Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rebuilding the Past

I've always enjoyed restoring vintage photographs. For many years I was the photographer for the Nevada Historical Society, with access to vintage photographs ranging from government surveys in the mid-1800's, to the rise and fall of silver-mining towns, cattle ranching, and the growth of tourism. It was exciting to work with the negatives and prints made from large format cameras, where an enlargement could reveal details from the past never seen before. It was especially pleasing to be able to bring a photograph back to life that had faded almost to invisibility.

The last few days while recuperating from a hospitalization I've been exercising those old skills on some photographs taken in the late 1930's by my father's family. A beautiful album with a hand-painted cover includes some fun snapshots taken during a 1937 road trip that took in Yellowstone Park, the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, and the Jackson Hole Country in Wyoming.

What caught my attention this evening was a little loose print that slipped out: it was dark but looked to include a promising image of my Aunt Helen just before she was married. She is sitting in the back of a car with a girlfriend, both looking very happy. A nice-looking young man with his arm around her looks to be my Uncle Paul. Both long deceased, and in my memory as older people. So it was worth some time to bring Helen out of the shadows, and reveal a young, vibrant woman I'd never seen before.
Helen Mindling Thompson, about 1937

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Montana in the Morning

A senior portrait sitting.

Beautiful early morning light on an Indian summer day down at the Marshal Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma made for some satisfying photographs. Having a lovely lady named Montana as a subject didn't hurt. Taken with my venerable Nikon D300, mostly with an 85mm f/1,8 lens used wide open.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ambiance and the Blue Refrigerator

Back in the day, when the mother of my young boys and I lived in a little old rented house, we had a kitchen with a blue refrigerator. If you are supposing that a major appliance of that color would have been found in a kitchen in the late 1960's your sense of color chronology is pretty sharp. The refrigerator lived next to our oak kitchen table, passed on to us from my folks to help establish the furniture of our early married life. Next to the table in our little old house - probably pre-1940's vintage - was a high kitchen window that faced to the north. Now likely you have acquired the information that artists like north light. For good reason. Our window always avoided direct sunlight, thus banishing harsh shadows and highlights. instead it gathered skylight, that soft light reflected from the sky that gently wraps itself around whatever you place in its path.

At the time I was a geologist, but in my heart a photographer, and thus had some sensitivity to the quality of light. As a result I learned to appreciate the magic light at that table. And that blue refrigerator? Its role was to provide, as rendered on black and white film, a clean dark gray, almost black, background.

Perhaps due to the lovely light through that window, or the blue refrigerator, just plain laziness, or more likely a complete lack of business sense, I have never acquired the skill for properly using artificial light (although I have deep respect for those that can mold light to their will). But I think I do have a sensitive awareness for nice ambient light.

Here are a couple more  photos, recently dredged from the 1967 archives, that took advantage of that ambient north light, the blue refrigerator, and the texture of our old oak kitchen table.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hike No. 17: Going with the Flow

June 1, 2013
5 miles

Well, no, I wasn't walking on water, but I figure 5 miles of paddling is enough of a workout to count it as a "hike". We were camped at Dolphin island Marina on the Noyo River estuary way in the back of Noyo Harbor at Fort Bragg, California. I'd learned that the Noyo was tidal and paddleable as far as the railroad bridge crossed by the "Skunk" railroad, a mainly tourist train that runs between Fort Bragg and Willits. One morning the tide was right to catch the flood which eased my way up river to the bridge. There, where the Noyo becomes a live stream. I enjoyed the sounds of birds and the clear flowing stream, watched the train go by, then drifted and gently paddled back downstream. I shot this video and recorded the sounds of the stream and forest with my little Panasonic GH2 in order to recapture a bit of that peaceful morning.

Going with the Flow from Anthony Mindling on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hike No. 16 - Bluffs and Beaches on the Mendocino Coast

May 31, 2012
2.2 Miles

About 2-3/4 miles south of the bridge over the entrance to Noyo Harbor at Ft. Bragg is a little-know coastal access trailhead. Tucked just off of Highway 1 on Ocean Drive near the sign for the Pine Beach Motel, there is room for at most three cars, but I was alone when I arrived on this crystalline clear day. Walking the trail provides little hint of the spectacle to come, other than perhaps a faint distant sound of breakers and the whistle buoy off Noyo harbor on a day when the sea is up, as this one was. The sweet little trail and the beautiful day, the relaxing ramble over bluffs and across beaches with not another human in sight inspired not only photographs but a few words as well.

To The Beach

The little path
wiggles carelessly,
reflecting a feigned indifference,
as if its destination
was no big deal.

It keeps its secret
first brushed by marsh grasses
then through scraggly pine woods,
past clumps of violet irises,
footfalls silenced 
by a carpet of pine needles.

All the better to hear
nearby birds,
a distant whistle bouy,
plaintive like a seasick dove,
and a faint roar
like a distant freeway.

It rounds a low pine
pruned by the sea wind
to display blue and white,
the faint roar now a
rush and crash in 5.1 surround sound.

Here the path widens a bit,
as if to throw open its arms,
to finally reveal
its secret, and proudly say,
"There now, how about that!"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hike No. 15 - Zen-Walking in Russian Gulch State Park

May 24, 2012
6.5 Miles

Our mix of sunny and gray days here on the Mendocino Coast delivered an overcast one this morning, perfect for photography in the woods, and a re-visit to the lovely waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park. This park is one of the little jewels near the town of Mendocino, and extends inland from a narrow beach in a deep cove bordered by cliffs and a sea stack with a wave-cut cave. Headland trails lead to a giant collapsed blow hole, and vistas of waves surging against cliffs and rocks. But today my trek took my up the trail along a creek into the redwood forest. I was carrying my hiking outfit - a Lumix GH2 with 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses and a light tripod. New in my pack was a 20mm f1.7 Lumix lens. It is referred to as a "pancake" lens for its squat profile, but to me it's more of an Oreo lens. Whatever, it is nearly weightless and sizeless, so a nice addition to my hiking setup. Especially useful this day because of the dim light in the woods under overcast skies. 

The goal of the outing was to re-photograph the falls, which tumbles about 40 feet alongside a redwood log deposited there by a flood long ago. Spray nurtures a vigorous growth of ferns on the old log, and provided me with a fine photo way back in the film days a few decades ago.

My new little "Oreo" lens was a great help in gathering the dim light, and the large aperture also enabled the use of shallow depth of field. An added benefit of the lens is its close-focus ability. The images were processed in Lightroom 4, with occasional help from Nik Color Efex 4 to enhance - or reduce - detail in keeping with my interpretation of the lovely woods.

Lovely in the sense of a Japanese garden, with carefully placed mossy stones, and just the right amount of water cascading into pools to create the perfect effect. These woods were completely logged over, of course, in the 1800's. I can only imagine these canyons prior to the loss of the huge trees, and devastation resulting from dragging them down to the cove. The trail passes huge stumps, notched for the stout boards the loggers used to climb up to the 10 to 20-foot height above the ground where they perched with the huge 2-man saws to fell the trees. Vintage photographs show proud-looking men posing on these rickety scaffolds, but one imagines that some must have had a twinge of remorse for the destruction of the lovely glades and ponds, not to mention the magnificent 1,000-year-old trees.

Redwood Sorrel


Zen Garden

Buggy iris

No redwood hike is complete without an encounter with a banana slug, here having its lunch


Five-Fingered ferns


Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Hanging in Georgetown

Friday morning I attended my first hanging. It turns out this event occurs on a regular monthly basis in El Dorado County's old gold rush town of Georgetown, when members of the Art on the Divide Gallery Coop convene to rearrange their works in their bright little gallery space on Main Street just south of Orleans Street. That's the part of Main Street that gets divided off into a quaint separate lane by a row of trees and shrubs from the main part of Main Street. Maybe that setup evolved to protect impaired folks emerging from the Miner's Club Bar just down the block, or to keep things quieter for gentle conversation in Betty's Barbershop next door.

Anyhow, I thought it best to show up to help this Friday for the monthly freshening of the exhibition, seeing as I am now a proud member of the group. It really was great fun to meet a few more of these friendly people, and see some of the new works they brought in. The photo shows Dick helping Chris hang her sweet watercolors. As the featured artist of the month, Chris gets a whole wall on which to display her work.

I got in some ladder time, myself. As one of only three men in the group of about 20, it is kind of my duty to help out with macho stuff like climbing ladders and hammering. At the end of the day, though, I felt my main accomplishment was avoiding breaking anything, having watched pottery teeter on the cabinets I tried to use as a boost into some awkward position. I did take a moment to peek at the garden out the back door, where I found a wonderful still life of a weathered broom and rusty garden implements.

C'mon up and see us - the gallery is beyond Cool. Really - just 12 miles further up Highway 193. And Cool is only about 6 miles off of Interstate 80 from Auburn. Albeit an interesting 6 miles.

This image was processed for enhanced for tone and color in Lightroom 4, enhanced detail in Color Efex 4, processed with the artistic filters Watercolor and Posterization in Photoshop CS5, then back to Lightroom for touch up of color and tone.

Friday, April 27, 2012

In the Garden - a Little GH2 Video

My kids used to get furious with me when I'd slow down hikes while leaning over flowers with my camera. At least this afternoon I restricted my vice to the garden as I took a break from my dayjob, compelled outdoors by bits of sun between clouds of a waning storm.

Most of these clips were shot with the 14-45mm lens wide open at f3.5 as an experiment in separating foreground and background with shallow depth of field.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Black and White and Square

Back in the day I've used a twin lens reflex camera quite a bit. This was a fairly large box of a camera held at  waist level, where you would peer down into the viewfinder. Twin lens because the lens that formed the image in the viewfinder sat above the taking lens, and formed an image on a ground glass. It was completely manual, of course, and used 120 or 220 roll film - which for me was usually Kodak Tri-X black and white. The camera produced 2-1/4 square negatives.

Because of its size and manual operation, using it was fairly contemplative, providing time to thoughtfully select and compose the image before the shutter was snapped. One needed to be able to visualize a scene in black and white, for starters, and the square format brought its own unique composition considerations into play. Because the number of exposures on a roll was limited to twelve, or twentyfour at the most, each release of the shutter was carefully considered - a fairly significant event, thus further adding to the thoughtful preparation for each exposure.

Recently I got a little nostalgic, reflecting on that particular contemplative photographic mood induced by my old Mamiya twin lens, particularly the square format and black and white images. A bulb briefly brightened in my head, reminding me that my Lumix GH2, in addition to providing the option of a 1:1 format, could also be told to restrict its jpegs to black and white. Would it bring back the unique "photo mind" once induced by the Mamiya? I had to give it a try.

Did my little afternoon outing bring back the feeling of using the Mamiya? Well, no. Gone were the acts of manually taking a light meter reading and setting the shutter and aperture, and the careful manual focusing. Gone also was the anticipation of time in the darkroom, first loading the floppy 120 film onto stainless steel Nikor reels, processing, drying, contact printing, and finally making enlargements of selected images.

But I did enjoy thinking in terms of black and white and the square format. And rather than feeling nostalgic about the manual settings and darkroom work, I realized the this little digital camera allows me to zero in on what really matters photographically. I'm proud that I once mastered the darkroom skills required to process film and make fine silver prints, but that is not really what photography is about. 

What I learned today is that my new little camera helps me distill photography to the essence of seeing. And finally I know that I can release all of my stored darkroom gear and film cameras to those that can take pleasure in re-enacting historical photographic techniques.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Desert Videos with the GH2

A couple of short videos taken with the Panasonic Lumix GH2, and processed in Lightroom 4 and Sony Vegas.

This one was taken during a hike in Borrego-Palm Canyon, within the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California. We'd intended stopping in the park a few days on the way to explore southern Arizona. But the desert seeped into our souls, and we remained for three weeks.

Finally moving on from Anza Borrrego, we drove north a few miles and spent a night in Joshua Tree National Monument. Here we were treated to a delightful rain storm as we drove through the park, passing through the Ocotillo Patch, Teddy Bear Cactus Garden, and the wonderful rocks in the vicinity of Belle Camp.

I love my Panasonic Lumix GH2. It combines a compact, do-everything well body, coupled with pretty darn good lenses that don't cost as much as an automobile. Besides capturing quality stills with all the control options, it also captures professional quality HD video. An interesting video feature of the camera is that with its 2X focal length factor relative to full-frame 35mm film, a 200 mm lens becomes the 35mm equivalent of 400mm. But wait, there's more! An option allows for doubling that yet again with full HD. That means shooting with an 800mm equivalent lens. Image stabilization helps quite a bit with the jiggles. I didn't carry a tripod on either of these outings, but the combination of turning myself into a human tripod, the in-lens stabilization, and software stabilization in Vegas resulted in some very usable and exciting footage. The clip of the quail at the beginning of the Palm Canyon video was treated with image stabilization in Vegas, but the second clip of the Mountain Sheep ewe is straight out of the camera.

I've enjoyed creating image and sound presentations for many years. I love it when the flow of images and the background sounds and music combine to create a synergy. The tools for doing this have come so far from overdubbing and splicing reel-to-reel magnetic tape, with bits of metallic tape stuck on to trigger a Kodak Carousel projector!

For these videos I got to dig into some of the video editing tricks in Lightroom 4. Though minimal, the developers got it right, and the tools are a great help in tuning up clips prior to pulling them into a full on video editor. In my case, the editor is the Sony Vegas Studio HD Platinum 11 Production Suite.

Lightroom 4, besides helping to keep files organized, provides a nice tool for trimming clips. This helps to reduce the file size when they are loaded into the editor, which on my system gets a bit cranky when overloaded with data. Although I am learning that short clips make for a more watchable video, I do like to let the camera roll - often good things happen when you do. Lightroom 4 allows for pulling just the sweet 8 seconds or so from a clip that may have gone on for a couple of minutes. Lightroom 4 also allows for some basic color and tonal adjustments of video clips in the Quick Develop section of the Library module.

Once I got the selected clips trimmed and tuned up as necessary in Lightroom 4, I exported them to a new folder, from which I grabbed them to import into Vegas. I've been using Vegas for a few years, and find it very flexible and powerful, as well as reasonably priced. Besides sequencing video clips, you can also add stills. Keyframing tools allow adding a bit of motion to them, either a slow zoom or pan, blending the stills nicely with the video clips.

I enjoy the process of finding the right background music and sounds. This is at least as important as the video clips to the final result. I will start adding in the sound once I have just two or three of the clips sequenced - it helps get me into the mood and inspired.

Speaking of background music, since my productions are merely for my pleasure, a few friends and family, and perhaps the three followers of this blog, I don't feel I am treading on copyright toes. Actually possibly helping along obscure musicians with a bit of a plug by crediting music sources.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hike 14 - The 1,000 Year Silence

Kumeyaay Indian Morteros and Pictographs, Blair Valley, Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Couple of Miles
© 2012 Tony Mindling

Actually, the desert isn't silent so much as it is quiet. In that quiet individual small sounds become distinct. The hiss of tires on sand, crunch of boots on gravel, the whisper of wind through grasses ... and the birdsong, so melodious that I imagined it could be made by the spirits of the people to whom this rich place was home for thousands of years.

Carisso along San Felipe Creek

Yucca baccata, or Spanish Bayonete, along a sandy desert road in Blair Valley

Teddy bear - or Jumping - Cholla. Watch where your feet go, or one of those cute little balls will be with you for a while.

A desert still life

Yucca and weathered granite boulder

Kumeyaay bedrock mortar (mortero), Blair Valley, Anza Borrego Desert State Park. A thousand years or more of women's conversation and children's laughter. Now the sound of the desert breeze, birdsong, and the crunch of hiker's boots in the sand.


Agave, Pinon, Ocotillo, ancient boulders and ephemeral clouds

Kumeyaay pictographs

Phainopepia enjoying berries of the desert mistletoe

Wild Heliotrope

uh - it's a lizard. Look at those great colors - orange to turquoise

Desert Mistletoe

Apricot Mallow

Scarlet Bugler

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Blair Valley

Desert Dandelion and Cholla

Kumeyaay morteros, Blair Valley
Photos taken with a Panasonic Lumix GH2, 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses. Processed in Lightroom 4 and ColorEfex pro.

Note that you can click on an image to bring it up full size and then view all images in sequence.