Week 2: Landscape

Ok, so I’m not off to the best of starts here, but I have been snapping away, and have plenty of ideas!  For this week’s theme, Landscape, I thought I would do something a little out of the ordinary.  I was visiting a friend last week in Florida, so of course, I took plenty of beach pictures, but decided that I should do something a little different.

Ever since this past summer, I have been dying to do some night beach pictures.  Each year when I go to Ocean City with the family, I spend a lot of time out on the balcony at night because you know, I’m up all night and don’t sleep like a normal person.  This year, there were a number of nights that were especially clear, so you could see all of the stars.  I was dying to go out on the beach at night and try my hand at some beach-astrophotography, but I forgot to bring my tripod along, so I was out of luck.

While in Florida last week, the same kind of clear skies kept popping up, so I was a little obsessed with getting some night pictures at the beach.  I ran out one of the first nights I was there and bought a mini travel tripod, and was ready to go.  So, of course, it was cloudy and rained for practically the rest of the time I was there, particularly at night.  Lucky for me, I did get one clear night before I left, and I tried to make the most of it!

After walking around and catching some cool sunset/cloud/moon/seagull pictures, which I’m sure you’ll see soon, we headed over to some shops and walked around until it got dark.  I popped out my mini tripod and got to it once the time was right.  I have to say, I’m one of those people who don’t heed warnings, and I probably should; when the mini travel tripod says that it has a weight limit, it really does.  Of course when buying this, I knew that my camera was over the limit, but I also thought that it wouldn’t really matter.  I mean, the thing just needs to sit there, right?  How unstable could three, advertised as “sturdy”, legs be?  Pretty wobbly, to be honest, but that’s my fault too.  So, after a few shaky test shots, and the wind not working in my favor, I held on to my camera ever so slightly and took a couple 30 second exposures of the beach at night!  I’m happy with what I got, but was hoping for something a little better, since I’ve been dreaming of this for months!  But with one idea down, I have another night shot that I can’t stop thinking of now….

When originally thinking of something for this theme, and driving the back roads around my friend’s place in FL, we kept passing these wide open fields with just a few palm trees scattered around.  That’s what I was thinking of for this…the palm trees in silhouette with the sky lit up around them, stars sparkling… but I’ll have something to look forward to during my next trip!  I also tried my hand at a little more editing than I usually do for one of these shots, so I have better planning/more editing practice to look forward to also.  In the mean while, I’m happy with these, but can’t wait to do more!  So enjoy my star-scape, which I’ve slid in to this landscape theme.  I kept a little of the beach in there, so it counts! 🙂

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“Well, Welcome to This One.”

I love it when people have just the right things to say.  I also like it when something gets me right in the feels, for lack of a better word, and catches me off guard when they do.  I got that from one of my professors the other day, so I’d thought I’d share a little more about it with you.

It’s been a crazy few weeks since starting school, as I’m sure you’re well aware by my constant reminders.  But even with all the craziness, it’s been filled with some pretty great moments.  First off, everyone thinks that I’m 21…max!  I’m even being mistaken for a teenager, which makes me question some things, but I’ll still take it as a great compliment.  I’m finally starting to feel a little more comfortable, and that I may be someone who is on-par with this “art world” that I’ve flung myself in to.  Yes, I know I made it in to MICA, and that should be reassurance enough, but it isn’t.  “They”, the powers that be at MICA, even send out emails, or did at least, to new students telling them just that — “don’t be scarred/intimidated/depressed/stressed/etc…you made it here, and that means a lot!”  When coming from the world of strict business attire,where the only creativity being expressed was that of craftily written procedure or performance review, it’s hard to see yourself amounting to anything creative.  No matter how bad I want to succeed at this, I’m essentially terrified.

When I think about where I came from, the life of banking, management, stress, abuse, and all things wrong in a corporate environment, I have two feelings that have stuck around: abandonment, and escape.  Pretty conflicting thoughts, don’t you think?  As if my feelings towards them weren’t complicated enough, they still continue to be, even almost a year and a half leaving.  I suppose some of the emotions you could equate to this would be depression, anxiety, PTSD, failure,….freedom and relief?  Like I said, it’s complicated.  I whole heartedly gave over 10 years of my life to this company, only to be targeted, bullied, and attacked.  And when I fell ill as a result of this, they didn’t care at all, and wanted nothing more to do with me.  Don’t get it twisted though, no matter how it may sound, I played the hand I was dealt the best I could, and ended up resigning.  Some what reluctantly, but still, it was my choice to leave — at least they didn’t get that satisfaction.  Either way, it was a heartbreaking change, even though at the same time I wanted to do something different with my  life.  I wanted to make it better, but I was terrified of failing.

But like I said, you have to play the cards you’re dealt, and my game had just changed.  So I decided, why not, apply for this school that I’ve been wanting to go to forever.  I was just about to finish up my associates degree, because I could only handle baby steps, and didn’t see myself making it this far.  Going to school, an art school, to get a Bachelor’s degree seemed unobtainable for me.  After getting in, it was then the financial aspects that had me burdened, because let’s face it, you can’t pay for the “ivy league of art schools” on a non-existent salary.  No one was excited about the news except a few, literally few, friends, so in trying to be realistic about it, I didn’t let myself get excited about it, or celebrate.  I’m 30, and just got my first college acceptance letter in the mail, I should be excited.  Oh, wait, except for the fact that I’ll be 30….in college…with teenagers — another issue of concern.  I convinced myself I was too old, and just needed to buckle down and get a “real job”.  Oh, and back to the no job thing, I had to move out of my apartment, my safe haven, my home….my life was falling apart when it should have been on the up and up.

So I decided not to go, and things got dark, really dark, and fast.  I started looking for banking jobs, admin jobs, anything office job like, and to no avail.  What was the end of an already incredibly depressed year, I was even worse for the wear.  Then a friend hired me to bake a cake and photograph her wedding, and another friend asked me to photograph her baby, and it felt great doing things that were artistic, and that I got paid for!  Imagine that.  I figured, as the deadline for the deposit was fast approaching, I’ll just take this money to pay for the deposit.  As irresponsible as it may be, and even though it’s most likely only delaying the inevitable, I’ll have a little more time to pretend that this is still an option.

In the mean while, I still looked for “normal” jobs, but also worked on art, this blog (yay), craft fairs, and school stuff — scheduling, talking to advisors, financial aid, and so on.  I had it all figured out, except how to pay for just a little bit of it.  So annoying.  With all the work I did, this little percentage of tuition that I couldn’t come up with was going to hold me back.  I begged family to help, co-sign, anything, but they resisted, insisting that I needed to get off this vacation mode and get my life back together.  I have to say, my family has an interesting perspective of what vacation is if my life was the model for it.  Then, out of the blue, my parents, though they were very clear that they disapproved of my idea/plan/decisions/everything, that they wanted me to be happy.  What?  Seriously?  I was dumbfounded, but took their help as quickly as possible.  Though I have to hear about it all the time now, I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to give this a go, even if the future of it seems uncertain.

So then I’m finally there!  Orientation.  Oh my God….can I say that it was exponentially worse than I expected?  The school and facilities seemed nice, but the people — some of the other students are down right…..just, immature, and not good people, and incredibly filled with entitlement, and unappreciative.  It’s a little astounding, and overwhelming.  I felt like crying, and leaving, and never coming back, but I knew I couldn’t let these people, who really didn’t do anything to me except make my age difference become even more apparent, control what was going to be my outcome of going here.  So I did what I knew I would do, what I always do.  I worked.

It felt great to finally have something consume my life again.  While it was nice being away from work, it was pretty boring at times, even with all my little projects that I tried to fill my time with.  Not only that, but I actually started working again, and not at some terrible place that was irrelevant to what my goals were.  I’m busy again, and it’s a great feeling.  I’m successful in this busyness, which is even a better feeling.

Even though the feedback from some of these professors has been minimal, I have enough information to come to the conclusion that I have an A in each of my six, count ’em, six classes.  I would say yay, but I worked my ass off, and there is no yay for me when it comes to grades.  I either get all A’s and am contempt with it because it’s the only acceptable outcome, or I flirt with the line between A and B, and I’m really mad about it.  It’s about half way through the semester now, and I’ve received a couple of mid-term reviews, and hope to have a couple more.  They’ve been informal, and though email, so it’s nice to have the feed back, because not having it drives me crazy, but it’s also a little impersonal.  Lucky for me, I have one professor, my sculpture professor, who is very profession, and a great communicator.  He set up mid-term review meetings with each of us, and actually sat us down to talk about our progress, grades, and future expectations.  Now that gets a yay 🙂

So in that meeting, I heard some great things — I have an A+, something that he only gives out like once or twice a year.  How unexpected.  What else was unexpected was that he told me that I took to sculpture like “a fish to water”.  I have to say, out of all the classes I signed up for this semester, this was the one I was most apprehensive about.  I never work three-dimensionally, so this was all new for me, and in having such high expectations for my self and my grades, this was going to be a challenge.  We chatted a little more, and he got the point of saying that he could tell that I was very dedicated.  Of course — do you have any idea of what I had to go through to get here?! Of course not, I’m being irrational, and joking.  I did say, however, that yes, I’m incredibly dedicated to being here.  I went through hell with the life that I had before, and I’m never going back to that world.  And then he said it…”Well, welcome to this one”.  He went on to say, many more positive things, what expectations he had for me, and that he saw me doing great things, but that little sentence stuck out to me even more than that.  I know that with the grades I’m getting in the school that I’m now attending that I should have more confidence in my work.  It’s amazing to hear that he views me as an A+ student, a natural at this art, and that he, and incredibly successful artist in his own right, sees me being successful as well.  But that welcome, as silly as it may seem, hit me hard.  I’m here, I’m still in one piece, and I’m doing the thing that I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m doing the thing that I pushed out of my mind for the last 15 years of my life.  I’m doing something that will change my life.  It’s hard to believe, but I am.  I’m doing it.  It’s crazy.  Crazy good.  I don’t ever have to go back to that life now, not if I don’t want to.

At the end of all my rambling, I’ve included some photos of things that I’ve been working on for various classes – sculpture, digital photo, studio lighting, and EMAC, which is like a sampling of all this electronic and digital in the art making world. I didn’t include anything from my art history classes, cause I figured you probably wouldn’t appreciate having papers shoved in your face to read.  And it’s ok if you think some of these are a little wacky, cause to be honest, I do too, but I like them 🙂   And what I like even more, is that this is just the beginning of a change so grand that I can’t even imaging how great things will be when I finish.  I imagine a very tear-filled graduation on my part, but only happy tears.  So thanks for the welcome, and just so you know, there will never be a goodbye.

Low-Key Me

I have to say, I was a little apprehensive about doing this week’s task.  Not because I wasn’t looking forward to, or was intimidated by the idea of low-key, but because I knew I had some catching up to do.  Yes, the fact that I’ve skipped a couple of topics is in the forefront of my mind each time I begin working on a new week.  This week, I’m happy to report,  I’ve included the subject of one week’s task in the low-key realm: me!  Remember a couple weeks ago when I was supposed to do a few self-portraits and I didn’t?  Well here we have it, ladies and gentlemen, me in low-key.

I love taking pictures of people, but with this love comes a few problems.  For starters, I don’t have a lot of handy volunteers, as you know, so finding models for my somewhat strange ideas is a little difficult at times.  The other three weeks which need catching up on all have models in my mind; one could do without, though I’d rather have them, and the other two would fall into the strange category, so I’ll just keep searching.

My next, and undoubtedly biggest, issue with photographing people is that I’m incredibly shy.  When I have a model, it’s always someone I know, so I should be comfortable, right?  Wrong.  It takes me a while to get into a groove, and I’m completely uncomfortable directing them.  I’m sure in this case I would do much better with someone I didn’t know.  I would feel comfortable in being much more direct, and I don’t have to hear from them how stupid I sounded afterwards, right? 🙂  It’s just like any other job; I’m completely professional and can handle everything on a day-to-day, until a family member visits me at work, and then I’m a total doof.

Hiring a model for all these projects is a little out of the question at the moment, so I’ll have to suck it up.  Which brings me to the people who I don’t know and do have at my disposal.  Street photography.  Ahh, yes.  I love it so much, but have I ever done it?  That’s a big n-o.  It’s not like I’m uncomfortable being in public and shooting pictures; I’d actually walk around all day taking pictures of things and looking like the complete “tourist”, which I know is a big deterrent for a lot of people.  But as soon as I think about pointing that camera at the random interesting stranger walking around, I can’t bring myself to do it.  It’s something I need to work on, I know, especially since I have this nagging feeling that I need to just get out there and do it.  I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until my portfolio contains a good amount of street photography shots.

To get back on topic, the point of this is to say that while I wanted to photograph someone for the low-key project, I was out of volunteers, except for myself.  While completing all of what seemed like a million self-portrait projects in my drawing class, my professor often told us that “you are your best model”, if for no other reason than simply because of availability.  I often scoffed, internally, at this.  It’s not that she was invalid in saying this; she’s absolutely right!  I, on the other hand, hate taking pictures of myself, hate being in pictures, hate drawing myself, and the list goes on.  So as I mentioned before, I wasn’t enthused about the self-portrait project, but knew I just had to do it to stay on track.

So after being selfied-out from taking my school ID badge picture earlier in the day, I decided to not let a good hair day go to waste.  After it got dark, I got my low-key set up together, which consisted of my camera, tripod, mini hand-held flashlight, Nikon WMU, and cell phone.  Now, this is quite the cumbersome set up, but it gets the job done.  Once you get the hang of getting your camera settings correct for a low-light setting, then using your phone to preview and take pictures while posing, holding for the long exposure, and moving the light around, you can get some decent shots.  My arms were pretty tired from holding things up for a while, and I was semi-blinded from shining the light in my eyes a million times, but it’s all for the sake of art.  Glad no one caught me, because I must have looked crazy all contorted and trying to do this.  Oh, and one more thing about me not liking pictures of myself: I never smile.  Unless it’s a group photo where I’m instructed to “smiilllleeeee!”, it’s not going to happen.  Even MICA didn’t get a smile for the ID picture, sorry guys.  Also (ok, so it’s two more things), I also like to shoot more abstracted views of myself.  You’ll see; it’s me, not smiling, and semi-cut off in a lot of these!

Originally, I thought that I would go all black and white with these images, but after seeing the final results, and actually loving them without any edits, I decided to leave the majority of them in color.  I do love how the black and white images give a slightly warmer feeling to the composition, which I was pleasantly surprised by.  The color images are fun because of my crazy hair color; I love it when the light hits it and it’s a really intense color, which is what you’ll see here.  I may have hit the highlights a little high in some of these, but I think I’ve captured the essence of low-key.  The difference between black and white and color also plays a part on this;  not only do the black and white photos appear warmer in my opinion, but they also make those highlights look more toned down, even though I didn’t do anything different to those images than I did with the color images.  I say, as far as successfully completing this project, the black and white images win, but I love the pops of the color images!  Either way, enjoy, and let me know what you think!  Black and white, or color?

Secret Garden

Summer is just around the corner!  It’s Memorial Day weekend, and all the signs of summer are starting to dust of the winter’s, and this dreary spring’s, cold and come out.  It was a beautiful day today, the pools were open and busy, and the sun was shining.  I’m glad that it’s finally that time of year where it is socially acceptable for me to go to the beach (even though, I would go any day of the year, winter/summer/blizzard, you name it)!  And believe me, with the cold, blustery, snowy winter we had, I’m ready for some beach escapes!

Don’t let this weekend pass you by without remembering it’s true meaning, however.  It may be all fun, cookouts, and swimming, but thank your service men and women, and pay respect to those who sacrificed to protect us.  With my grandfather passing earlier this year, I’m thinking of him this weekend.  He served in the Army during WWII, and I’m lucky to have had him around for so many years, to have spent time with him and the family, and to get to hear his “war stories”.  Thanks Gramps.

So, now to change the subject, abruptly….

Yes, the summertime weather is finally starting to show up.  As I was thinking of what to do for this week’s theme, I got a call from my parents.  Like I’ve said before, they enjoy birdwatching, so I often like to tag along and check out the sights, see some birds, and see what else nature has to offer in the little spots they frequent.  One of the places is actually right down the street from their house, and isn’t what you would think of as your typical “nature photography spot”.  It’s a parking lot.  Granted, it’s a parking lot for an agricultural research library, located right next to the government farms (where goat man lives), and also has a charming little pond and field on the same area of land.  When they called, they said they had just swung by the park(ing lot) after picking up dinner, and could not believe how many lightning bugs were there.  I grabbed my camera (to which they scoffed, saying it was too dark for me to get a picture), jumped in the car, and headed over.  Sure enough, I was not disappointed when I got there.  The picture I caught is lovely, but it’s nothing like seeing it in real life; the trees, bushes, and field were all twinkling as if they were lit up with Christmas lights — it was like nothing I’ve seen before!  I mean, I remember our backyard being filled with lightning bugs when we were younger, but this was like a lightning bug invasion!  It was so enchanting, that it gave the impression of being in a secret garden.  Though we weren’t in a secluded place, per sey, it’s like a little oasis in the middle of our city, and the lightning bugs definitely added to that effect.  Though this may not be a direct translation of what a secret may be, I like the meaning behind this image, in that it’s from our secret family nature viewing spot, and it has the charm of a fairytale type garden.  And to my parents’ scoff — they may have been right about taking pictures of lightning bugs.  I got it, but it was tough, even with the long exposure, and took a little editing on my part.  So enjoy our secret photography spot, with complimentary lightning bug invasion, and secret garden feel. Be sure to give it a look at full size, too, so you can see all of their little lightning bug flashes 🙂

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, so it was kind of dark, and not stormy, though another winter storm is apparently coming through tonight (very unenthusiastic “yay”).  Though I was hoping that the weather would cooperate, which it did in the way I was hoping, I didn’t think the cold would have such a bad effect on my camera.  I trudged out in the cold and ice-covered snow blanket which is my parent’s back yard, and after only snapping a few pictures, my camera stopped working!  Terrible.  Luckily, it was just the bitter cold, and nothing permanent.  Literally the moment I went inside, it was working just fine.  So like me, I suppose my camera prefers the spring/summer months, and wants nothing to do with this never-ending winter that we’re having.

So, even though the picture of the moon has nothing to do with this week’s challenge, long exposures, it’s what I started with for the night.  Not the greatest of pictures, but I’m happy with it being my first successful, and detailed, picture of the moon.  You can even see the craters — how exciting 🙂  In reading countless articles on how to successfully capture stars and star trails, I was surprised to come across an article describing how to successfully capture an image of the moon; you need a fast shutter speed.  It’s contrary to what I would have always thought, since naturally, when shooting at night, I would always be inclined to have a very slow shutter speed, but the logic was there.  Taking a picture of the moon is like taking a picture of the sun — it lights up the night sky, so in order to get any type of detail in  your image, you have to account for the enormous amount of light it’s reflecting, even if it is dark outside and it doesn’t appear that way.

So once I got that pic, I moved on to the true task at hand.  I was determined to get some star pictures, regardless of what my camera had in store for me.  Even though they aren’t the Milky Way in all it’s glory, there are stars in these pictures!  With the amount of light pollution in the neighborhood, it’s nearly impossible to get a quality image with the details of our solar system.  When you figure in that my camera needs a sweater or something to function for more than five minutes in this winter weather, it looks like things are really impossible….until it warms up outside.  Until then, I’m happy with finally capturing some stars in my images, even if it did take a little more post production work than I typically like to do.  Summer time, I’ve just added one more reason to the list of why I can’t wait to see you again.

Week 8: Long Exposure

I’ve been looking forward to this week!  Long exposures are something I have dabbled with in the past, but by no means would I say I’m proficient in it. I’ve captured some successful images, like my week 1 photos for instance, but I’ve also failed miserably.  This past summer I dragged my poor cousin out to the beach in the middle of the night to try to capture some night/astro pics of this old WWII watch tower in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and just ended up with a bunch of black images and a sore hand from holding the shutter button down for about a total of an hour. I’ve since then invested in a cable release (yay!), and I hope to give astrophotography another try.  I remember how excited I was when I first got my camera that I would be able to take pictures of the stars, but haven’t been able to get them yet. Hopefully the weather participates through this weekend so I can give it another go. If not, I have some more ideas up my sleeves.  I also enjoy the play on lights with long exposures. Check out some images I snapped a two summers ago on my film camera. Glad these turned out — it’s always so nerve-racking waiting to develop my film when I’ve done experiment-ie things!  I don’t know what it is with the beach and long exposures, but these were all taken at Bethany Beach, DE, and the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD.  Seems like when I get left alone at the beach, I get all nostalgic, and start looking for places which remind me of childhood to take pictures of.  I think it worked out well.  I’m glad it was a busy night for both locations, as I really enjoy all the people and objects becoming blurred over the long exposures.  Enjoy!

Week 1: Sparklers!

So in line with the week one task, and per my post earlier this week, I’ve completed the steel-wool sparklers for my “celebration” images!

I had to get a little creative with the construction of my sparklers, since the “recipe” called for the use of whisks to hold the steel wool.  Well, those were about $5 a pop, so I went with the more economically sensible metal skewers.  To my surprise, they actually worked pretty well.  If you want to try it out on your own, just find some metal skewers, take a pair of pliers, and bend them into a spiral shape.  Then take your steel wool, fluff it out a bit, and secure it around the skewer by piercing it, and weaving it along the spiral.  Once you’re all set, tie a rope to the skewer (I found ones with little circular hooks on the end, which were great!), and touch a 9-volt battery to the steel wool to ignite the spark!  You need to make sure that your spark can get plenty of oxygen for this to work; as you can see, our first few attempts were not too successful…

hmmm…not quite…

nope, that didn’t work

…Once you get the hang of it, however, you can get some pretty awesome results!  I found that the more stretched out the wool is, the more sparkles you’re going to get.  Once you’re getting to the end of your sparkler, or if you didn’t separate the wool enough, you get a much more solid line when capturing the image, which still provides some pretty interesting effects.  To get the “trail” effect of the sparklers, I took all of the following pictures at a somewhat long exposure of 4 seconds, and at an f/4.5, which I think turned out pretty well!  It allows for just the light of the sparklers to be captured, while leaving nearly all of the background completely dark.  Check it out!

I had a great time doing this shoot, even though, as you may have noticed with the snow on the ground, it was freezing outside!  That did work to our advantage, though.  If you give this a try at home, be careful!  Pieces of the wool will fall/fly off as it’s being burned and twirled around, which can be a fire hazard, so be prepared, and wear something that you won’t mind getting burned (you know, just incase you’re a little clumsy and hit yourself with it!).

Party's over

Party’s over

Thanks to my friend Paulette, who I always somehow convince to help me with my photo experiments.  Looking forward to taking more pictures in week two!