while I was over there, but I did hear it a few times, which generally refers to “whenever”. I personally loved that and enjoyed the down time, especially since that pretty much doesn’t exist at all on this side of the world. I fight for it every week but it’s certainly not the norm no matter how hard you try to slow things down. The little wood we chopped up was supposed to last her about a month, although I’m not sure how, the same bit of wood wouldn’t have been enough to start a fire to me. We did spend about an hour or two walking around this neighborhood while others in our group worked on some painting. It was very low key, very laid back, very TIA.

Over here this week life moved along at our normal breakneck speed. Nothing inherently wrong with that but every minute of every day is packed full and it didn’t take me any time at all to fall back into life at hyper-speed where you have to fight for margin. Margin is where life happens, where we meet with God and remember why we do what we do.