Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Comment Commentary, a periodic feature

 As long time readers know, I love getting comments on the blog. There isn't much back and forth conversation here, which isn't a surprise. My readers are busy people, and the blog comment format sucks.

None the less, I appreciate and thank the people that take a moment to leave a comment. Occasionally there is a question or comment I'd like to respond to, but it isn't quite an AMA thing, which is upcoming soon. It's not too early to send in your Ask Me Anything questions.

So onto the feature. The last one was mid June, here, so I'll be starting with the comments after that. 

In early July, Janet commented on notebooks and pens, "...and usually have a plethora lying around..."

It's usually fun, and a sometimes a little horrifying to discover an old notebook, full of notes. I have unearthed evidence that I've written essentially same note to self about something, several years apart, and there is no suggestion that the later note remembered the earlier. 

One of my characters has been developed out further because of Janet's comment. I always knew that Ceridwen was a make lists and be organized kind of girl, but the comment helped flesh out a person that has lots of notebooks and lists on the go, with periodic attempts to consolidate or organize, and reluctant to toss out old paper scraps with writing on them in case that note doesn't exist elsewhere. It leads to a messy house with pens, and papers, and books, and clothing jostling for space on the furniture. She mostly knows where things are.

Janice commented here, "Awesome bee shot, my friend. Really love the composition and colours. Well done. (This is Jan, by the way. Not sure who's name will turn up when I hit publish.)"

Thank you! The bee shots are fun. Mostly I know who the commenters are, even though Blogger makes that difficult sometimes. I know perfectly well that this Jan is Janice, and not Janet, who lives just down the road a ways. For the longest time I was confused about which was which, but then I met them both and all has been good.

But there is an "unknown" who comments periodically, and I have no idea who that is. These are actual comments, and I think one of them is going to show up a bit further down, and not spam, which gets deleted before anyone ever sees it. I am curious...

In early September Sean commented "...I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories, as I am inclined to agree with your perspective that the only way two people can keep a secret is for one person to not tell the other. That said the current bombardment of caution, makes me think of some strange exercise in re-direction. Why would anyone need to be told that a very heavy machine that can melt and tear up a swath of pavement at walking pace has dangerous elements?"

Why indeed? Do you remember the Far Side cartoon with the dog holding a fear-o-sensor up to a guy coming in the gate? There are days I wish we had a wilful stupidity sensor. The people volunteering at the election poll stations could use it to weed out people that shouldn't be allowed to vote. 

I've said a number of times that I'd like to see people have to pass a test before being allowed to vote. Sample question, 'The elephant, a federal or provincial responsibility?' Yes it would slow down the voting, but then, rather than just a few people in the polling station, if we've got a UBI going, that could be one of the obligations of getting it. Rather than a few people, we could have a few dozen.

A sensor that measured the degree of belief in stupid conspiracy theories would be almost as good. Point it at them and ask: Shape of the earth? Humans landed on the moon? Cause of towers collapsing on 9-11? Is COVID real? There's lots of others. 

Mid September Sean commented, "One of things that I believe attracts photographers is character of form, line, and surface. This in turn leads us to older objects, and from there we get to time and refection. Or perhaps it is the other way around, time and reflection (inherent in the photographic process) takes us to objects of character. In actuality some days I start with the egg and somedays I start with the chicken. All that said I quite like image 2. I would though like a little more visual space around the Edsel."

One of the advantages painting has over photography, is the painter can more directly represent what their brain is seeing. They can paint the landscape without the power lines. They can look past that butt-ugly McMansion. They can arrange the trees and other elements in a more pleasing pattern. 

With photography, for better or worse, the sensor will capture the light it sees through the lens, including the power lines, ugly homes, inconvenient trees, and everything else. It's up to the photographer to carefully compose what is in or out of the scene, and if they want to badly enough, do further editing with Photoshop to remove undesired elements.

But that composition process can be tricky. Things do not exist in a vacuum or emptiness. Sometimes that leads to a pleasing situation, where the background can compliment the subject. More often we try to include all the subject and none of something else, which means the edge of the photo has to be exactly there. To make things more difficult, some camera viewfinders do not show the photographer exactly what will be in the final photo. There's lots of times I feel a crop has been forced on me because something I wasn't expecting or wanting, is actually visible. 

This leads to Sean's late October comment here, "One of the nice things about waiting to edit is that it helps to avoid the "pig" problem. I have at times been over eager to edit my images, and have spent too much time layering the lipstick (editing), only to eventually put my hand to my head with a loud thunk realizing that the underlying image is in fact a pig. No amount of lipstick will turn into anything but a pig with makeup." Note, Janice also commented here that waiting to edit leads to better results.

I agree with Sean that sometimes the photo is a pig, and no amount of lipstick or anything else will change that. Except, if the intent is to produce a photo of a pig, or you realize after the fact that such a photo has an unintended use. I've begun to think more about why I took the photo, and who the audience is. Many of them show up on the blog, and to do that they have to interest me for one reason or another, and be technically good, meaning in focus, reasonably correct exposure, and so on. Or not, if I want to comment on why not, or it springboards my mind to something I want to say. 

A client might want specific photos for a specific purpose, and have no interest in other photos no matter how good. They might even want photos I don't care for, perhaps even a photo of a pig. Photos for the community association could be for the cover, which needs to be high quality in several different ways. Photos inside the newsletter are often downsized dramatically, which has made me wince sometimes.

I'm trying to put a bit of delay in the editing process, and let's just say it's a work in progress. 

Again in late October here, Sean commented "...In terms of looking at the work of others, I am reminded of a quote that goes something like "it is important to look at great art, and equally important to forget you have seen it". This in some tangental fashion leads me to add to our discussion on Friday. A quest for uniqueness is a false god. Perhaps the more fulfilling quest is to be true to whatever we love at the time, and that can be anything from cracks in pavement to Victorian tea spoons. I still maintain that the photograph knows when we care, and so does the viewer."

And on the same post, Janice commented "...Look forward to seeing where you go with photographing people. Are you planning to set up a studio or rely on more natural lighting?"

I'm reminded of a famous story about a client commissioning and artist for a portrait of a cat. Time goes by, and no cat portrait. The client bugs the artist again and again, no portrait. Finally the client shows up and demands the portrait. The artist picks up a brush and creates the portrait on the spot. It's perfect, the utter personification of cat-ness. The client demands to know why it took so long to deliver if creating the portrait took only a few minutes. The artist takes him to a back room and shows him thousands of cat sketches.

There were a number of times I've taken photos purely for a technical purpose, to learn how to do a certain thing, or prove to myself that I knew how to do that thing. Skyline, for example. There's a dozen or more places to get great Calgary skyline photos, provided the sunrise or sunset cooperates even a bit. The resulting photos can be interesting and beautiful, but unless you're really into architecture or skylines in specific, or there is a full moon, or some really interesting weather, you do them and move on.

I like looking through photographic books to see what other artists have done, with the thought of applying that idea to my own work. Maybe it's a lighting trick, or composition ideas, or an example of how a group of photos gets tied together. 

In a book discussed in that post, Rainbow Revolution ties things together with the artists posing in a white frame box. I could build a similar frame, and paint it whatever colour I like, with whatever background I like, and bring in models to pose however they like or however I ask them to, but I think it would be derivative, and probably not particularly interesting. Unless I found a way to take that idea and develop it further.

As for people, for now I'm working on natural lighting, and a relatively informal pose indoors or out. I want my models to look like the people they are, rather than a model posing for a particular look. We see so many photoshopped images of people that it's like we've forgotten what people actually look like. I think real faces in natural light have a beauty about them that cannot be matched in the studio. I don't mean teenage girls who are the focus of so much photography. I mostly find their faces bland because there's no personality yet. I mean people that have some milage on them, some experience that shows in their eyes. 

To my way of thinking, doing a shoot in a studio seems very formal and posed, and is likely to make a non-pro nervous. There's times a studio is the way to go, of course, if you need to control all the elements (light, fog or smoke, clothing, makeup, props, wind, or other special effects) to get the desired shot. But such a studio setup costs money, and could be serious money to get a particular shot. At the moment I have no place to sell such a photo, or the track record to convince someone to bank roll me to make such a shot. I have some of the contacts needed, like a great makeup artist for as long as she lives in Calgary. (Hello Allyson!) I could borrow some of the equipment, but much of it would be rented. 

I enjoy the challenge of a 'live' photo session, where the models and I are each having fun and working together in the real world. A family photo session in Fish Creek or Waller Park in Okotoks. Aerial models in a workout space. A brass band in various places. Posed and unposed people at a community association event. Maybe the light isn't perfect, or there's other issues, but as long as they aren't show stoppers, we're working with them. Sometimes overcoming an issue makes for an unexpectedly good shot. 

Of the Day





Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Foundation, a review, sort of

 The first actual science fiction story I read was an Arthur C. Clarke story set on the moon. It was in a grade 3 reader with a yellow cover. It also had a story about a submarine driven by atomic power, which I later learned was real, not a story. There was a time travel story about a car somehow going back in time to Baghdad during the Ottoman Empire and changed the course of a battle. The only other thing I remember from this is reading the word 'island', but knowing it was pronounced 'eyeland' and that the current kid reading the story out loud would get it wrong.

As a digression, I found that story in my library. It's called "If I forget Thee, Oh Earth..." and it's in a collection called The Nine Billion Names of God. I'm actually a little amazed that I found it. That section of the library is sadly disorganized after many moves within the house. It used to be not only in alpha order by author, but also by title within author. I can't imagine why I did so.

Somewhere along the line I discovered Isaac Asimov and his many, many books. I still have a bunch of them in the library in the basement. One of them is this one. Look at the price. This was an expensive one for the times. Many were 75 cents. 

Foundation a series of short stories written in the 40's. For the longest time there was just 3 books containing the collection, but then the publishers pushed him into writing more to expand the story. I haven't read any of those. Why, you ask? 

I think a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are many ways to tell a story, but padding it out is not one of the good ways. And yet, it's like when the gatekeepers say they want something fresh and new, what they mean is more of what has already sold well. Which is why we get so many dreadful sequels and rewrites and reboots and remakes.

I read lots of science fiction in high school and for some time after, then drifted away. For my taste, there were too many rainbows and too much unicorn poop showing up in what was supposed to be science fiction. And the abomination of unknown writers collaborating with the established writers to publish new works really turned me off. There I was, reading the second of Clarke's Rama novels, revolted by the first sentence. Then it got worse. Only then I realized it hadn't actually been written by Clarke. I can't even remember if I finished it or not, and certainly didn't even try any of the further padding sequels.

Science fiction has been showing up on movie and TV screens just about from the start, much of it poor by the standards of the day, and dreadful by the standards of today. (Though I love me a good bad movie, and many of these are fun to watch.) Lately the technology has been better and better, which gets us back to Clarke again, this time with 2001. It was released in 1968, using technology that seems primitive now, and yet it still looks great. It's widely considered a masterpiece of moviemaking, though some patience is required for modern viewers. A lot of patience.

There's been many book to movie adaptations, and they all come with their own limitations. Just trying to put the story on screen is one of them, since books and TV/movies are very different mediums. At least the visual element has taken huge steps forward with computer advancements. Film makers can put anything they imagine on screen now, and that's the problem. Their imaginations are limited, and the money limits them to what has been done before because we know it works.

Then Apple came along with Foundation on their Apple+ network. If any company can throw a ton of money at a movie or TV show, its Apple. And boy did they ever. The show looks gorgeous! Some of the scenes could be used as art.

I had such high hopes for this, while realizing that this is a difficult transition. Even more difficult than Lord of the Rings was. The setting is so big (the downfall of a galaxy wide empire), and the glimpses we get are so small (the mayor of what is essentially a small town, or a few people on a spaceship containing what Asimov says is 100,000 people) that it's hard to bridge the gap. For all they talk about trillions of people and a galaxy wide government, they still fall prey to the village syndrome. A world represented as a village.

When you think about our current world, there are about 7.5 billion people spread out over about 200 countries. Two countries have huge populations, China and India. Several countries have a huge area for the population they contain, Australia, Canada, and Russia. Some are well governed, New Zealand and the Nordic countries plus a few others. Some are failed states, North Korea, Yemen, United States of America.

That's just one world, and we can't get a planetary government going, even in the face of a near-existential threat in climate change. Will future people be so much smarter? Or are their worlds a monoculture that makes it easy to form a planetary government?

Supposedly there is a triumvirate of emperors for this galaxy wide empire, a child learning to take the throne, the active leader, and an advisor who used to be the active leader, all of whom are clones of the first emperor. Asimov barely mentions the other trappings of government, such as a senate and a legal system, but the show entirely passes over them. Maybe next season.

You'd think they'd be busy with the affairs of government, or at least dealing with the schemes of other people to cut themselves in on some of the power. Yet these 3 people have a life of leisure. Maybe that's why the empire is falling.

The idea is that this empire is going to fall and bring about 30,000 years of chaos, but there is a way to reduce this period to 1,000 years. As if anyone would know at the time that today marked the end of the empire, and in a future time, that another today marked the end of the interregnum. If this is reminding you of Rome, you go to the head of the class. 

The main disappointment with the series is that it's not the books. That's probably just as well, to be honest. The books are pretty dry going in places, built for a tighty whitey reading audience. But the padding they filled the show with is pretty dry too, and the going back and forth in time is tough to keep track of. I suppose that's the risk of a galactic empire and the lag of events, to say nothing of the speed of light. As a reminder, the galaxy we live in is between 100,000 and 200,000 light years across, depending on how you measure, and could have up to 400 billion stars. 

(Goes off to do some calculations about the population of the empire and density, and speed of travel, and communication systems, but eventually decided not to bore the readers. Those interested are perfectly capable of doing so themselves.)

They end up telling several stories simultaneously, and I think all of them suffer from the same problem. We don't know enough about that story to make it compelling, and yet we know too much about it to be a 'meanwhile back at the ranch' adjunct. There is no real central thread to tie everything together, unless a very vague reference to free will vs determinism turns you on.

In the books just about all the characters are men. There's been some gender swapping, and lots of characters have brown skin. All that is good; it's not like seeing a female character is going to ruin my childhood, and it's not like Asimov gave us any descriptions of the characters in the book. But essentially all of what's on screen is new even to people who have read (and remembered or reread) the books. 10 episodes of about an hour each, and we're barely at the end of the first short story. Some of it is interesting, like the bits and pieces of technology we see. Some of it is roll your eyes and wait it out.

Apple+ is $6/month Canadian. I got a year as a free trial because I bought an Apple device, and was delighted to be able to get the entire season of Foundation in the trial period. I have until mid-December to see if there's anything else there I want to watch, and the looking I've done so far hasn't found anything compelling. Linda is watching Invasion, and we don't know if all the episodes will air before the trial period ends.

What about season 2? It's being filmed. I think my plan is to time the next Mac purchase around when the entire season is available. Then even if the free trial is only 7 days we can binge it and cancel again. Then we'll see. They say there is an 8 season story arc here. This is tasting a lot like the 3 movie infection called The Hobbit.

My verdict? If you're an Asimov fan and love the books the way they are, you're likely to be disappointed by the show. You're also likely to be disappointed by every other book to movie/TV adaptation, so I'd say the problem isn't the production process. If you like shows with a medium complicated story line and great production values then you're likely to like this. That it reminds you of a story series you read a long time ago might be a bonus. If you can say to yourself, 'this is what Asimov would have written had anyone been willing to buy it back then', you'll love it. 

Of the Day

Peony. I decided to give you 4 photos, since they were of the same peony shot within a few minutes of each other, and only slightly different compositions. I didn't want you thinking I was giving you a repeat. You can tell me which is your favourite.






Dragonfly. This is the last live dragonfly shot of the season, hope you enjoyed the feature!

Eagle. This is the long term resident eagle. She is 38 years old.



Sunday, November 21, 2021

Plan A, minus the galaxy

If you've been keeping up with the story in this particular blog, you know to expect some sunset and sunrise photos in Red Rock Coulee. And here they are.

The drive down was uneventful, amid much discussion about current events and Sean's new camera. We had a surprisingly good meal in the motel we were staying in, after a flustered clerk got us checked in. For much of western Canada, when you see a sign that says Western and Eastern cuisine, or variations on that, you expect Chinese food and generic cafe food. It turned out to be mostly Indian food, which Sean and I both like. For $20 we each got a veggie samosa, salad that was more veggie than iceberg lettuce, naan, rice, and a large bowl of lamb korma for me, and I think beef curry for Sean. Delicious!

While I'm on about food, the actual breakfast after sunrise was at Ricki's all day grill, which I'm positive used to be a Denny's. I even think I ate in it once upon a very long time ago. The wait staff were friendly and the food was excellent. Not just excellent for an ex-Denny's, or excellent for a small city diner, but actually excellent. I'd happily eat at either place again if I happened to be passing through.

Which is a possibility. I would still like to get the core rising against a background of the rocks, which is going to require more planning than what we did. Plus a photogenic model willing to pose on rocks, which is strictly a summer time activity. What makes it tricky is the 3.5 hour drive from my house.

Out to the coulee in good time for composition scouting. 

1. This starburst is not a photoshop effect. It's done in camera if you do everything right. I tried it again during a walk yesterday and it didn't work out nearly as well.


3. I've always liked this particular boulder. I can't help but think of of a combination of stone age cargo cult people who where visited by a talkative radio telescope scientist. I was trying to figure out if I could use it in the anticipated galactic core shot.


5. Can you see the rings? Perhaps scientists can count the rings and learn how old the boulder is. This is just one of many boulders with a top suitable for posing a model on.

6. More composition thoughts. You can just see the cloud bank in the background.

7. If you're a sequential order kind of person, skip back to Friday's blog and look at those photos. This is now the next morning after (gag) motel and A&W coffee. The wind! It wasn't particularly cold but the wind was strong enough to think about walking. It would be really easy to twist your ankle and bash your head on the way down. The coulees (there are several) are part of a bigger hill that generally slopes down to the west. Sunrise has to get over the top of the hill to light up the boulders.


9. The sunrise went from nothing to pretty spectacular in no time flat. I dialed in HDR settings and scurried about looking for composition, wasting no time. 


11. Looking mostly west.






17. This is the last of actual sunrise, looking towards the north and west. According to my camera, the nice light lasted from 8:29 to 8:45. As a pro tip, this is why it's important to get to know your camera. The light won't wait while you think about which lens and settings you need to capture your artistic vision. 

18. And boom, the light went flat. I started looking for other things to shoot. Sean was out of sight, doing his thing. I started looking at the combination of rock and vegetation textures.



21. I found Sean, hard at it. He got several nice shots, which you can see here. Oops, not yet. They are on a Facebook photography group page, not his public blog. Though they may show up sooner or later. Check here.


23. Linda thinks this looks like a giant curling rock. 

24. The camera in the wind.


Of the Day

I worked hard on the red peony this year, more to figure out how to capture the colour than actually composing a 'good' shot. For whatever reason the rich dark peony red doesn't get captured well in camera.