Wednesday Wupdate

It’s Wednesday again, so let’s continue the tradition of me hurling a bunch of gibberish at you about how my week’s been going. Think of these Wednesday updates like the “merchandising” restaurants do, where instead of throwing out their old, gamy food and taking a loss, they turn it into the “Chef’s Surprise” special.

Only instead of suspicious seafood, it’s my life.

That Instagram thing is going well.

“Broken and Beautiful.” I took this photo last week while walking through a local park.

I’ve somehow made it to three thousand followers on Instagram. That’s…really awesome. People seem to like my stuff, I’m often one of the “Top Posts” for my town and many of the hashtags I toss my stuff in–it’s cool. And to be honest, I kinda needed something like this to happen.

I hear a lot of artists rattle off the line “create art for yourself, don’t worry about what other people think,” but I’ve yet to personally meet any artist who isn’t secretly a needy little victim of impostor syndrome who desperately craves the approval of others. Myself included. I don’t need much, but I do need a little love from people who aren’t related to me before I can mentally say: “Okay, I am actually kinda good at this.”

Alex is a teenager today.

I foreshadowed this on Monday, but my daughter turns thirteen today.

It’s kind of freaking me out.

Changing priorities.

Despite the sleep and family health issues last month, things have generally been going well. There is the looming threat of winter and how that’s going to affect my mental health (I have a post about this sitting in my Drafts folder that I’m hoping to get out soon), but overall? I think I’m in a better place today than I’ve been in quite some time.

Which means that I’m starting to re-evaluate some of my priorities. Projects I’ve had kicking around, things I’ve been “meaning to do,” habits I’ve wanted to change–now that I no longer need to just live day to day, I’m taking some time to organize and plan.

If this smells a little like vague-posting, it’s because it is. Even I’m not sure what “organize and plan” means here, or which “priorities” I’m really talking about. I just know that I’m staring down the barrel of some hard choices as to what I’m going to focus on, versus what I’m going to kick to the curb once and for all.

Once I figure out which is which, I’ll let you know.

Obligatory parental post

Alex turns thirteen this week.

It’s been a weird adventure. And if you, too, feel deeply unqualified for adulthood, yet are inexplicably expected to help another human being navigate the world, you know exactly what I mean.

I can barely be counted on to return my library books on time, so how the hell they let me out of the hospital with a baby is anybody’s guess.

She’s turned out pretty awesome, though, even if I can’t imagine how. She’s hilarious, a fantastic writer and illustrator, and quite literally my favorite human.

And since I’m starting to get that urge to write out some overly-sentimental, saccharine missive on the now-lost pleasures of raising a tiny person, I’ll wrap this up with the one piece of advice I think is indispensable for expecting parents…

If someone gives you case of diapers and a six-pack of onesies for your baby shower, kiss that person full on the mouth.

With tongue.

Photography pet peeves

Okay, right up front, let me say this: I’m not an expert photographer, but I’m not half-bad either. I have a decent grasp of the fundamentals, and can generally get the photos I go for.

More relevant to this post: I know how to spot many of the most common photography mistakes–the sort of problems which are so common and easy to avoid or fix that it drives me right up the wall when I see them. So here are my three biggest photography pet peeves and what to do when you see them in your own photos.

And before you ask: No, I’m not immune to these errors. Every single example of “what not to do” below is taken from my own collection.

For I, too, am just an ordinary sinner.

Slanted horizons.

This has to be the most common problem I’ve seen, and it’s crazy easy to fix.

Left = Bad; Right = Good

When you’re taking a photograph of a landscape or similarly-wide view, you want your horizon to be straight. So before you take the shot, make sure your camera is level. If you’re using a DSLR camera, look for a built-in leveling indicator, or you could use a tripod with a bubble level.

Can’t get level when you take the shot? No problem. Just eyeball it and fix it later. There are a ton of free or dirt cheap photo editing apps out there, both mobile and desktop, which you can use to straighten your photos after the fact. This is a really quick fix which will improve the quality of your landscape photos tremendously.

The shot that almost was.

You sneak up on a bumble bee, get in close, and snap off the shot. Boom!

Yes, it sucks that you didn’t get the shot you wanted. Deal with it.

Alright, so you didn’t get the photo you wanted. The bee’s cut off, out of focus, and everything is terrible. So why post it?

My guess? Most people post photos like this because they feel like they have to get something for their efforts. They went through the time and trouble to set up the shot, and feel like it’s somehow wrong to just walk away with nothing to show for it.

I get that. But learning how to walk away from a bad photo is just as important as learning how to take a good one, so maybe don’t share this one to Instagram.

Blown highlights.

This is the trickiest of my photography pet peeves to explain, and it can be a lot trickier to avoid. You take a shot near water or some other reflective surface under bright light, and wind up with a big blotch of pure white in your photo.

At left, the photo as taken. At right, I’ve colored the “blown” section in red so you can see it.

That’s called a “blown highlight,” and what this means is that the spot was so brightly lit that the camera just said “to hell with it all, that’s white.” There’s no way to fix it. No way to bring back the detail that was there. It’s just gone.

Blown highlights are most common for outdoor photographers who have to rely on sunlight for their shots, and it’s why a lot of us tend to avoid shooting from about ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. During those hours, the sun’s hitting at very near its full power and everything is all harsh light and dark shadows–a situation which cameras have a really hard time dealing with.

Some cameras have a setting called “Exposure Compensation,” which you can use to prevent blown highlights when you take the shot, but after the fact? There’s just no way to fix it.

Creative choice trumps all.

In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, you want to avoid these mistakes, but sometimes, sometimes, they’re not mistakes at all. Like almost anything in art, you can invoke one of these “problems” as a creative choice, and that’s totally fine.

For instance, I’m fine with the blown highlights in this photograph…

Blown highlights as a deliberate, creative choice. (Gray border added to illustrate.)

Is this a particularly good photograph? Eh…not really, but that’s not important. What is important is that I intended to have the top third and those two windows blown out to pure white. I made a creative choice to break with my “no blown highlights” rule for this shot, and I got the photograph I intended to take.

Creative choices like this trump all the rules. So, if you want that horizon at a forty-five degree angle, or you want everything blurred out or chopped off, go for it.

But only if you mean it.

Humpday Humpdate

Well, it’s Wednesday, I’ll give it that much. Honestly, though? The days are just sort of blending together for me recently.

I mean, at any given time, one of exactly the following thoughts is going through my head…

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m sore.
  • I wish Lexi and Sloane would admit that they’re meant for each other, and what ever else happens, they’ll get through it if they just focus on that.

Yeah, Grey’s Anatomy got its hooks into me a while back, and I’m too far gone to care.

Anyway, apart from the above, and my shockingly consistent use of Instagram and Twitter, here’s what’s been going on…

The quest for new gear.

I’m slowly getting the cash together to pick up some new photography gear. And when I say “slowly,” I mean it. Being a responsible adult sucks, and since I’m still considering photography a hobby at this point, it’s pretty much dead last in my budgeting process.

That’s okay, though, because I honestly don’t know which sort of gear I should pick up first. I’m torn between lights (so I can work indoors when the weather is hideous), a new lens (probably a zoom telephoto for wildlife), or a filter or two for my existing lens (so I can do long-exposures in full sun).

My gut says “go for a new lens,” but my experience says “you will not go outside during the winter, so buy some lights.”

The news can fuck right off.

For those of us who aren’t stupid or sociopaths, the world kinda sucks right now. I won’t go into the specifics, both because you probably already know them and because this blog is already enough of a downer with all my “I’m tired”-themed ramblings, but…yeah. Things totally blow right now.

Not too long ago, I made a daily habit of reading 50 to 100 news articles across several reputable sources, but as of today the number is basically zero. And I’m fine with that.

Beyond the pure, elemental basics of survival, my first three priorities are family, photography, and my health, and lately I barely have enough energy to handle those.

Not my job.

Related to the above, my patience with people has reached an all-time low, and my willingness to deal with shit that’s not in my job description is next-to-none. For instance: I’ve hung up the phone twice this week when the person on the other end couldn’t answer a yes-or-no question.

Other Person: “Thank you for calling [Insert Store Name Here], this is Rick, how can I help you?”

Me: “Hi, do you have any [Insert Item Here] in stock?”

Other Person: “We actually have a sale on [Insert Other Item Here]. Are you look–“

Me: *click*

Some people might find that rude, whereas other people don’t want to hear a story when a simple “yes,” “no,” or “I’m not sure, let me check,” would suffice.

Anyway, that’s how my week’s going.

Good times!

Art is art

Look, I’m just going to get right to it: art is art.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an illustrator, a painter, or a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you use pen and paper, an iPad, or mashed potatoes. It’s. All. Art.

Even the monstrosity to the right.

This gloriously artifact-laden plague doctor I cobbled together in Blender this summer? It took me half a day, I made it for my daughter, and I’m proud of it.

As you should be proud of whatever it is you do, regardless of the subjects you depict or the media you use. This much should be obvious to anyone who’s ever had the passion and follow-through to create something, anything, of their own, but apparently it isn’t.

I see a lot of people giving others grief for the tools and techniques they bring into their art. I see a lot of complaints along the lines of “the undo button is cheating,” and “it’s not ‘real art’ if you had to use Photoshop,” and “‘real artists’ don’t work from a reference,” and it’s all just so stupid.

And boring.

Seriously. This purity policing in the art world isn’t new. It’s been around forever, probably since the first cave person smeared a stick-figure zebra on the wall of their condo.

These very same accusations of “cheating” were thrown about by portrait painters when the camera became all the rage back at the turn of the last century. They were even said of painters who began using the then-wild-and-crazy tubes of paint when they came out in the 1840s, because the self-proclaimed “real artists” back then hand-gathered their pigments and mixed their own paints, don’t you know.

And what do you bet the Renaissance had its own share of elitist twits, who spent half their lives whining about oils being “just a crutch.”

Don’t listen to people like this.

Really. Just don’t even bother talking with them, because anyone still going on about what is or isn’t “real art” in this day and age…well, let’s be honest here: just how interesting can any of their other ideas be?

And to be clear, I’m not putting artists down for choosing to use “traditional” materials themselves, or otherwise intentionally working under tough conditions for their own creative purposes.

Someone wants to take uncropped photos using only expired film and a pinhole camera made from a shoe box? Super! Someone else wants to draw and shade that life-size nude of Hector Elizondo riding a unicycle using only a charred toothpick? God bless ’em.

There are all sorts of challenges or restrictions artists can self-impose for all sorts of reasons, and that’s all perfectly fine. I’m not criticizing that.

What I am criticizing are the people who pretend that their own, personal creative choices are the One True Way and everyone else is just a poser. I’m criticizing the people who claim they are somehow superior to artists who make different choices than they do. And I’m throwing extra-special criticism at the people who think a work of art is somehow made less worthy of interest, acknowledgement, and praise the moment a computer gets involved.

Because no matter how you create it, art is art.

Now go create something you can be proud of.