Make Project 01 — Steadycam

Well, I final­ly got around to Make-ing some­thing. The very first project that attract­ed me to the mag­a­zine was the $14 Video Cam­era Sta­bi­liz­er, so that was the first thing I’ve done.

I found the results to be pret­ty supris­ing. It’s a bit awk­ward to han­dle, but it real­ly does reduce all the shake and pitch while walk­ing or run­ning dur­ing film­ing. Here’s a short clip of me chas­ing Har­ry and Mag­gie around the backyard:

This video is locat­ed at YouTube. Sor­ry for the hor­ri­ble qual­i­ty, as it’s been encod­ed and com­pressed twice now.

I Almost Forgot I Had A Blog

I feel like I owe my friends and fam­i­ly an apol­o­gy for pos­si­bly scar­ing them into think­ing I was miss­ing and feared dead. I’m not going to go into some annoy­ing post about how busy my life has been late­ly and I just haven’t had time to write. Part­ly because that’s not true at all and also becuase nobody real­ly likes read­ing lame posts like that anyway.

I have been writ­ing some trav­el logs of our trip out to Cal­i­for­nia, although I’m far from being fin­ished yet. You can get the slide-show ver­sion by check­ing out the Flickr group of just a few of my pho­tos. I am, of course, hop­ing that Travis will post a few of his online as well, but I’ll leave that up to him (although he’s a pret­ty good pho­tog­ra­ph­er, so those of you inter­est­ed in out­door pho­tos should say ‘please’). I exper­i­ment­ed with panora­mas a lot on this trip and a num­ber of them came out with impres­sive results, if I may say so.

Mirror Lake

Oth­er­wise, life has actu­al­ly been pret­ty qui­et here at home. Work has set­tled down sub­stan­tial­ly for me post-vaca­tion1. Speak­ing of home, though, my pal, John­ny, and I went to pur­chase some lum­ber and hard­ware for rebuild­ing the base­ment stair­well this com­ing week­end. Stay tuned for loads of infor­ma­tion on that and why you should prob­a­bly nev­er attempt this sort of thing yourself.

  1. Oh, work was insane for a while there; but you would­n’t know about that since it left me no time to post about it. []

Fourth Anniversary Getaway

We Don't Know How To Ski

Angela and I enjoyed the most snow we’d seen all Win­ter dur­ing the first week­end of Spring.

Angela and I cel­e­brat­ed our fourth anniver­sary a week late this year since she had to leave for a con­fer­ence out in San Fran­cis­co on the day of. It’s more impor­tant that we did some­thing rather than get hung up on the fact that nation­al orga­ni­za­tions don’t sched­ule their events around us.

We decid­ed on doing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent this time and drove up to the Win­ter­green Ski Resort here in Vir­ginia (just south of Char­lottesville). Angela had nev­er tried ski­ing before and I had only been once myself, about eight years ago. Since we were going so late in the sea­son (the last ski­ing week­end for this resort, any­way), we weren’t even sure if we’d get to see any snow, let alone enough to ski on. I know that they make snow as much as pos­si­ble, but with tem­per­a­tures in the 70’s the pre­vi­ous week, I had my doubts.

Well, there was­n’t a whole lot on the ground when we arrived late Fri­day night for check-in. How­ev­er, much to our sur­prise and delight, it snowed about 4–5 inch­es overnight. For hav­ing so much snow, the place was­n’t too crowd­ed. We were able to rent our equip­ment and get out for the free begin­ner’s les­son with no trou­ble (that is, after a most deli­cious break­fast… mmm, choco­late chip pan­cakes). That’s one of the real­ly cool things about Win­ter­green; they have staff on the begin­ner’s slope (the Pota­to Patch, as opposed to the com­mon ‘Bun­ny Slope’) all day long to offer lessons and help begin­ners in trou­ble. Although she did­n’t seem to think so, Angela got the hang of it quick­ly. She need­ed to work on her turn­ing some more, but she had great bal­ance and was able to get her­self stopped with­out too much trou­ble (much more than I can say for my attempt at snow­board­ing about ten years ago; that was not pret­ty). After a less-than suc­cess­ful first run at the green cir­cle slope (the ‘Dobie’), she kept to the begin­ner slope for a cou­ple of more tries before we head­ed off to lunch.

After lunch, Angela had some spa time sched­uled, so she took the truck up the hill to the resort’s real­ly nice spa facil­i­ty. I, on the oth­er hand, was deter­mined to get bet­ter at turn­ing and gen­er­al­ly stay­ing upright on a pair of skis. So, for the next two-and-a-half hours, I went down the green cir­cle slope just as much as I could stand to. Some­where dur­ing that time, we got a lit­tle more snow; and by ‘a lit­tle’, I mean it was a com­plete white-out. My sun­glass­es (or make-shift gog­gles for a non-ski­er such as myself) were com­plete­ly iced over and I was essen­tial­ly just slid­ing down hill attempt­ing to avoid the dark blobs ahead of me. I’ve nev­er had so much fun while cold, sweaty, and blind. Just before the slopes closed for the evening, the sun came back out for my very last run. It was an insane change in the weath­er (although per­fect­ly com­mon for this side of the Blue Ridge Moun­tains) and I could not have asked for a bet­ter last run. I real­ly felt like I had got­ten a lot bet­ter in that day of skiing.

Lat­er than night, Angela and I went out to din­ner and were treat­ed with an amaz­ing sun­set view. After­wards, we chilled out with a mas­sage (not some­thing I do a lot, but I can see the attrac­tion). We did­n’t do any ski­ing on the sec­ond day, but rather just chilled out all morn­ing before head­ing home. On the way back to Rich­mond, we stopped off at Ver­i­tas Win­ery for some sam­ples. We were pret­ty impressed, not just with the wine selec­tion, but also with the beau­ti­ful scenery.

All togeth­er, it was a great week­end and I could­n’t have asked for bet­ter com­pa­ny to spend it with.

Wintergreen Panorama

What My Lens Has Taught Me

This is sort of a response to a post at Kev­in’s blog about pho­tog­ra­phy and dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion. I fig­ured my activ­i­ty on my own site has been a trick­le late­ly, so I’d just post here instead of just leav­ing him a lengthy response. If you aren’t already read­ing Kevin and Katie’s blog, you should be.

When I close my eyes and think about the peo­ple I know, I don’t see any blem­ish­es on their faces or that they prob­a­bly should­n’t be wear­ing that t‑shirt in pub­lic. When I pic­ture my home in my head, I don’t think about the fact that the brick needs some re-point­ing or that the yard looks like crap right now1. If I recall some of the amaz­ing things I’ve seen on some of our trav­els, I don’t think about the sun glare that was in my eyes on Oahu’s beach­es or the grime on a win­dow I was look­ing out at the top of the Eif­fel Tow­er. There are mem­o­ries that that will be with me for­ev­er because of how impor­tant they are and how hap­py they make me.

I also have the pho­tographs to prove that my mind deletes quite a bit out of the pic­tures. My hair looks like I’m in a tor­na­do in every pho­to I’d actu­al­ly like to hang up on the wall. There are ugly road signs all over Hawai’i. I can nev­er get close enough to some­thing to keep the detail while actu­al­ly being able to frame a shot that I’d like. The list of stuff my brain deletes in a mem­o­ry is even longer than the list of my short­com­ings as a photographer.

I under­stand Kev­in’s feel­ing of shame and guilt over dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion of pho­tos. To that point, I have a unma­nip­u­lat­ed copy of every­thing I’ve ever changed, just in case some­one ever asks for proof that I did­n’t fab­ri­cate the entire scene with minia­tures in my base­ment and Pho­to­shop. In my job as a struc­tur­al engi­neer, I take pho­tos to doc­u­ment con­struc­tion all the time. There is lit­tle art in them as they rep­re­sent the bare facts of obser­va­tion. They are pure, clunky state­ments of fact with no visu­al prose or embellishments.

How­ev­er, I real­ly enjoy (at least the attempt at) tak­ing more artis­tic and expres­sive pho­tos. There’s some­thing so con­strict­ing about a still pho­to that makes it more than just a visu­al record. Our mind focus­es on the item and fills in blanks while delet­ing extra data. Pho­tog­ra­phy does­n’t do that for us. To cap­ture the feel­ing of what you see requires so much more than just point­ing and shoot­ing, I have learned. The human eye, when view­ing some­thing first hand, is a dynam­ic device that has the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly change focus and aper­ture to craft togeth­er a mem­o­ry that is so much more than a sta­t­ic pho­to. To cap­ture that in a pho­to, one has to put a great deal of thought into the shot.

How­ev­er, some­times, that’s just not enough. Some­times the best angle still has some obstruc­tion, poor light­ing, or such vari­able light as to make the raw pho­to less than ide­al. That’s where some dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion can add to the pho­to. The final image for pos­ter­i­ty can be more than just the poor­ly exposed bits of data we first see. We can bring into it more con­trast, edit out extra­ne­ous obstruc­tions, or crop it to change the sub­ject focus all togeth­er. The abil­i­ty to do this isn’t some­thing that should be used all the time, but can make for us both art as well as a more accu­rate por­tray­al of the mem­o­ry rather than the stark image cap­tured on a dig­i­tal sen­sor. It expos­es the soul of the view as some­thing more than just a still photo.

  1. Actu­al­ly, that was true when I start­ed this arti­cle, but just today I mowed the lawn and had a friend over to work on some mason­ry repairs. It actu­al­ly looks pic­ture per­fect, in my opin­ion. []