Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Case for Staying in the Car

We snicker, or shake our heads sadly, at the tourist whose idea of taking in Yosemite is to drive up to Tunnel View, stick the camera out of the window for a moment, then drive off without even getting out of the car. That may be fine, we think, for a casual snapshooting tourist. But our vision of a real landscape or wildlife photographer involves a man/woman encumbered with a healthy dose of L.L. Bean attire, camera equipment in a backpack, sturdy carbon fiber tripod, and chunky hiking boots, stealthily heading up a rugged trail, their mind crammed with knowledge of geomorphology and wildlife habits.

But actually the vehicle is a respected bit of photographic equipment. Ansel bolted a sturdy platform on top of his to achieve a viewpoint with added height. I've often climbed on top of our little Minnie Winnie motor home for the same reason. Perhaps not the same level of results.

In the realm of wildlife photography, a few of my most satisfying results have resulted when not even leaving the driver's seat. The thing is, a vehicle makes a wonderful blind. Critters are used to them. Vehicles can generally be depended upon to stay on the road, and not throw rocks, chase, or otherwise interfere threateningly with their making a living the way humans might.

A few years ago I decided to head out in my pickup on a misty morning. I'd been seeing some deer among the oaks lining the golf course in our community, and I had the idea of an image of trees receding into the mist with some deer sprinkled attractively in the composition. Instead I came upon this pair resting in someone's front yard. I had a 70-300 mm lens on my Nikon D-80. Staying in the truck I was able to back up a bit, then pull forward a bit, to get the composition just right without disturbing the deer. I like the quiet, misty feel of this image, the warmth some of the colors add to the misty day, the way the shapes of the doe's and buck's heads juxtapose just right, and the way he receeds into the mist. I'm sure that if I had left the truck to compose, all I would have seen in the viewfinder would have been oaks and mist.

Yesterday on the way back from errands, my wife and I enjoyed seeing a beautiful egret that has made itself at home fishing the two ponds adjacent to the entrance to our community. At home I put my 300 mm lens on my D300 and headed back to the pond. Thanks to paved parking areas and roads adjacent to the ponds I was able to move slowly around, working the best light, as the egret did his work. After reviewing the first images I realized that the dark background provided by the water was resulting in a bit of overexposure and loss of detail in those bright white feathers. So I backed the exposure compensation down to minus 1. I used the seat back to help steady the camera. The window sill can work also, but as accustomed as this bird is to passing vehicles, I was cautious of being too obviously a human by appearing in the window. Some OK photos resulted - how could they not with such a beautiful creature to work with. But then it raised its wings for balance as it stepped into some deeper water, and my finger thankfully reacted almost without thought.

Prints of my images may be obtained via

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bud's la Salle

Bud's La Salle

My wife and I made the short trip today to Bud's Automotive - dropping off the 10-year-old F150 pickup and picking up our 11-year-old Explorer. Bud has been caring for both as long as we've owned them - about 10 years. I had a discussion a few years ago with our gravel delivery and grading guy about the available options for automotive maintenance in our small northern California Foothill community. His comment was that there were three; "Crazy, Grumpy, and Stupid". Awhile ago we made our move from Crazy to Grumpy, and have never looked back. 

Thing is, he isn't. Or else he has mellowed with age. I think he is close to my antiquity - and in the vicinity of three-score and ten I guess we all finally figure out how to accept what life throws at us and be grateful for it. So we share our thoughts about retirement - he's down to working four days a week, I'm down to about the same. It's kinda good to grow old with your mechanic.

So every few months we make these trips down the windy road to his place, narrow enough at the bridges that you stop at the wide spot to let the other guy through, waving his thanks and hello. Today was another in a long series of clear fall days, with that low warm light. A time of year that brings with it a reminder that all things pass. So I pulled out my G12 for a few snaps. 

Working over those snaps, and dumping them onto a Facebook album, I was reminded of a photo essay I'd done of a vintage car with a wondrous patina that he had pulled into his lot several years ago. Those kind of vehicles, as well as restored versions, tend to show up at his place. Which is why he is the only mechanic to have ever layed hands on my TR6.

Anyhow, the photo essay. I love that format, because it allows one to explore a subject with a series of images that describe it more fully than a single one could. Here 'tis - click the slideshow and then the full screen options - it's just a couple of minutes worth and I think you will enjoy . . .

Prints of my images may be obtained via

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hoard . . . or Treasure?

I'm hesitant to part with stuff. Things that may come in useful sometime, or perhaps create a link with the past - and who I am. I hang onto stuff such as a bin of galvanized pipe fittings. When I try to convince myself it should be recycled I recall that recently I used a short piece with an elbow fitted as a tool to break loose a stubborn fitting on my vintage car. Lumber and plywood cutoffs from past projects, deemed special for some reason, accumulate in garage corners, providing environmentally friendly habitats for black widow spiders.

I don't think of myself as a hoarder because occasionally the desire for order counterbalances the need to hang onto stuff. In the past the solution to the accumulation was to buy more plastic bins and build more storage shelves. Since there was no more space for additional shelves, and stuff was beginning to spill out onto the floor, it was time for a more creative solution. I needed more space for fun stuff like projects on my TR6. Time to go through those bins, sort, and toss.

Thus the last couple of weeks have seen dozens of plastic bins hauled out to the driveway. Trash and treasures appeared as I dug to the bottom of every one. Among the treasures was a beat up shoebox filled with aluminum Kodak 35-mm film cans. In each can was a tightly coiled roll of 35mm negatives, representing the early part of my years at San Rafael High School, when I had joined the camera club, and real instruction was beginning to feed what would be my lifelong love of photography. Each can had a numbered blue label. Somewhere, I thought, must be the key. And sure enough, a few days later it turned up buried in yet another bin. Oh, the joy.

Camera Club outing, Point Reyes, 1954

Scanning these long-coiled negatives will likely require mounting them in glass carriers, but I'm looking forward to revealing the treasures - family trips, camera club outings, even some 16-mm photos taken in school with a little "spy" camera.

The wrap up from all of this? I guess, don't worry about being a hoarder, especially if it includes family memorabilia. These are things that remind us who we are. And those plastic bins do a great job of keeping the stuff, useless and otherwise, safe from moisture, dirt, and rodents.