Golden Hour Photography

I love so called golden hour photography. There is a period of time in which sunlight travels greater distances through the atmosphere which produces a warm, softer light. This period of time is just after sunrise and just prior to sunset. Landscape photographers love this light for not just it’s warm softer tones, but also because of the textures provided by the longer shadows caused by the directional light. The quality of light during the golden hour is great for skin tones as well. In fact I would say that it’s the best light for skin tones. Although post processing can closely replicate it, it’s still not the same. The low, directional light fills in the pores producing softer skin more naturally than skin softening techniques used in post production.

In this photo, if you look at the subject’s sunglasses, you can clearly see the sun’s position above the mountains; just over the horizon mere minutes from setting. Perfect light.

Golden hour photography
Golden Hour: ISO 100, 50mm, f5.0, 1/800 sec

This photo has very little adjustment done from the original raw file. I brought down the highlights a bit, and did some adjustments on the white and black balance. Other than those adjustments, there was nothing else. This is a huge benefit of golden hour photography.

This photo, also taken during the golden hour:

Golden hour photography sun gazing
Sun Gazing: ISO 400, 20mm, f8.0, 1/800 sec

The first thing I notice with this photo is ISO 400? What the hell was I thinking?

Anyway, this one has considerably more post processing done to it. Keep in mind that although it looks HDRish, it’s a single frame with some major tweaking of the highlights, and I bumped up the blues a bit as well as the overall vibrance and saturation, and filled in some shadows. I was trying to give it an HDRish look. But the overall warm tone in the image is a result of where the sun is in the sky. Note those longer shadows, too.

At the end of the day–pun intended–golden hour photography is certainly something that I’m going to continue working on.

Retouching Photos Frequency Separation And Taste

One of the things that I enjoy most about photography is the never ending learning curve. Sure, the curve may flatten out a bit, but it’s always there. One of the steepest curves for me is retouching photos. On the one hand all of the tools we have access to open up so many possibilities, yet on the other hand they contain so many pitfalls. For the most part, I prefer a light retouching hand; to not “over bake” a photo. But one person’s masterpiece could very possibly be another’s over baked mess.

I was talking to someone today about retouching and he claimed that he doesn’t do any retouching, preferring instead to “get it right” in the shot. That’s all fine, but if you’re shooting in raw format, some processing is going to be in order no matter what unless you want a flat, bland photo. When I mentioned that his response was that he didn’t believe that the adjustments you make to a raw image–adjusting color balance, contrast, etc–should be considered retouching. He has a point. I’ve always considered any post production work to be some form of retouching, but maybe that’s not quite correct. After all, if you set your camera to JPEG mode, you’re simply letting the camera do the post production work for you at a very basic level.

But even then, many photos can benefit from retouching if not require it. I’m talking techniques to lighten skin blemishes, balance skin tones and other things.

For example this pic is straight out of the camera, untouched accept to convert it to a JPEG:

Kid Before
Kid Before: ISO 200, 50mm, f8, 1/200 sec

This was a flash experiment using an off camera flash gun camera left. It looks fine, but like all raw files flat. Plus when I was taking the pic he was complaining about his pimples. I mean what 14 year old isn’t going to complain about their pimples, right? Also from my perspective, along with the generally flat nature of the photo, I wasn’t crazy about the background which is simply a wall painted off white. Just about everything with this pic is “right,” but it can still be better.

After messing around with the color balance in Lightroom I exported it over into Photoshop where I did some frequency separation to smooth out the skin and reduce some of the shadows under the eyes (hey, he was just home from a grueling day of school). I also did some goofy stuff with some filters to bring out the texture in the wall and warm it up–a lot–because I like the way it looks.

It turned in to this:

Kid After: ISO 200, 50mm, f8, 1/200 sec

In hindsight, I think I could do more to reduce the shadows under the eyes, but I was concerned about it looking over baked. But even then, I think it looks much better and the blemishes I took out were the temporary ones. I didn’t do anything to change any features or his natural appearance. I am going to go back and work on those eye shadows for sure. The top, unretouched photo, aside from the flat nature of being a raw file, represents the subject as they were at that exact moment, but the retouched one represents them more accurately generally. Except the wall. The wall would never look like that, but so what? I like it better.

My goal, whether I’m always successful or not, is to produce a result that is natural looking, not over done. I’ve seen some retouching jobs that look so over baked that the subject doesn’t even look real. They look plastic. Definitely try to avoid that.

The whole frequency separation thing is pretty new to me and I’m still learning. There are a ton of resources all over the internet if you’re interested. One of the better ones is this one.

Street Photography With Two Different Approaches

Street photography is its own beast. Lately I’ve been reading a thread on the DPReview forums about the supposed perils of street photography. The original poster wrote about a person accosting him with a knife and threatening him. Others followed suit with their own stories of sketchy encounters while photographing people on the street. Outside of an old lady scolding me for photographing her cat in Kyiv once, I’ve never had any problems.

The thread veered off a bit when some expressed that it was impolite to photograph people without their permission. Some of the reasoning was a little goofy. Here’s how I look at it. If someone is on public street it’s fair game to photograph them. I’m no attorney, but from what I understand, photographing a person in public space is legal. Well, in the USA anyway.

Now snapping someone without their permission or knowledge when it’s not in a public space does begin to get a little creeperish. Or upskirt nonsense. That is definitely creeper behavior even if it is in a public space.

But, generally, I don’t have a problem with photographing someone in public. I’ve never had it happen, but I suppose if someone did come up to me and demand that I delete their pic, I might grant them that wish. Maybe. But, generally speaking, most people don’t mind or don’t care. Some even ham it up.

You can always ask people for their permission and I do sometimes. Especially if I want a different kind of photograph. Shooting an unexpected snap of someone in the street or asking their permission will result in a completely different photograph.

For example, this pic.

ISO 100, 50mm, f4.5, 1/320th of a second.
Black And Red-ISO 100, 50mm, f4.5, 1/320 of a second.

I saw this girl walking in a crowd of people and I simply asked her if I could take her photo. I mean, look at her, why wouldn’t I want to take her pic. She said, sure, go for it, and I did.

And this pic:

ISO 100, 35mm, f3.5, 1/160th of a second.
Brown Eyed Girl-ISO 100, 35mm, f3.5, 1/160 of a second.

This one happened in much the same way; crowd of people, look at her, she’s a combination of both beautiful and interesting. Of course I’m going to take a pic. Like the previous example, I simply asked her if I could take her pic. I took several, this one is the one I like the best.

As much as I like the above photos, they are very different than had I not asked for their permission.

This photo:

Dread Man - ISO 100, 35mm, f4.0, 1/800th
Dread Man – ISO 100, 35mm, f4.0, 1/800 second.

I saw this guy walking across the street, again in a crowd of people, walked up to him and snapped the pic. Again, why wouldn’t I? Look at him. The guy weighs heavy on the scale of interesting. Right after snapping the pic, he stopped, kind of startled, then his face erupted into a huge smile, he threw out a fist bump, “Dude!” and walked on. If I had asked him if I could take his pic he probably would’ve said yes, but the pic would have been vastly different and probably not near as interesting.

And another:

In A Hurry-ISO 400, 50mm, f2.5, 1/600 of a second.
In A Hurry-ISO 400, 50mm, f2.5, 1/600 of a second.

Same thing. I pulled up my camera, she looked at me, I snapped, her face lit up in a smile. Yes, a smile is nice, but it completely changes everything about the photo.

Asking people permission in the street to take their photo is certainly a valid approach, but just be aware that it will result in a completely different photo than if you don’t.

Why not mix it up?


Women and Self Defense

The old adage goes, “A well armed society is a polite society” which is true.

Also, a society full of women who are able and willing to fight back against attackers makes for a better society. This kind of training and drilling is some of the best.

Ruger Single Six

Over Christmas, my dad decided to give me his old Ruger Single Six. I was completely taken aback when he did because I’ve always loved that gun. Even though I’ve probably only shot it a small handful of times. The reason I’ve always loved this gun is because it’s one of few things that I absolutely associate with my dad. Over the years I’ve never known my dad without that gun. He’s always had it in whatever vehicle he was driving; most often a pickup truck of some sort or another.

Ruger Single Six

As you can tell it’s a bit rugged looking. After all, dad had this gun for fifty plus years. It was always in its holster under the seat or on his belt. This thing was used and used heavily at that. Over the years dad spent a lot of time on horseback doing the cowboy thing, riding the mountains looking after cattle. This gun was always with him. Whenever we went camping, driving out in the woods, hunting, whatever it was, this gun was always with him. If he shot a deer with his rifle, he’d use the Ruger Single six to finish the job if need be.

Dad has never been into shooting just to shoot because it’s fun. That’s more my style. I’ve always loved to shoot. Dad is more of a utilitarian when it comes to firearms. Guns are a tool, nothing more, nothing less. Even so, when it came to shooting this pistol, I saw dad do some pretty damned good shooting. The last time I watched him shoot it was about 20 years ago. I was visiting him and my step mother out on a ranch near the confluence of the Snake River and the Salmon River on the breaks of the Hells Canyon. I’m not sure how we got started, but my dad pulled out this pistol and was casually shooting walnuts out of a huge walnut tree in the front yard of the house. Not the low hanging fruit mind you, but walnuts high up in the massive tree. Don’t know about you, but in my way of thinking that’s some impressive shooting for someone who spent little time shooting just for the hell of it.

When dad handed the gun over to me we got to talking and he told me about the last time that he shot it. It was 10 years or so prior and he was out on Jackson Creek near Council, Idaho riding for strays with one of his cow dogs. Twiggy was the dog’s name. Dad got on his horse and headed up the hill and Twiggy ran ahead, bouncing through the bunch grass and around the trees, disappearing over the hill. As he followed along, he heard Twiggy yelping, obviously in some serious distress. Dad stood up in his stirrups to get a better look, and running hard towards him was Twiggy yelping and baying. Dad said she was running as fast as he’d ever seen a dog run. Right on her ass was a coyote, teeth bared, nipping at Twiggy’s tail and ready to kick some serious cow dog ass.  The coyote was so bent on kicking Twiggy’s ass that it didn’t even notice the old man and his horse. Twiggy ran by, dad drew the Single Six with a cylinder full of .22 magnums, and shot the coyote while sitting in the saddle; pistol in one hand, reins in the other. Cowboy 1. Coyote dead. Twiggy forever grateful.

Ruger Single Six needs a little work.

Wouldn’t you have loved to see that? I know I would have.

As you can see, the Ruger Single Six needs some work. Yeah, it shoots well, but it looks like what it is; a gun that’s spent fifty years living in a holster and used as it was intended to be. I don’t want to refurbish it, just give it a good, thorough deep cleaning. I like the idea that it has marks and blemishes put there by whatever way the old man was using it over the years. Dad says he bought it second hand back in the year that I was born, 1962. He says it was in new condition and he seems to think it was manufactured around ’61, but based on the serial number and a cursory look on Ruger’s website, it appears to have been manufactured in 1954. Ruger initially began to manufacture the Single Six in 1953. I plan to call Ruger and get a for sure on that. It works perfectly. The old man used the hell out of it, but kept it oiled. Lots of holster wear as you can imagine. It has two cylinders; one for standard .22 long, long rifle, short. The other cylinder is chambered for .22 magnum. Looking at the cylinders, the .22 magnum saw the most gun time. The .22 magnum is an awesome round.

This gun predates the safety mechanism that allows one to safely carry six, so you want to carry this gun with five in the pipes and the chamber under the hammer empty. Ruger offers to convert it over to the safe to carry six mode for free, but it requires sending it to them. I don’t intend to do that.

I’m looking forward to taking my son out and shooting it. He looks at it and says, “Cool cowboy gun, papa.”

Yep, sure is. I’m no cowboy, but when the day comes that I give this gun to my son, it will still be a “cowboy gun” because, well, a cowboy carried the thing for over fifty years.

Thanks, dad.

The Shemagh

cowboy-bandanaWhen I was growing up it wasn’t uncommon to see ranch hands donning those big, over sized bandannas. They were always loosely wrapped around their necks in a kind of billowy manner. There was a time in my youth that this kind of bandanna was almost ubiquitous to the point that I never put much thought into it.

However, when I got older, I did a stint in the Forest Service which landed me on the front lines of several forest fires. It was there that I quickly adopted what the experienced fire fighters were wearing; an over sized bandanna around the neck. It also became obvious why it was worn loosely. The primary use for it was for a way to protect the back of your neck from the sun. Being bent over for hours under a beating sun digging fire lines exposes your neck, even with your hard hat on. The loose fitting aspect quickly became apparent, too, because you wanted them loose enough that you could pull them up over your face when it got real smokey and/or dusty. In fact it only took one trip to the fire line and I soon adopted wearing two of them; one tied in the back to drape the majority of the fabric to the front, and one tied at the front to leave fabric draping over the back of my neck. The whole set up was an absolute necessity. It kept me breathing, it kept my neck from being fried, it kept me noticeably cooler, and it kept floating fire embers from finding their way under my collar. I remember thinking to myself then that I sure wished that I had adopted this bandanna set up a few years earlier when I was earning summer cash bucking hay for various ranchers around the valley.

Over the years I found myself wearing them as a kind of do-rag on my head. I wasn’t out in the sun as much, but I had long hair (back in my rock and roll band days) and when I did go camping or found myself working outside, it helped in the usual keeping me cool and keeping my hair out of my face. After my rock and roll band days and cutting my hair, I still continued to wear a bandanna on my head occasionally, mostly out of habit. Shortly after, I transitioned to wearing a ball cap most of the time. In many ways it does what the bandanna did with the added bonus of helping to keep the sun out of your eyes, but, of course, without the neck protection.

Here, I’m wearing my awesome Kiev! ball cap at No Business Lookout in Idaho.

Lack of sun protection for the back of the neck is not a big deal when you’re just kicking around. Yeah, one could wear a cowboy type hat, but just kicking around in a cowboy hat isn’t my style. In fact, it shouldn’t be anyone’s style. Really, if you’re kicking around in a cowboy hat you should reevaluate that choice. The only people that should wear cowboy hats are actual cowboys that, you know, ride a horse out in the sun, round up cattle, work the range; that kind of thing. Maybe country and western singers can be given a pass, but even that makes me cringe.

Life has a way of ever progressing, we change, adapt, move on to new eras while leaving another behind. I’ve always been a person with an outdoors bent. I grew up in the mountains of west central Idaho and spent as much time if not more outdoors than indoors. After I moved away from Idaho I lost touch with that outdoors bent for a period of time. Then, after several years, my life veered back to a direction in which I have found myself back in the outdoors mode again. But, now, I live in a part of the country far different than the mountains of the Nez Perce Indians, and the Rivers Snake and Salmon.

Target shooting in Utah's West Desert.
Target shooting in Utah’s West Desert.

Now I call the second driest state in the Union home. Sure, heading east of Salt Lake City takes me to 11,000 plus foot mountains and alpine forests, but heading west you immediately find yourself in a desert environment. It doesn’t take much time at all in the West Desert to realize that a ball cap just doesn’t cut it if you’re doing much walking around. Even a boonie hat doesn’t cut it by itself. A boonie hat alone would cut it for southern Utah, like Moab or places like that, but in the West Desert, it doesn’t because of bugs. The biting gnats out in the West Desert are relentless. We went out a couple of times last summer and the things just ate us alive.  In the photo above we went out with some friends and we quickly learned that wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts just don’t cut it. By the time we left, we had more bites than we could count. I think that I was the only one who didn’t wear shorts; I don’t do shorts. As you can see, my son didn’t do shorts either. But, that being said, all we had was our ball caps. Well, except my wife. She did have a good sun blocking hat, but all of us were nothing more than a feast for the biting gnats; mostly around the hairline and back of the neck.

Bad ass Special Operations dude sporting a shemagh.
Bad ass Special Operations dude sporting a shemagh.

This brings me to the shemagh. The shemagh is an Arab garment that our military men and women quickly adopted when deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for good reason. It’s literally tailor made for a desert climate. When I first saw photos and videos of our soldiers wearing them, I instantly thought of my excursions out into the West Desert and the light went on in my head. It’s light cotton; almost see through, it’s huge–a proper shemagh is at least 42″x42″–it’s like a big, honking bandanna with a lighter fabric. It’s a garment invented by a culture living in the desert for thousands of years so it stands to reason to be hugely practical in a desert environment. Using a shemagh with a cap or a boonie hat would be a huge plus for traipsing around a bug infested desert. Also, I think it’s a good addition to the get home bags I have for me and my wife. Our get home bags are geared towards getting home post major earthquake because the area in which we live WILL suffer a major earthquake. A big-ass piece of cloth to wrap around your face in a post earthquake environment has nothing but upside.

Alek sporting a shemagh and an M-4gery AR-15.
Alek sporting a shemagh and an M-4gery AR-15.

A few days ago I took my 12 year old son out to the West Desert to do some shooting. It’s early enough in the year that the biting gnats are still a couple of months away, but the chilly air was reason enough to pull out the shemagh and wrap around his neck. He likes it so much he asked me to buy him one of his own. I told him that I would on the condition that he only wear it when it’s of practical use. Wearing a shemagh simply to wear one would be much like wearing a cowboy hat when it’s not needed. If he wants to wear his shemagh as a fashion statement, I’ll have to strangle him with it. Okay, I’m joking about the strangling part, but not the stupidity of wearing a shemagh as “fashion.”

Which brings me to another topic part of a conversation related to shemaghs. Apparently, wearing shemaghs is a big deal in the hipster community which is enough to make me shove an ice pick into my retina. Really, what kind of douche baggery would one be guilty of wearing a shemagh around town, to class, or clubbing? It would be of immense proportions.

Colin Farrell being a douche.

This is an example of what I’m talking about. Colin Farrell, you need to be pimp-slapped, dude. Yeah, a shemagh is more or less a glorified scarf and people wear those around all the time, what’s the big deal? Well, I can’t put my thumb on it, but it’s just stupid.

On the flip side of the pretentious idiocy that emanates from someone sporting a shemagh as casual wear are things that I’ve read from some people who regard wearing a shemagh as somehow supporting Islamic terrorists. From what I understand, some colors are significant to certain terrorist orginazations, but keep in mind that it predates Islam by millennia. Also, the British SAS have been using them for years.

I guess the bottom line is that a shemagh is more or less a glorified bandanna with many uses. Fashion is not one of them. You can get them here.

I Want My Multiverse

And I want my multiverse now.

Given that war is the archetypal splitting point for alternative history, perhaps the threat of fascism accounts for the rise in popularity of parallel-world stories in the 1940s, sometimes as wish-fulfilling escapism, as in the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), or else as warnings of alternatives that could so easily happen. In Borges’s short story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (1940), for example, an invented world causes reality itself to cave in. A year later, Borges again worked the theme of branching realities, in a wartime spy story called ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. When the American physicist Seth Lloyd met Borges at a Cambridge reception in 1983, he asked him if he was aware that this story eerily prefigured Hugh Everett’s concept of many worlds. Borges had never heard of it, but said that it didn’t surprise him that physics sometimes followed literature. After all, physicists are readers, too (of literature, and of history).

Yes, this is an essay on the theoretical concept of multiple universes existing at once, but the one line that seemed to really stick out to me considering my current state of mind is:

Benjamin says that to understand fascism we need to appreciate how in an oppressive regime every day is presented as a new emergency.

As is often the case, some of the most interesting parts of an essay like this are the comments. The very first comment I read was in reference to how the above Benjamin quote made the commenter “shiver.”

Cool, at least I’m not alone.

What If God Is A Programmer?

Recently I participated in a discussion that basically asked the question, “Do Republicans believe in evolution?” Although I’m not a Republican, I know plenty of people who would classify themselves as Republicans and who accept the reality that evolution is a fact. Notice how I didn’t state that they believe it was real. The reason why is because evolution is a scientific fact. Again, I’m not a Republican. I’m a Libertarian. Libertarians share some common ideological bent with some who would call themselves Republicans.

The conversation soon devolved—intentional pun—into a debate of whether evolution was real or not. At that point I lose interest. You can’t have a meaningful discussion about, say, math if the person with whom you are talking can’t accept the fact that 2+2=4. But before it got to that point, the discussion touched on the coexistence of evolution and a creator; God, if you will. Some view evolution as an exemplification of a creator. That it could not possibly occur without some intelligent designer pulling levers like Oz behind the curtain. Others view evolution as being unnecessary and an affront to the notion of God.

This sort of discussion is difficult for me because although the two need not be mutually exclusive, I know that evolution is a verifiable fact. A creator or God is a belief.

As it stands there is not presently a way in which we can either prove the existence of a creator or the nonexistence of a creator. We simply cannot know. Both sides of that argument are basing everything on belief; both the theist and the atheist. One believes in a god, one does not, but both are basing everything on a belief. It’s an expression of faith. I accept the fact that I cannot know if there is a god or not therefore I’m agnostic on the matter. Every time an atheist looks down on a theist in snooty derision, I want to punch them in the throat. “Ass hole, the basis of your assumption is the exact same as the theist; belief. Now put a cork in it.”

Keep in mind that I don’t disregard religion as a whole. I do not. I fully acknowledge the important role that Judeo-Christianity has played in the development of Western Culture and accept that though not without flaws, that role has been by and large a positive one. I appreciate Western Culture and know that it would not exist as we know it without the Judeo-Christian influence that it has benefited from.

Amidst the debate of if a creator exists or not is a theory known as the “simulation theory.” It goes something like this: The universe and everything in it including us is one giant computer simulation. Basically, what if God is a programmer? It may sound crazy, but there are some serious thinkers that have tackled this idea. A great article on the simulation theory can be read at Aeon. No, this isn’t some rehash of The Matrix. It’s far more complex than that. And, frankly, much more interesting.

Our species is not going to last forever. One way or another, humanity will vanish from the Universe, but before it does, it might summon together sufficient computing power to emulate human experience, in all of its rich detail. Some philosophers and physicists have begun to wonder if we’re already there. Maybe we are in a computer simulation, and the reality we experience is just part of the program.

A pair of philosophers recently argued that if we accept the eventual complexity of computer hardware, it’s quite probable we’re already part of an ‘ancestor simulation’, a virtual recreation of humanity’s past. Meanwhile, a trio of nuclear physicists has proposed a way to test this hypothesis, based on the notion that every scientific programme makes simplifying assumptions. If we live in a simulation, the thinking goes, we might be able to use experiments to detect these assumptions.

The article goes on in great detail on how some of these experiments may work. I really do recommend taking the time to read it, especially for fiction writer types looking for inspiration.

The interesting thing is that if science were ever able to prove that our existence is simply a computer simulation, it would both prove and disprove the arguments of both the theist and the atheist. In fact the only real winner in that scenario would be nihilism. Wrap your head around that one.

The prospect that our existence could be nothing more than a computer simulation is a frightening one that has as much credence as theism or atheism from a completely empirical standpoint. But imagine a world in which we have advanced enough technologically to empirically determine the genesis of our existence and it turns out that our existence is not real; that we are simply nothing more than a simulation. Now think about the implications of that.

That is frightening.

Is It Me…

…or is The American Red Cross blood donor program just a front for a hidden vampire community? You know, a way to keep ’em fed without having to kill people.

I’m pretty sure it’s just me.

Stone Age Zombie Apocalypse

Huh, I guess we’re not the only ones to beat a plot device over the head until its dead, dead, dead.

One theory posits that stone age people were in to the whole walking dead thing, too:

Archaeologists working in Europe and the Middle East have recently unearthed evidence of a mysterious Stone Age “skull-smashing” culture, according to New Scientist. Human skulls buried underneath an ancient settlement in Syria were found detached from their bodies with their faces smashed in. Eerily, it appears that the skulls were exhumed and detached from their bodies several years after originally being buried. It was then that they were smashed in and reburied separate from their bodies.