Monday, August 27, 2012

I Used To Do Photography (Now I just take pictures)

Lately I've been trying to decide how much my desire to rekindle an old hobby would be worth the money and time investment.

I was interested in photography at a very young age.  I remember the summer I got my first camera. That summer I was attending a day camp where photography was one of the many available activities. When we had elective time, I often chose to spend it in the photography lab.  I was the youngest kid in the elective. Most of the time I didn't do much other than snap whatever pictures I felt like taking and only just watched the counselor in the darkroom.  I remember the cameras we worked with in that camp.  They were the old-fashioned kind you had to look down into instead of holding them up to your face, and I advanced the film with a crank.  My own camera was a basic Kodak point-and-shoot, so I was exposed to the best of both worlds.

One of the most vivid memories of that photography class had nothing to do with actual photography.  I mostly remember that the photography counselor was kind of creepy.  He used to act like he was in love with me or something, always fake flirting with me.  He never did anything pervy or inappropriate, but he did creep me out sometimes.  He was a good looking guy and I wonder if he thinks the reason I took his class as an elective was because I had a crush on him and he thought he should play along . He annoyed me too much to develop a crush even though I probably would have admitted he was good looking.  I really just wanted to be taking and developing pictures. 

I started working SLR cameras in high school.  I graduated with the ability to adjust my own focus, shutter speeds, and apertures thanks to a high school photography class.  I could manipulate depth of field.  I could make my way in a darkroom.  By the time I graduated college I had two more photography classes under my belt and an SLR camera of my own.  I had the technical skills.  What I didn't have was a good eye.

I was never a great photographer.  I had, and still have, trouble translating to a photo the scenes my eyes want to capture.  I may conceptualize what would make a good picture, but my real life vision is not often translated on paper (or on screen)  Even with my SLR camera, my pictures weren't always great because I only ever had one lens.  There were plenty of times when a mediocre photo might have been great had I used a zoom lens.  Also, I never invested in a good flash.  I bought cheap flashes that I couldn't figure out how to sync properly, so I had pictures that were half black. 

I grew frustrated.  I often found that when I went to indoor occasions that I would just buy a disposable camera with an automatic flash.  When I went to Ireland, knowing I couldn't carry my bulky SLR while sitting on the back of a horse, I ended up buying a (film) point-and-shoot.  I hate to say it, but I used that one more than I used the SLR after a while before finally going digital.

When I went digital I bought a low-end P&S.  I was finished with trying to think I could manipulate a camera into giving me the exact picture I wanted.   For the first few years I never learned how to use any of the whizbangs and gizmos that my cameras came with.

I broke my first one after I had it only a year.  I dropped it on the floor while the lens was extended at my high school reunion (high school was not an easy time for me and I think I was drinking pretty heavily for me to try to cope with seeing all of my tormentors again). 

My next camera was a slightly better model.  It took some nice shots.  I broke that one too.  When I was in Paris, feeling the need to take photos almost every five seconds, I was constantly dangling the camera from the wrist strap instead of safely stashing it in my bag.  That was stressing the camera out pretty badly.  I can remember how I was coming down the stairs after visiting the tower in Sacre Couer and the three pieces that made up the outside shell of the camera came crashing down on the stone steps.  The mechanisms survived though.  I put it back together with tape and that camera went to both Italy and the Canyonlands in that condition.

I like to think my eye is a little better these days.  I have stopped trying to look for big pictures and instead concentrate on pulling small things out of a larger scene.  I still take tons of crappy photos when I go away, but there are some interesting ones among the trash.

I have an obsession with windows and doors and often concentrate on them, even if the "windows" are naturally formed by rocks or trees.

I also loves photos of roads and pathways.

Sometimes my best pictures are lucky shots.  I just happen to be in the right place at the right time.  One of my best photos from my trip to Jackson Hole in 2010 was the results of a marmot deciding to stand his ground when I approached him on the Jenny Lake trail.

I love taking pictures of Kevin when he is in his "element".  He is the true consummate photographer of the two of us.  Here is a great combination of him in a lucky shot among the bison in Grand Teton.

The bane of my existence though is food photography.  I love to cook and love to eat and I love my food blog.  My food blog is utterly pathetic because it is so woefully lacking in good photos.  I've tried to remedy this.  Kevin bought me a light box a couple of years ago, which helped with the lighting, but I still can't get that "food porn" look in my photos.  I blamed my less-than-fancy camera.  My old camera did have aperture settings, but I couldn't really manipulate depth of field.  It was almost impossible to shoot on the macro setting with that camera.  Macro photos utterly refused to stay focused.

I agonized for a while about what kind of camera I wanted. Did I really want to return to more serious photography, or should I just take pictures and hope that every tenth photo was good?   Should I splurge on a DSLR?  I wondered if it made sense if I really wanted to be more serious with my picture taking.  I began to wonder where I would be using the camera.  One one hand, I would have full manual control over food photos.  On the other hand, DSLR cameras don't always travel well.  See that backpack Kevin is wearing in the photo above?  That pack is strictly for his camera and related equipment (lenses, tripod, etc.).  When we went to Italy, Kevin had to buy another camera, a small point-and-shoot, because he couldn't take the Nikon with him on horseback.  When we were on our Canyonlands trip last spring, I had to carry the necessities like water and sunscreen on the trail in my backpack because Kevin needed all of his pack space for camera equipment.  It would be very difficult for us both to travel carrying giant cameras.

I went into a Best Buy two weeks ago determined to buy a new camera.  It was only after looking at scores of models that I realized I had no idea what I wanted or needed.  I came to the very obvious conclusion that I needed to do some actual research.

The more I looked online I realized that a DSLR was out of the question due to price, or at least a decent one would be.  I started Googling what cameras were best for food photography.  Even then I went up against the wall of high prices.  I decided to simply get my priorities straight.  I needed something under $500 that had nice, easy, automatic settings for casual shots, but that I could also manipulate myself fully for food photography and the artsier kind of vacation photos.

I finally chose the Canon SX250.  It was just under $300 on sale.  It had full manual aperture and shutter speed settings.  It also had fully automatic settings, even an "easy shoot" setting for dummies.  There were options for both aperture and shutter speed priority.  The macro lens actually cooperated with the focus.

I have been playing a bit with light manipulation now.  I'm very out of practice.  The handy feature of a digital camera is that when you're playing with the settings, you see exactly how much light is coming into your picture.   With my old SLR film camera, I had to rely on the light meter, which was not reliable in low-light settings.  My major concern was manipulation of depth of field.  How could I change the settings to make sure the close-up photos were sharp and the background disappeared.

I did my first test shots with household objects.  I wanted to photograph something small against a light-filled background to see if I could sharpen one and blur the other.  My choice of subject was the pouch that contains my iPad screen cleaning rag and I took its picture in front of my balcony sliders.

I started by closing my aperture and slowing down the shutter speed.  The pouch was well-lit as it should be while the balcony was somewhat blurred by light.

Next I tried opening up the aperture and increasing the shutter speed.  The pouch remained sharp, but it was dark. I wanted to soften it more. The balcony was more distinct though.  You can actually see the features of the trees on the right side of the photo and it's a little more obvious that it's a potted plant on the left.

Next I took it to the barn to try it on bigger landscapes and bigger models.  I started with my most favorite subject, Riddle.  I tightened up the aperture and slowed the shutter speed, keeping a tighter zoon on Riddle herself.

I think I achieved what I wanted to here.  The background is fairly soft and Riddle looks reasonably sharp.

Next I opened up the aperture and increased the shutter speed.  I also zoomed out a bit to make Riddle part of a bigger scene.

I'm not sure I see much difference in the two photos.  This is going to take some serious work!

How long will I stick with this?  Will I start doing photography and stop just taking pictures?  Will my food blog finally look good?  Will the investment I made in a new camera be worth it?  Will I end up with a DSLR some day?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What I Learned From Fifty Shades of Grey

That men just might be right.

You have heard this lament from men before.  Normal, ordinary, "nice" guys complain that women always go for the wrong men.  Women don't want men that will treat them well.  They want very handsome men with money and it won't matter how those men treat them.  In fact, they will come back for more even when men walk all over them.

Sound familiar?  You know what it sounds like to me?  Fifty Shades of Grey.

In Fifty Shades, Anastasia falls for a guy who really has no redeeming qualities other than his money, power, and good looks.  Right from the beginning he is not kind to her.  He does not appear to have anything in common with her.  They seem to have no real basis of friendship upon which one might base a lasting relationship.  What does he do to charm her?  He does some male posturing.  He buys her a first edition copy of her favorite book.  He buys her a car.  In other words, he throws his money around.  He admits his attraction to her is because she's such a submissive little mouse, which would make her a perfect sub in his BDSM world.  He is extremely controlling, trying to plan her life down to what she eats every day.

Christian Grey even warns Anastasia away.  He tells her he's a messed up individual.  He tells her not to fall for him.  She still thinks she can make him love her.  Rather than see his sociopathic tendencies from his bad childhood as something to avoid and be afraid of, she does the stereotypical female thing and tries to cure him with her love and sympathy.

I was so sure when I started the book that E.L. James must be a man.

This isn't even about the BDSM aspect of the relationship.  If two consenting adults are into that, then it's no concern of mine.  I suppose if there is anything to salvage in the erotic aspect of this book is that Ana does explore her sexuality a bit and is willing to test her limits of what she thinks is proper.  She learns that she enjoys acts she would not have considered enjoyable.  Dan Savage calls that being GGG - good giving and game.  My problem is why Christian Grey is into this and why she submits.  She doesn't have enough sense of self to know if BDSM is a kink she enjoys.  She goes along with it because she can't say no to a guy who has serious mental issues and whose kink comes from a love of being abusive.

This book should be a warning sign for women to know what type of man to avoid.  What scares me is that too many women - grown women who should know better - seem to idolize Christian Grey.  They want him.  They think he's the ultimate lover.  Again, if you think that way because your kink is BDSM fine, but a guy can be into that and still be a decent person outside of the bedroom.  Would you want to be with someone who couldn't even let you plan your own meals (and then force you to work out with a personal trainer) just because he was handsome and good in bed?

If that's what you think, you proved every misogynist in this world right.  Women only care about looks and money and love it when men treat them badly.  They will hang around and attempt to change even the most abusive of men. 

I am told this book was based on some popular Twilight fanfiction.  That sort of surprised me since I had thought that Twilight avoids sex due to having a Mormon author who is trying to fit some kind of Mormon morality code into a fantasy love story.  It does make sense on some levels though.  From all reviews I have read of Twilight, the vampire character is also manipulative and controlling.  The female character is made to keep her place because if she rebels and tries to take any power, she just messes things up.  What better way to be a jerk than to be able to suck all the blood from your body.  "I will love you just because you're handsome and I'm grateful that you haven't bitten me."  Yeah, that's a healthy relationship!

There is plenty of BDSM erotica on the market.  The only reason Fifty Shades is so popular was because of the author's popularity as a fanfiction writer.  If the book turns you on because you like this type of sex scene, please go out and read some books where the players are in a consensual, healthy, relationship.

Now please stop thinking of Christian Grey as your fantasy man and prove men wrong.  We like men who treat us well, who have something real in common with us, and who let us be ourselves.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Irksome Facebook Posts of the Week

As I  pick through this weeks smorgasboard of craptacular posts, I wonder if there will ever be a blog that picks apart Shipwrecked & Comatose.  How about an "I Hate Shipwrecked & Comatose" Facebook group?

I do want to add that these types of posts are by no means any sort judgment on the folks who post this stuff.  Most of the time these posts are posted multiple times and by the time they end up here it was  a case of  " the straw that broke the camel's back" type of thing.

Shall we begin?

This has been posted on Facebook a few times and it’s time it gets the attention it needs on this blog.

I’m curious who the first person was to create this statement.  Did someone actually go to the store and see a woman with an iPhone make purchases with food stamps?  Who was the original spotter?  At what store was he or she shopping?  What purchases were made with said food stamps?

My guess is that this is just a hypothetical person.  It’s just a way for the smug and self-righteous to feel better about themselves by looking down on those evil government leeches who may or may not exist in their world.  

However, what if it’s not a hypothetical?  If that is the case, I’d like to present a few hypotheticals of my own:

The iPhone was a gift from a relative who wanted to make sure the Food Stamp User (will be called FSU going forward) could always be reached and stay in contact.

The FSU bought the iPhone before she lost her job.

The FSU bought the iPhone before her husband died.

The FSU bought the iPhone before her husband left her for another woman.

The FSU bought the iPhone before her baby was born with severe disabilities and she wasn’t burdened by massive medical bills.

The FSU bought the iPhone before her child was diagnosed with cancer and she wasn’t burdened with massive medical bills

Whenever we see people on public assistance, the default reaction is to believe that they don’t deserve it.  The rest of us work for our living, so why can’t that horrible leech do the same?  Americans are trained to have hate and disdain for poor people.  We blame them for all societal ills when they are a tiny fraction of total government spending.  We don’t want to hear their stories.  We don’t want to think of them as human.  After expressing our disdain for the poor for taking $300 a month from the government in earned benefits, needing food stamps while working at Wal Mart, we turn on the TV and watch the Kardashians and the Hiltons play out their fabulous lives, with no real work, on multi-million-dollar trust funds.

It’s sad that this is the society we live in.  We hate the poor for having less than we do because they get something for “free”.  I doubt any American would want to live on the pittance offered by public assistance, but we don’t want anyone else to have it.  There is this belief that if you don’t want to work for a living, you just call up the White House and ask President Obama for money and you will be showered with checks.  

I dare you to ask anyone on any form of public assistance if it was easy.  Chances are you will hear stories of being asked to jump through multiple hoops, have a hundred forms of proof of your need, and be treated with condescension from all corners.  On top of that you have to deal with the nasty judgmental people who give you dirty looks when you shop or make snide comments about you on Facebook. Heaven forbid anyone who is poor ever wants any type of small luxury or pleasure in his life.  If you are on public assistance, you spend that money on the barest of bare necessities and be grateful.  Fun is only for those who can afford it!

I think our hatred of poor people really is born of fear.  None of us knows how many paychecks we are away from the bread lines.  We don’t know how many medical bills could ruin us.  We don’t know what traumatic life events could change our finances drastically.  We don’t want to be the person in line at the supermarket with the EBT card being silently sneered at by the person behind us. 
But it’s nice to know if we needed it, we could get it, isn't it?

Well, it seems that whoever posted the second stupid post of the week deleted the photo, because it's gone before I could paste it in S&C.

What was it a photo of?

It was an old man holding a sign that said something like, "I lived to be 91 just to piss off Obama."


I’m sure the president lies awake at night feeling so bothered by this man’s existence.  Can you imagine him waking up at 3AM and grabbing his wife in terror? “Michelle!  I don’t know what to do.  There is a 91 year old man out there.”  

I’m sure he sits in the Oval Office completely unable to handle any foreign policy or budgetary issues because he’s thinking, “Man, it just burns my butt that there’s a 91-year-old Republican out there!”

It goes to show you that Republicans are incapable of making sense.

Although I’m not a fan of Obama, I have decided to campaign for him.  My slogan?  Vote Obama: It will really piss off regressives.

(Also, Annoy a Republican: Vote Obama or Vote Obama and make a Republican squirm.)


I'm so sick of this "I want my country back," crap.
Back from what, to when, and from whom?

Back to slavery and the lack of voting rights for women?

Back to the Gilded Age when only a handful of Americans were able to succeed while everyone else toiled long hours in poverty – including children?

Back to the Great Depression?

Did someone steal the country?  Last I checked we are still an independent nation and we are still ruled by Americans.  We have democratically elected leaders elected by American citizens.  The downside of democracy is that it doesn’t always swing in your favor.  You can always be outvoted.

I don’t want my country back.  I want my country forward.  

If I feel my country doesn’t belong to me, it’s because it’s in the hands of people who keep saying that want it “back” when it was theirs all along and what they really mean is, “I want my country to be exactly as I want it and screw everyone else.  I’m too afraid to have the world be outside my comfort zone.”

Oh wait!  I know what this means.  This was written by a Native American.  Yes, I can understand why he or she would want the country back.  If I were a member of the aboriginal population of this land mass, I'd want the country back too!