Chicago Commuters

Phone Envy
Phone Envy by I Nancy, on Flickr

There is nothing like photography to uplift my spirit and clear my mind. I took a series of images in this Chicago commuter train during my vacation this summer. Earlier, I published an entry called Study, were I was able to isolate one person on the train, deep in thought, as a nice portrait. The colors and lighting of the train were really conducive to my image making.

For Phone Envy, I worked the man in the dark jacket and glasses for all during the trip. Earlier he was alone in the seats below, using his own phone. The he was joined by a couple more passengers. I thought the image I achieved when these two passengers both texting would be my best. Then this appeared as the front man glanced over his shoulder. I have no idea what caught his attention to turn around like this, but it was just the moment I needed.

In The Girls, below, I watched these three women enter the train. I like the framing I could achieve with the metal work around them. They talked for a while and then began to catch up on their own business.

The Girls
The Girls by I Nancy, on Flickr

Cake Walk – Performance and Practice

Cake Walk
Cake Walk by I Nancy, on Flickr

Bay Area photographer G. Dan Mitchell recently wrote a blog post entitled “Music and Photography: Technique and Interpretation”. In it he explores the similarities of being a musician and being a photographer and notes how many people he knows who have accomplishments in both. Ansel Adams was an accomplished pianist and I, myself, an accomplished oboist. (There, I did it! I put Ansel Adams and myself in the same sentence.)

His writings struck a chord with me as I am often attempting to explain to others how I feel when I do photography. There is almost nothing that I do in my life that is not influenced, somehow, by my intense study of, dedicated practice, disciplined weekly music lessons, and performance of music. I started my study at the age of 9 with a single focus through the age of 23 after which I continued to perform and teach for another 20 years. The analogies between the two areas explode; whether it is learning, practice, performing, teaching, or presenting. But the most interesting part for me are the analogies between photography and music in the area of performance and practice.

In both music and photography there are two distinct, and opposite, activities – the time you spend alone working things out, repeatedly if necessary; and time you spend on the stage where nothing is forgiven, an instant cannot be replayed, the moment is gone. The interesting part, is that in music and in photography these time periods are reversed.

In music you practice and rehearse, playing things over and over in preparation, and then, only on the stage, is each moment unique with no return. In photography, however, you play your performance first, with the camera, and then concentrate in the dark/light room to work the image and turn it into your masterpiece. Even in landscape photography, where the mountains and trees don’t move, the perfect light, the glow in the clouds, may last only a few fleeting minutes.

I find these two areas of photography fascinating. I always feeling the same adrenaline and awareness while shooting that I used to feel while performing. The need to be think quickly, react quickly, and be hyper-aware. When truly focused, the time around you stops. I used to tell my music students that the way to play more quickly was simply to make time go more slowly. This sounds all metaphysical, but in truth it is about intense focus.

After the shoot is the introspective act of finishing the creation. Another lesson I tried to teach my students was the difference between playing and practicing. Playing may keep you in shape, but practice is where you get better. Sure, playing can work on the endurance aspect of music (you did know that playing a musical instrument is a physical sport), but practice is introspective, calming, nearly meditative, and about reinforcing the feedback between what you do and what you hear. I get this same feeling while post-processing my stuff. This is the time when deep exploration occurs. I do not mean technical exploration of this or that slider. I mean exploring what you want from the image and then determining how to make that happen. Reinforcing the feedback between what you saw and what you captured. What is the point of focus? How do I accentuate these points? Working and reworking your nuggets of gold to a refined jewelry.

I really enjoy street photography for two reasons. There is no denying that street photography allows me to explore how our society works and capture its little snippets. I like to point out to others what they may miss in their hustle and bustle. But secondly, because of the adrenaline of the performance. The act of going out there, alone or in an ensemble, and concentrating with a focus that is hyper-aware and can almost stop time.


Study by I Nancy, on Flickr

Riding on the commuter train in Chicago provided me with so many photo opportunities that I could hardly put the camera down. Of course my hubby’s son thought that I was nuts, being that he rides it every day. When I entered the train I immediately began a process of mental notes. What did it feel like, what did I see?

This car was a double-decker with everything tinged in faded 1970’s kodachrome orange, yellow, and cyan. The upper deck provided views down and across filled with metal bars and orange seat patterns. As the train began to fill my opportunities evolved from simply lines and patterns to incorporating people, first a few and then more as we got nearer to downtown. The patina on the stainless rails provided diffuse reflections of the yellow light and cyan tinged windows. The vision I was forming was to look for interesting views to maximize the framing effects of the bars, the diagonals of the seats below, or the perspective looking down the car. When I peer across the train and spotted this young man studying so intently I began my exploration of the framing I would create. I worked both on the framing and waiting for the right pose and look.

The result here is based on with the strong framing, slight tilt of the papers and lighting hitting his hair and folds of his shirt. The color harmony of yellows and cyans are seen both in the windows and walls as well as reflected in the bars. I dodged down the lettering on his bag – the the facing seat) and brought up the lighting on his face a touch.

Taken with the Olympus E-PL2 and Lumix 20mm pancake lens.

2010 Photography Journey Reflections

It is always difficult to pick out your “best of year” images. Last year I started and never finished. This year, at the prompting of my friend Hutch, instead of picking out my best, I’ve picked 9 images that explore my 2010 photography journey with friends. I am an active member of two local photo clubs and, since I must mostly plan my photo outings, there is hardly a significant image where I haven’t also shared the experience with one of them. Happy new year to Hutch, Connie, Jerry, Judy, Roy, Anne, Rachel, Suzanne, Mike, Darrel, Randi, Jeannie, Chuck, Allyson, Art, Joni, Susannah, and of course Chick.

1. Blossom

This image represents my first foray into seriously shallow depth of field macros. It was inspired by Martin Bailey, a nature photographer living in Japan. Martin is known for his incredibly beautiful low depth of field flowerscapes taken with 300mm and 400mm lenses at f/2.8. He graciously donated his image Lone White to your Thousand Oaks Photo Group picnic raffle. Whereas Martin often focuses on large gardens or patches of flowers in Japan, what I had at my disposal was smaller patches of wildflowers and blossoms. This image was taken on an overcast day in January 2010 the small Gardens of the World  in the center of Thousand Oaks. On this same day I made the image Yellow Expanse which won 1st Place in Flowers at the 2010 Ventura County Fair. (And, no Randi, I don’t do flowers.)

Blossom Photography

2. Dawn Flight

Each winter for the last couple of years, I ask members of the photo group if they want to hit the Santa Barbara pier at dawn. Each year, something new emerges. In 2009 I made the image Misty Morning. This morning I was with Jerry, Roy, Anne, Jeannie, Hutch, and others. The year before I was working on the birds that fly around the water that catches in a deep spot just in front of the pier. I got nothing. This year, I was working with both long and slow shutter speeds. The birds and the sun cooperated in this abstract image of movement.

Dawn Flight Photography

3. Fair Noir, Hot Dog

Who takes B&W images at the fair? I do, I do! At the Ventura County Fair with the usual photography suspects: Chick, Hutch, Jerry, Judy, Darrel, Anne, Roy, Rachel, John F., Susannah, and others. We would shoot and lose each other, then find each other, then shoot some more. My mission was to learn the power of the wide angle lens. I had no real intention of turning these into B&W, but when I got to processing them, the B&W brought out all the structure and contrast. I call this series Fair Noir.

Fair Noir, Hot Dog Photography

4. High Anxiety

This was taken at the Camarillo air show, my first. There I was on the flight line with the TO Photo Group. I was sitting next to, and taking lessons from, the master air show photographer – Hutch. He was using his built-for-action 7D and clicking off frames at 8 frames-per-second – pbrrrrrrrr, pbrrrrrrrr. I was using a terrific 300mm image-stabilized lens that was lent to me by Roy. It was mounted on my built-for-lanscpaces-and-portraits 5dmkII at 3 frames-per-second – ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Hutch would take a few, chimp, and exclaim his pleasure or displeasure (mostly pleasure) as well as the shutter-speed he was using. I was getting the hang of things. When Chuck Aaron and his Red Bull Helicopter aerobatic act came on I thought I was getting the hang of it as I listen to Hutch tell me how difficult it is to get the blades of the helicopter because they move so slowly. I start shooting and with each shot I lower the shutter speed: 1/250th of a second, 200th, 125th. I’m getting seriously close to loosing it hand holding a 300mm lens. Hutch tells me the secret of switching on the IS. Now at 1/80th, 60th – and eureka – High Anxiety.

High Anxiety Photography

5. Dancing Yucca

The guy they call Condor at the local Sierra club tells me that there are 4 hike ratings: Easy, Moderate, Hard, and Tanaka. Nothing deters Suzanne Tanaka from a good hike including winding roads and warmer than usual weather. Summer started late this year with an exceptionally cool July, but by August the heat of the summer was starting to bear down. This day we hiked the 6-mile Mishe Mokwa trail with Suzanne, Jerry, Connie, Chick and by happens-chance met Victor (a friend of Suzanne’s) at the trail head. By all accounts, this is a beautiful trail, but a little warm and we almost lost Jerry and Connie on this trek due to the heat. Dancing Yucca is at a spot about ½ through the hike at the top of a hill. It was a little drier, hotter, and dustier than this image would imply – ah, the magic of white balance.

Dancing Yucca Photography

6. Wall of Wave

What would a year of 2010 remembrances be without an image from The Wave? In late September the 6 Utah Trekkers set out on a week photo-adventure to various points in Utah and Arizona. The trip was built around a mysterious hike to a place called “The Wave” – an enormous sandstone chute out in the wilderness area of Coyote Buttes. They allow only 20 hikers per day and 10 of those permits are given by lottery 3 months in advance. We had but 18 chances to “win” and, our lucky charm, was the one-and-only Jerry “the King”. On September 29th Chick, Connie, Jerry, Mike, Suzanne, and I setout on the 3-mile, each way, trip over hill and dale, and sand dune, and red rock, and more sand, and did I mention the sand, and reached The Wave. It was an extraordinary sight and I wish I was able to do it justice with my lens, but an abstract will have to do.

Wall of Wave Photography

7. Solitary Hiker

Did I mention that they day we went to the wave it was near 100-degrees? Here a solitary hiker rests at the mouth of the wave. Who do you think that is?

Solitary Hiker Photography

8. Lone Pine Peak

One of Jerry’s favorite places – Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. When Jerry makes up his mind to visit Lone Pine, nothing stops him. This time he invited his buddies Mike, Connie, and me. It was just a short trip with one goal in mind, the sunrise in the Alabama hills. For people who haven’t experienced the desert southwest, this area must look like the moon with the brown rocks of the Alabama Hills meeting the blue peaks of the Eastern Sierras. The colors were just too distracting for this scene.

Lone Pine Peak Photography

9. Happy Holidays – Are You Home Yet?

Even though I was on a landscape shoot, I just can’t stop myself from framing up the city scene. Well, kind of a small town scene. Well, can you imagine a more depressing Holiday scene than this? This is my pick for next year’s holiday card. Happy Holidays – Are you home yet?

Happy Holidays Photography

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Ready Aim Fire
Ready Aim Fire by I Nancy, on Flickr

This is the third year that I have attended the Civil War Reenactment in Moorpark California. Each year I find it as challenging as the last. First, there is some distance between you and the reenactors. Second, there is always something anachronistic – a watch, ear-plugs, glasses. Finally, there is the fact that these guys are better historians than actors – four guys hanging around a canon laughing just doesn’t emote the right essence of battle.

This year as I was sitting on the battle-lines, I was looking for opportunities that would cover up these kinds of problems. I had a good vantage point to the line of Union soldiers, pre-focused, set the camera to burst, and waited for the signal to fire.

I’m pleased with the graphic design of this one with its strong diagonal black/white balance but also the horizontal texture of the rifles.