It’s About the Light

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Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

In music, it’s about the beat.

In writing it’s about choice and cadence of words.

In photography, it’s about the light.

“No duh,” you might say, understandably.

No really, it’s about the light.

I think everyone can agree that light hitting the sensor of a camera is how a photograph is born. The beautiful study of how light is captured is what takes an ordinary photograph and makes it something you want to keep looking at.

Lately I have been studying light with more intensity than I ever have before. I will place a subject and look at natural light, overhead florescent, then flashlight on my phone, then a small bright LED panel, a ring flash, a candle, on and on.

The light source used, the angle of the light source, and the intensity of the light all change the outcome, the feel, the meaning of the photo.

Look again at the header photo for this story. I took that photo one week ago today (on 12/12) with an iPhone 8 using the onboard camera app that comes with the phone. I have done no editing of the image, that is straight off the camera. It is the best of the five photos I took at that same time.

I was inspired by the fog lingering in the trees on a rainy day in the Bay Area. I noticed this scene when I stood outside taking a break from work. The time of day was 3:52 pm, which means that the late afternoon winter sun was off to my left making its steady but inevitable descent toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

There is nothing remarkable about the subject, it’s a grove of eucalyptus trees just outside my office door. It’s in portrait mode so I could avoid both the nearby building and industrial pipes on either side of this grove.

The photo is just beautiful, wistful, sentimental. It evokes another time and place, and the reason for that is the light. Golden late day sun muted by thick clouds and fog casts an etherial glow. The play of grays and browns and greens and silver metal all create something worth looking at.

Here is the same shot taken today with broken clouds and sunshine overhead, my angle of focus is a little higher and a little more to the right, and the time is 11:29 am.

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

Same scene, same setting, slightly different framing, different time of day, different weather conditions, far less interesting.

The sky is blown out, the greens are a little too green, there is a loss of definition of the leaves. I would call it a nice snapshot, but little more. Again, no editing was done to this photo which was again taken with an iPhone 8 and the onboard camera app.

It was the fog, and more importantly, the quality of light through that fog, that made the first photo more interesting. More memorable.

I know, I know, this is Photography 101 level thinking, but it’s also something I will spend the rest of my lifetime studying.

LEDs will never be as pretty as old incandescents. Foggy or overcast will always be better than full sun. Natural light almost always preferable to flash.

Those are the guidelines we all know.

But what about shadows? What about selective highlighting? What about using multiple light sources? How about putting a piece of paper or cloth over a light source? What about, what about, what about? Ah, there’s where the experimentation begins.

And from experimentation comes magic. And a whole lot of “what the heck was I thinking?” shots too.

But let’s focus on the magic.

Final note: right after the first photo was taken, I turned around to go back to my desk, mishandled a step, stumbled wildly and dropped my phone where it took a bounce and landed under a raised wooden walkway.

I had to shimmy under the railing to drop down and get my phone, brush the mud off and hike myself back up onto the walkway.

Making art does come at a price. Worth it.

The Gift of the White Elephant

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The Holiday Game that Highlights the Best and the Worst

 

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash, and slightly modified by the author

“Okay, everybody take a number!” she chirps while walking around the room holding a small jute bag containing blue slips of paper with numbers ranging from 1 to 25 written in black Sharpie marker.

25 slips. 25 people. 25 gifts that range from boring, to gag, to “oh that’s sort of nice.”

I draw my folded slip and put it in my pocket. I’m in the middle of telling some nonsense story that gets a laugh from my coworkers, spinning a yarn in between sips of good red wine.

It’s the annual holiday party. It’s the boss of my boss. We are at her house and enjoying catered appetizers. Two weeks ago we were commanded to attend and to bring a $15 gift. Pay for play. “Remember, $15 is a ceiling and not a floor!”

The White Elephant is among us.

Some people love the White Elephant. Some people loathe the White Elephant. One thing is for sure, there are no set rules for playing the White Elephant’s dangerous game.

How many steals, how many rounds, what value, and what is proper etiquette depends on who is running the game. The Ring Master controls the Elephant.

My favorite annual White Elephant game is played with a group of salty network engineers. Instead of using slips of paper with numbers, they use two decks of playing cards. It lends a little gambler’s air to the proceedings.

Today it is slips of paper and when my story is told and the laughs die down, I head to the kitchen to refill my cup. Only then, alone with bottle and corkscrew, I allow myself a peek at the blue slip in my pocket.

I groan. There on a background of robin’s egg blue is the number I least wanted to see. A single dark slash on a pristine paper background.

My number is 1.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

(I’d have shown you a photo of the actual slip if I hadn’t washed it in the pocket of my jeans in the weekend’s laundry run.)

I have been chosen to start the game. Fate has determined that I select the first gift. How the game opens sets the tone for the entire White Elephant event, and that responsibility now lies with me.

I nervously gulp red wine from the plastic cup, tannins bitter on my dry tongue.

I recalled a day several years ago when I — a confused, jet lagged, and nervous American — rode a busy commuter train between Reading, UK and London. No seats available, I stood in the packed rail car near one of two doors. At each train stop the other door provided egress onto the platform, so I felt safe by the door across the aisle.

But as the train slowed, making its approach and then stop into Paddington Station, a train car filled with intense British commuters turned to look at me. I was unprepared for my moment, which demanded that I quickly and without delay lower the window, reach outside, turn the handle to open the door and usher these good people on their way.

It was a terrifying yet exhilarating event. I’m glad to say that day in London I executed the door as well as any foreign traveler could be expected to.

I drew from that memory to find my confidence on a rainy holiday evening in Northern California. My coworkers now turned to me to open the door to a successful White Elephant gift exchange.

I doubted myself in that moment just as I had doubted myself in Paddington Station. I knew I needed to stay grounded. I needed to visualize my way through the process. I needed to control the speed of the game.

And I needed to smile genially and do my best.

When the time was right and all were seated around the tree, my number was called. I raised my hand, saying “right here” and the crowd roared “oooooooooooh! Karen has number one! This should be good.”

I slugged back the last of my cup of wine and allowed the game’s host to refill it with champagne. The bubbles were too festive for such a solemn task, and I carefully set the newly full cup down on a coaster and stepped up to the tree.

Its genuine pine boughs welcomed me under its skirts. Salt and flour dough ornaments with a child’s paint job gave me a true horizon to focus on while I got my sea legs. I paced the half circle around the tree, side to side, like a caged panther scanning my holiday wrapped prey.

“Let’s see, what present looks good?” I said aloud, encouraging suggestions from the audience in the style of Price is Right.

Finally, when I felt I’d eyeballed every present under the tree, I made my selection. A long narrow box tightly wrapped in red and gold paper. It was crisp, clean, and inviting.

Quickly I skinned the paper from the gift and found an Amazon box. Cue a round of jokes about “Does anyone shop in the stores anymore?” and “Why would we? Amazon has everything!”

I pulled at the clear packing tape sealing the box and with no small amount of trepidation parted the flaps and peered inside. Would a pearl lay inside the cardboard oyster? Or only rotten sand?

My eyes landed on the treasure that lay within and my shoulders fell. Hope died when I saw clearly the item that began our game of chance.

I withdrew it from the box and said:

“I believe I have found the gift that will be coming home with me.”

With left hand firmly on hip, I took a solid stance and raised my right hand high above my head in the style of Lady Liberty, then announced to the overhyped crowd:

“It is a Donald Trump toilet brush.”

The crowd roared and the White Elephant smiled, for it was the perfect holiday gag gift.

“And with that,” I say,

“We are game on.”

 

 

Did You Ever Have The Kind Of Day Where….

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Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

 

Did you ever have the kind of day where you are going ninety miles an hour at your work desk, cranking out the emails, spreadsheets and taking phone calls left and right, all while balancing the Greyhound bus stop that is the chair in front of your desk….

And despite all the chaos and kerfuffle, just in the nick of time, you manage to whip out one page with a beautifully wrought, easy-to-read table that contains the cheat sheet you’ll need to answer every question that will be machine gun fired at you at your 3:00 meeting.

So you send that sumnabitch to the printer and grab your notebook, hike up your pants, run to the copier, and grab that thing off the machine so you can make it to your meeting at something less than five minutes late.
Then you squeal your tires around the corner into the copy room and you are heartened to hear that the machine isn’t working. It’s done. It’s printed your copy.

Only it hasn’t.

The screen reads “out of paper, load tray three.”

Inside your head, you say, “I can deal with this.”

It’s one of those big industrial machines and to fill the paper tray takes not one, not two, but three reams of ecologically friendly 50% post-consumer lily white paper.

Being a good office citizen, you could throw half a ream in there and call it good, but you don’t. You fill it up to the top, slam the drawer and the machine fires up.

Sweet sound of the Gods!

And the machine begins spitting out page after page after page…..

After page.

After page.

And you realize the guy in front of you must be printing like a hundred copies of his forty page slide deck and it’s HIS FAULT that the machine was parched for paper when you arrived.

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

Nothing you can do now but watch that machine like a bird dog after a duck, all the while not-my-copy, not-my-copy, not-my-copy shoots out of the machine, perfectly stapled and collated and tidy as you please.
“Ok,” you say to yourself. “I can deal with this.”

Then the machine stops again. The engine winds down.

“Thank god!” you think.

But wait, your copy isn’t there.

“WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE DELETED]!!!” You may or may not shout.

The LCD screen on that machine says “Replace Toner” and provides helpful animated arrows to guide you through the process.
“Ok,” you think to yourself, “I can deal with this. It can’t be that hard.”

So you find a box with a new toner tube and you follow the bouncing arrow on the screen and the old toner comes out and the new toner slides in and now you may or may not have black toner dust peppering your arms.

But you slam closed the toner door and the machine begins to make a noise.

“Warming up,” it tells you.

And you wait for what must be an [expletive deleted] eternity while the machine “cleans the wires” and “recalibrates” itself at the pace of an anemic snail.

Then Holy Mother of Xerox, the machine starts spitting out copies anew and more and more of not-my-copy of someone’s presentation comes out.

Then, most miraculous! The single sheet that you desperately needed finally exits the machine!

Victory!

So to be helpful you pull the other copies off the machine to lay them aside in a nice, neat stack.

And because you are nosy by nature, you look to see exactly what is the document that held up your progress and made you irretrievably late for a very important meeting, and you come to realize that it is…..

Handouts for someone’s upcoming Cub Scout meeting.

You ever have a day like that?

No way, right? Because that story just has to be made up.

Unless truth really is stranger than fiction.

Too Much Time On My Hands

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Perfect posting for a Friday…

On Monday I had an early morning video call with a company in London. Oh those pesky time zones. Did you know that the US and the UK go to Daylight Savings Time (British Summer Time) about three weeks apart, and the US goes first? Monday was the first workday after the US moving ahead an hour, while the UK didn’t.

Yeah, I remembered that in the small hours of the morning and quickly dashed off an email to sort out the timing. Thankfully everything worked out.

To prepare for the video conference, I got up extra early and came into the office to set up and test all of my video gear. I just moved into an office a couple weeks ago and my video gear was in a heap in a drawer. Great.

I was able to quickly get it set up and tested and then ten minutes before the call, I was ready to go.

Ten minutes. That is a funny amount of time. Not enough time to really get anything going with work. I mean, I could have dived into email but then I just knew I would get engaged in something and would lose track of time.

But ten minutes is also kind of a long time to sit around and do nothing.

So I did what any adult professional in my situation would do. To “test” my video camera set up, I fired up PhotoBooth on my Mac and played with the effects.

I tried the one with hearts around the head, then the birds around the head. I tried the one that gave me frog eyes and one that produced a disturbing cartoonlike square jaw.

But none were quite as impressive as this. Let’s call it Alien Accounts Receivable Clerk. And your payment is overdue.



“Please remit payment or I will be forced to terminate your account”


So yeah, when the top of the hour finally rolled around, I entered the video conference still giggling.

A little too jolly for a fairly serious meeting with stoic Brits. *Ahem*

But I cleaned up my act, greeted the others on the call and then behaved like a grown up for a WHOLE HOUR!

Amazing. (hee, hee)





Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with the PhotoBook App on my Mac and ten minutes of downtime plus post Daylight Savings Time exhaustion on my hands. Subject to the Creative Commons License in the right corner of this page.





Winning Is Like…Better Than Losing

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Now that I have been a member of the photography club at my place of employment for just over a year, and have been attending meetings and listening hard, I think I maybe kind of sort of have earned a teeny tiny bit of respect.

Because this month, both of my submissions for the monthly photo contest made the cut. BOTH!

The rules each month are that you get to submit two photos. We review and critique all the photos in our monthly meetings and then there is an anonymous voting app we use. When votes are tallied, the top four vote getters are published internally at the company.

So yeah baby! I have had one of my photos make the cut before, but never both. It is a little unprecedented. Woo hoo!

The theme this month was double exposure and my two prize winning photos are below for your perusal.

The first one feels really special to me. I took both of the photos in the image while I was in Dublin. It was at the end of my one lone day of tourist time after an intense week of work, and I had walked for miles. I was exhausted and it was raining like it only can in Ireland.

Tired and soaked to the bone, I was bound and determined to find this sculpture of Oscar Wilde. This was after I had stood in a very long line (in the pouring rain, a nice lady shared her umbrella) at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. That exhibit was exhausting in itself. Way too many people jostling around.

The park where Oscar resides is about half a mile from Trinity college and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was driving rain and windy and I was so tired that a nice warm cab looked like a good idea. I stopped to rest twice on the short journey, but forced myself to keep going and once I arrived at the park I was glad I did.

The small, lush, green Merrion Square park was silent as I stood there getting drenched looking at this remarkable statue of Oscar Wilde. A small tour group came by and the tour guide said the artist sourced these incredible and colorful stones from all around the world. It is a beautiful statue and so unique as it reclines on a rock.

When it came time to figure out something to use for double exposure, I thought of this statue and of the very old books I had seen at the Trinity College library (I had watched a video about the method used to bound the tomes and was endlessly fascinated).

Using some tools I had learned in a recent photography class about overlay for textures, I fiddled around in Photoshop and came up with this:

Title: Author


Photograph Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth



I was unsure if the photographers in the club would find the image too discordant. It’s almost jarring, but I love it. It’s hard to photograph a statue and have it be anything more interesting than a photograph of a statue. This to me brings depth and texture to the photo and I am so happy with the results.

The other photo I submitted was something I had been visualizing for quite some time.

As I continue to hear all of the news reports about the drought here in California, I was pleasantly surprised that the lack of rain didn’t halt the springtime explosion of California wildflowers. I am mildly obsessed with California Poppies (the state flower) and I love the yellows, reds and purples of other flowers growing in medians, between sidewalk cracks and at the edges of yards.

I picked several of the flowers and shot them using a technique I learned from photography master Harold Davis. Then I took a free stock image of textural dry and cracked ground and combined it with my flower photo. When I look at it, I think of many things I could (and should) go back and tweak, but so far this photo is garnering nice attention.

Title: Drought


Photograph Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth


When submitting both of these photos, I wasn’t sure how my surly team of scientists would respond. Both of these photos are kind of arty, but they also show I have some Photoshop chops, and I think they liked that. They had a lot of questions for me on technique since I used a different approach for each photo.

Also, I think the club as a whole struggled with the idea of double exposure. It’s too messy for their orderly minds. I had a film camera in high school that I liked for making double exposures. It can either look weird or really cool. Doing a double exposure in Photoshop gives me more control over how the two photos overlap and how the double exposure looks, and I like it.

Anyhow, thought I’d share my winning photos with you.

Next up, travel to Amsterdam. Wonder what treasures I can find to photograph there?






Both images, Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth. Shot with a Canon G10 and combined in Photoshop. Stock image of dry ground from Free Stock Textures.