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.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hike 13 - The Agony and Ecstasy of Early Morning on the Desert

Fout's Point and Truckhaven Rocks
A couple of miles at most, but hey, it was cross country ...

The intention was to arrive at Fout's Point in time for the sunrise. In actuality, despite having set out clothes, camera, and coffee gear the night before, I rolled over once too many times and thus was able to enjoy the rosy fingered dawn (thank you, Constance and Homer) light up the sand and sage of Fout's wash as the F150 rumbled along the sandy washboard track which makes up the four-mile approach to the viewpoint. Never mind, the early morning drive was gorgeous and the coffee delicious.

This image, along the Fout's Point access road, strongly brings to mind my early days as a geologist, when I explored many desert roads like this one in my lone quest to map, sample, and describe all of the springs within a 10,000 square mile area in Central Nevada

The Borrega Badlands from Fout's Point, in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Clark's Dry Lake and the Santa Rosa Mountains in the distance beyond a portion of the Borrega Badlands. There is a 6,000 feet elevation difference between the lake bed and the mountain peaks - tectonics is rampant here. In the foreground is a good example of desert pavement - pebbles darkened by desert varnish and concentrated on the surface as wind and water remove the finer particles as they erode the underlying sediment.

Borrega Badlands from the vicinity of Fout's Point

Wind-rippled dunes, badlands, and the Santa Rosa Range from the Fout's Point Road
Seriously afoot now, I have driven east a few miles on highway S22 from the Fout's Point turnoff. A scramble up a broad, boulder-strewn dry wash provides a path toward the Truckhaven Rocks, the sandstone bedrock formations in the middle distance. A Diamond Cholla in the foreground 

Wind and water have weathered the sandstone bedrock of the Truckhaven Rocks into interesting formations which invite exploration. Here I am contemplating extending my exploration by circling back to the truck by the dry wash I'm inspecting. From what I can see, it seems to deepen and narrow as it goes, possibly blocking me with a non-negotiable dry waterfall. What then? - a scramble back up the slick rock and its coating of ball-bearing-like gravel is not attractive, nor is the vision of my desiccating body and circling vultures. Sanity returns and I loop back more-or-less the way I had arrived.

See that glint on the horizon? It is not a mirage - it is the interesting Salton Sea. Once, back in not-so-distant geologic time, it was part of the Gulf of California, but was separated by the huge delta formed by the Colorado River. All of that rock eroded from the Grand Canyon had to end up somewhere. The river decided to flow south into the Gulf, and the now separate northern end dried out. But then canals were dug for agriculture in the Imperial Valley, and in 1905 a huge flood occurred on the Colorado, dikes were breached, canals became a raging river, and for about three years the entire flow of the river emptied into the old dry lakebed, forming the Salton Sea.

A water stop by an Ocotillo while I contemplate negotiating the ball-bearing slope before me

Ocotillo next to the Truckhaven Rocks

The interesting growth pattern of the Diamond Cholla. It was also interesting trying to remove one of the spines from my boot sole - they must have reversed barbs. Interesting also to contemplate the nature of a higher power, should one exist, who would design a reproduction mechanism that would inflict such an injury on the mammals passing by used as a vector. Go figure.

Happy Birthday, Dad

I just read a blog by one of my favorite photographers, Darwin Wiggett, about his grandmother. It was about how he appreciated her delight in the details of nature, in taking walks with no particular objective or destination, and her sharing those experiences with him when he was a child. He figured that her influence was largely responsible for his pursuit of nature photography, and shared some fine images he had taken in celebration of her spirit.

As always, Darwin's images are enjoyable and moving, and certainly worth passing on. But his blog also reminded me of a recent phone call with my brother. He had gotten in touch to remind me that our dad would have turned 100 years old in March. Our conversation reminded me that his influence has opened many of the doors to my enjoyment of life, including camping and photography.

Camping in the 1950's, when my brother and I were adolescents, involved canvas center pole tents, with that delightful odor of waterproofing, pump-up Coleman stoves and lanterns, and slippery blow-up plastic air mattresses that would go flat in the middle of the night if you hadn't already slipped off of it. While dad led us on some fun hikes in those early days, he really got into camping with the acquisition of an 18-foot travel trailer in the late '50's. Dad had always been into automotive pursuits, doing all the maintenance on his vehicles including top-end engine rebuilds, and he took pleasure in the maintenance of the trailer and solving the issues related to coaxing a 1950's era sedan into pulling it.

Inside the trailer was much like a wooden boat, with wooden paneling and cabinets that fit into its curves, Dad kept the inside varnished and the outside aluminum skin shining. He would tinker with the car's engine (a '52 Plymouth) and the hitch setup, then take the trailer "on a ride" just to test everything out. These rides would often become weekend day trips to the Marin and Sonoma County coasts and parks. When we got there, dad would often tinker with some tune-up or maintenance issue, while Tom and I would explore. In later years I came to realize that dad's enjoyment of the details of trailer travel was a way for him to share and overlap fun things for all of us to do.

In 1956 between my sophomore and senior high school years trailer travel culminated in a three-month cross-country trip. It was a hugely memorable family event, hitting most of the major parks, roadside attractions, and the cities of the east coast and southern Canada. All of this in the pre-freeway era. Through Kodachrome slides we shared this trip again many times in the following years. The slides were taken with my dad's 35mm Argus camera, which he had used during the '40's and had put into my hands when I had shown an interest in photography in the beginning of my high school days. The cost of processing came to about $90 when we picked them up at the Rexall drug store after the trip. A huge sum at that time, but with no questions from dad, and the slides repaid that many times over anyway in the pleasure they gave our family reliving the trip.

So, as I sit here with Hilda in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, on yet another enjoyable trailer camping trip, looking forward to a photographic outing this morning, I give thanks to my dad for introducing me to the pleasures of road trips and photography. I'll be thinking of that as I explore new places with my camera today.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hike 12 – Just Another Day in the Desert

Bill Kenyon Overlook, Cactus Loop, Yaqui Well, Narrows Earth Trail
About 5.5 miles altogether, what with all the photo-meandering

South of the town of Borrego Springs where Highways S3 and 78 meet is a nice little campground within the Anza Borrego Desert State Park called Tamarisk Grove. Turns out it is the only shaded campground within the park. Turns out it is closed, with this wondrous sign at the entrance: CAMPGROUND CLOSED – NEAREST RESTROOM BORREGO SPRINGS. Hopefully you can hold it for another half an hour.

But no worries - the Cactus Loop trail that begins just opposite the campground entrance was completely deserted, and offers plenty of Barrel Cactus, Teddy Bear Choya, Ocotillo, and Yucca to crouch behind. This is a great little 1.6-mile loop, up and down an eroded alluvial fan. A very fine desert experience, albeit never out of the sound of the traffic on the 78. On a Sunday afternoon that road was busy with “Toy Haulers” roaring back from their sandy weekend at the off-road vehicle areas down at the Salton Sea. Hilda and I had driven past their dusty desert encampments the night before, where flags snapped in the wind over compounds of RVs and dune buggies. We half expected Mel Gibson, AKA Mad Max, to ambush us, leaving our old F150 beside the road with an empty gas tank and no rubber.

Earlier I had hiked the 1.5 mile Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail. The variety of cactus was impressive, and not only were the Ocotillo in bloom, but also many of the Yucca were sending up their tall flowering stalks. Really, it was like walking through a desert botanical garden. Here the early morning light spilling down the sides of the hills lit up the Cholla and Barrel Cactus, requiring many stops and off-trail wanders for photographs.

Cactus is a great subject for backlight, assuming you don’t have a pretty woman with beautiful hair available to pose for you. Handled right, it makes a great second choice. The spines of the cactus pick up the light and glow, like her hair would have. The trick is to keep the direct sunlight off of the lens, and avoid the resulting flare and loss of contrast. I do this by first making sure the shutter speed is high enough that I can get a sharp image holding the camera with one hand, and making sure the vibration reduction is switched on. The other hand is held up to shade the lens. I pull my eye away from the viewfinder enough to see that the lens is indeed shaded. You can also tell you have it right because when you do the flare goes away. Just make sure that your hand is not part of the image. Or if unavoidable, plan on composing the image so that upper part may be cropped away. The “right” way to do this, of course, is with a tripod, so that shutter speed is not an issue (even on a breezy day, cactus can be depended on to hold pretty still), and you can compose and shade more precisely. My tripod, of course, was safely back in the truck.

Following the Cactus Loop hike I headed down the 1.5-mile out and back trail from the Tamarisk Grove Campground to Yaqui Well. Yaqui Well is so named for an Indian who emigrated here from Mexico some time ago and married a local Indian girl. He must have been quite a fellow, as several places here bear that name. This hike was a bit of a bust. On a calmer day I would have hung around the Tamarisk trees by the spring, hoping to photograph birds, including the crowned Phainopepla, feeding on the berries of the desert mistletoe. But today the trees were bouncing around and shadows moving so much that it would have been difficult to spot a bird, let alone photograph it.

The day was wrapped up with a nice little half-mile nature trail called the Narrows Earth Trail, which is found a few miles east on 78 from Tamarisk Campground. A kind person had left the last pamphlet on the weathered box, held in place with a rock, which pointed out the evidence of faulting and presented some impressive ages for some of the rocks passed by the trail. Like 500 million year old Paleozoic sea floor sediments, originally laid down somewhere in central Mexico, and heaved up here by various tectonic forces including the old San Andreas Fault. I’m a geologist, and even so cannot begin to get my head around that length of time, let alone the concept of moving pieces of the earth’s crust that distance. Really, the Creationists have it so easy. I replaced the pamphlet and the rock in the box for their edification and confusion, got into the car and out of the wind, and enjoyed my liverwurst sandwich on the fine desert drive back to Borrego Springs.

Ocotillo and Cholla on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

Cholla and Red- and Yellow-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

Flowering Yellow-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

A tribute to the trail builders on the Cactus Loop Trail

Teddy Bear Cholla on the Cactus Loop Trail

Flowering Red-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Cactus Loop Trail

Along the Cactus Loop Trail