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A Pretty Amazing Place …

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Yes, this is supposed to be a photography blog, but there are no photos associated with this story. The closest thing to a camera I had with me when it all occurred was my iPhone camera, and it would have been useless for this situation.

So would it be okay if this time I try to show you what I’m saying by painting pictures with words?

 

I live in Darnestown, MD. It’s kind of on the edge of suburban Gaithersburg and the still open rural “agricultural preserve” area of Montgomery County, one of the mega-suburbs of Washington, DC.

My house is an old farmhouse, on about 2 equally old acres of land. Much humbler than it sounds. There’s a small porch behind the house looking over the back yard. The back yard is maybe  an acre or a little less of open grass, surrounded by trees on three sides. But it’s not a solid ring of trees.

Sitting on the porch, from the right side there’s a stand of trees going back and then breaking at about “1 o’clock” for about twenty feet, a few larger trees but no underbrush so you can see through to more grass area and the deeper woods of Seneca State Park beyond.

Then there’s a patch of trees with pretty solid undergrowth – you can’t see through it. That’s from about 12:30 to 12:00 coming around counter-clockwise.

Then there’s another open area with an old redbud and a young(er) though steadily growing oak, but clear underneath, opening back onto another uncut wild grass area that goes back into the tree line of the park.

Then at about 11:30 and on to the left there’s a stand of big old boxwoods surrounding an old garden, and the line of trees along the property up around to the left.

Got the picture?

So, this evening near sunset I’m sitting on the porch, deeply in thought about sales and marketing questions, trying to come up with the perfect conversation introduction, when I hear a huffing and puffing and snorting sounding like it’s coming from in or behind that patch of thick trees and brush at right rear, between 12:30 and 1:00.

This ruckus went on for 4 or 5 minutes. Sounded “deer-like”, but unusual for this time of year.

Then it stopped.

One of the younger does had previously just walked halfway up the yard and looked at me, half cautious and half annoyed by my presence. She’s really rough looking – an odd too-light color coat, scruffy like she has mange, thin as a rail with the ribs sticking out. The “humane” result of the anti-hunters getting their way about controlled hunts in the park.

But she walked off and I didn’t see any of the others. They’re usually around in groups of three or four at a time at this time of evening.

Well anyway, about another five minutes after the noise stops, out comes one of the older does walking through the clearing at 12:00 to the left, followed right behind by a fawn, walking quite well, not fumbling around on its new legs. About a foot high, barely taller than the grass. No bigger than the red fox that strolls around having decided he owns the property. About the size of a big, happy,  lazy house cat. But much leaner and livelier.

And it occurs to me – all that huffing and snorting – was the doe, giving birth!

For the past month I’ve been watching two obviously pregnant does waddling around among the herd that makes their home in my yard, coming up and eating at the base of the bird feeder where the birds scatter all the seed in their mad rush to get to the good stuff, the sunflower seeds.

For this one, today was the day!

The little guy will disappear for the next four to six weeks, tucked away deep in the woods until mom decides it’s time to come on out of hiding and learn the ropes of deer life.

Yes they’re pests that I not too kindly refer to as “wood rats”, grey-tan, long nosed, long tailed, carrying disease and tearing up everything. They’re the bane of my garden, and the reason I have to fence every plant I want to have a prayer of surviving.

But for those three months or so, from mid-June to September, it is a blast seeing those little spotted guys bouncing around, acting like – well, like the little kids they are. Even though their parents are trying to devastate my garden while the kids cause a diversion.

But geeze, they’re fun to watch grow up.

Oh, and about 15 minutes later the other pregant doe was at the bird feeder, with three or four of her compadres. So there’s still more to come.

 

And so once again, right in the middle of the daily challenges of making a business happen, I am reminded – life is a pretty amazing place to live!

 

Candid Street Photography and an HDR Workshop at Design4Kids7

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Thursday the Design4Kids group took a break from workshop classes. Each workshop includes an excursion day, giving everyone an opportunity for a bit of sightseeing and the chance to take some photos in a new environment. Along the way we all learn a little more about the area and its people.

The morning saw everyone pile into one of the many water taxis that ply Lago Atitlan, and take the short trip around Vulcan San Pedro to the small town ofSan Juanla Laguna. This small pueblo is the home of many of the local artists and traditional textile cooperatives.

The first thing we see is the result of the torrential rains of a year ago, which caused the lake level to raise by nearly two meters. The water has remained at this new level, and the entire first block of town, previously filled with waterfront shops is now half submerged.

This is a scene repeated all around the lake, and most local businesses have relocated to higher ground and reopened.

There were great opportunities for candid street photography, and the majority of the people here seem quite open to being photographed. Of course there is always the occasional shy subject. The town itself provides a backdrop for creative photography of all kinds.

After returning to our workshop base at la Posada Santiago, Moe Murdock held a great drawing workshop, which was followed by an impromptu mini-class in HDR –HighDynamicRange– photography.

We discussed the entire process of planning your photograph for HDR processing, making the series of exposures and then combining yhem in HDR software.

There are nearly limitless variations of processing options, from very photo-like with expanded shadow and highlight range to the highly graphic look of exaggerated tone-mapping. Of course the kids latched on to the way-out there look right away!

Photos of the day’s activities are posted on the Design4Kids Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/Design4Kids

Tomorrow is the final day of the workshop. The graphic design projects are due, and the lesson plans for teaching the digital SLR camera will be presented. Preliminary work looks very good!

- Stu Estler

Reviewing Digital SLR Camera Basics

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

We’ve completed the first phase of Design4Kids7, reviewing and refreshing the basics of using the digital SLR cameras with the classes.

Since these students have come up through Fotokids for ten and more years, they began with film SLR cameras. Most already have a pretty good understanding of concepts such as depth of field and capturing motion effects, and the exercises they’ve completed are useful to reinforce what they know.

A few need a little more study and practice. The beginning digital camera work at the school uses point and shoot cameras, much like many people like you. While the basics of photography apply to all types of cameras, the step up to the SLR allows a much greater degree of control in applying these concepts.

The concept of the assignment here was to think of ten or more ways to create blur in a photo.

The most obvious, moving the camera and not focusing properly were of course represented, but everyone went well beyond those, usually considered mistakes, to illustrating concepts such as selective depth of field, using a slow shutter to blur subject movement and panning the moving subject.

To see what they’ve been up to chekc out Design4Kid’s Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/Design4Kids?ref=ts

Now it’s time for the classes to put what they know into lesson plans that will allow them to effectively teach what they know to their students, realizing that the young people they work with learn differently than adults.

We’re anxious to see what they come up with!

The Magic Hour

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

We kicked-off the Premier Photo Tours Photo Walk series Saturday morning with a sunrise walk in Annapolis, MD. Our intrepid walkers braved the below-freezing early morning temperatures to experience the magic that only happens before sunrise in the early morning hours.

The sky was mostly cloudy, with just a thin sliver of clear air on the eastern horizon – a near perfect for some amazing colors.

We gathered about 45 minutes before sunrise, and the sky was just beginning to show a bit of color along the horizon. The light changes constantly and quickly at this time of day, and as we talked and set up our tripods to frame that perfect shot we were all aware of the growing color breaking through the thin cloud laver.

While the timing differs depending on your location, here in the Mid-Atlantic we’re on the 38 to 39 degree north latitude, and about 20 minutes before sunrise is when the real light show begins. The reverse is true in the evening, as the last colors fade around 25 minutes after sunset.

The first shot here was at around 6:30am – about 15 minutes before sunrise, as the first wash of sunlight turns the edge of the cloud layer a neon red. Just a few minutes before sunrise the rays of the sun fan out along the cloud. Then, as the sun tops the edge of the horizon, her reflection dances across the waters of the Severn River.

It’s a bit odd that an event that happens every day, as predictable as, well, as the sunrise still causes such an intense sense of awe and majesty. Yet every day the show is a bit different and every minute of the morning the view changes.

We almost felt a bit sorry for all those snuggled securely in bed at that hour, blissfully unaware of the glorious show nature was providing us.

Shaping Up Your Composition

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

We’ve looked at lines and how they create movement or tranquility in your photos. Remember, lines can be literal – the visual edge of something in your picture – or implied, such as the line of sight of a person in your photo.

As we’re approaching the start of the Design4Kids 5.6 workshop in Honduras, everyone is busy putting together our lesson plans for the students. One of the great things about teaching photography is that you regularly revisit and review ideas and concepts that have become second nature, and causes you to see them in a fresh perspective.

With that in mind. I thoug I’d continue on the review of the basic elements of design in photography.

The next design elements to consider are shapes. Just like lines, shapes can be literal objects – formed by closed lined into circles, triangles, rectangles or an abstract – or created by an area of tone or color, or by a pattern of similar objects.

Our minds use shape to help us indentify and understand our world. We recognize familiar shapes and respond to stored emotional responses we’ve associated with those shapes. Creating shapes with pattern, color and tone can cause our imaginations to make similar associations even when the literal subject has nothing to do with the shape. Ever laid on your back in the grass on a warm summer day and looked for familiar shapes in cloud formations?

You can even us shape to cause an emotional response that is very different from what would normally be associated with the object itself. This technique is especially useful to create abstract images from otherwise familiar subjects, and create a dynamic photo from what may appear at face value to be an uninteresting subject.

Keep in mind – the spaces in between shapes are shapes in themselves. Being aware of and using the figure and ground interplay, of the positive and negative space, will give your photos another level of emotional energy.

Remember – each of the tips we talk about here are all part of a complete picture. As you become familiar with them and use them in your photos you see the shift in visual energy.

A great way to practice these different elements to cause them to become second nature in your photography is to take each one and shoot self-assignments with them. This is the technique we use in the Photo Mentor classes and our Premier Photo Tours workshops. The more you practice these elements that combine to create an emotional image the more they become a subconscious part of each photo you see. Your photos automatically improve as you absorb each lesson.

Premier Photo Tours on Groupon!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

OK, I try to avoid crass commercialism here (as opposed to honest capitalism!) but I’m going to put this out there this time.

Those of you who’ve followed this site for some time have no doubt noticed the changes of late. I’m ramping up activity on my travel workshops and local photo walks, and have created Premier Photo Tours as an entity to coordinate it all.

It’s actually a logical outgrowth of the Photo Mentor classes and workshops, with the increased benefit of being able to learn and experimant hands-on in an environment that stimulates your creativity. Having the interaction of fellow phographers also adds to the “brainstorming” and sharing of ideas and techniques.

Well, today and now tomorrow – December 21 and 22 – I’m running an offer as a daily deal on Groupon, the social media buying site. You get the opportunity to try new services and products at significant savings, and we get the opportunity to give you an amazing experience that keeps you coming back for more.

If you’re not familiar with Groupon, or if you’re in a market outside of the metropolitan Washington, DC area, you can see the offer here: http://www.groupon.com/r/uu7103555

It’s a great opportunity to get together, learn and share a bit of photography lore, and meet each other. Even if you’re outside the DC area, think about taking advantage of it for when you’re visiting the area. Plus, I’ve made the voucher good for all Photo Mentor classes as well, and for upcoming travel workshops where we’ll just about all be coming from somewhere else!

Design4Kids 5.6 Honduras Photo Workshop Update

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

We’re just a month away from the start of the Design4Kids 5.6 workshop being held from January 16th through January 22nd, 2011 in Las Mangas, Honduras. The client has been selected, final course content is being completed, travel plans have been made.

The “5.6” number of our fifth Design4Kids Workshop honors the key difference of this event. Unlike the four previous workshops held in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, where photography has been included as a part of the curriculum that was concentrated on graphic design and a graphics project, this week will shift its focus (pun entirely intended) to photography as the primary project.

The kids at Guaruma in Las Mangas, an affiliate school overseen and funded by Fotokids, have been studying photography at various levels, but have little in the way of a graphic design background, and even less in the way of graphics software and graphic design-capable computers. Thus, we felt that our first workshop here in Honduras would be more effectively spent in expanding and refining their photo skills.

The client will be one of the local travel lodges here along the Rio Congrejal, an area emphasizing eco-tourism and honoring its rich and diverse environment. The kids, ages 13 to 19, will learn how to move from simply walking around with a camera to planning , coordinating and effectively executing a photography project for a specific purpose, providing photographs to specific guidelines.

Along the way we’ll introduce them to the advanced capabilities of SLR cameras – their experience up to now as been almost entirely with point & shoot digitals. Take a look at their photos at www.guaruma.org and the Honduras project on www.fotokids.org and you quickly realize that photography is not about the tools but the skills and creative vision of the photographer. They’ve produced an amazing body of work.

As always, I fully expect to come away from this week having gained far more that I give, and working with all these kids is always an incredibly enriching, rewarding experience.

THERE’S STILL TIME!

Although we’re just four and a half weeks away from our kick-off, there’s still time to get involved. We have just one opening still available for a motivated individual to participate as a mentor in the workshop. While having photographic skills is valuable, even more essential is the willingness to give of yourself and a desire to enrich the lives of others. No matter what professional or technical skills you possess, the life skills and knowledge that you impart on the kids here are invaluable to their ultimate success in life. To learn more and become a part of our dedicated crew, email me personally at stu@thephotomentor.com . You can also learn more about Design4Kids at www.Design4Kids.org .

Design4Kids IV Photo & Graphic Design Workshop

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The fourth Design4Kids workshop begins June 17th in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala. This one has been dubbed “The Master Class” and will be made up of the senior students of previous workshops. In addition to classes in photography and graphic design, we’ll have a stronger emphasis on marketing and small business practices ready to be applied to Jakaramba, the design studio born of the workshops and our parent group, FotoKids.

All of the members of the Jakaramba studio will be participating in the workshop. Up to now their clients have been primarily local and regional non-profit organizations, and they’ve worked on smaller projects. We hope they’ll come away from the workshop with a clear direction for the studio and a solid marketing plan, ready to take their business to the next level.

The client for this workshop will be FotoKids itself, and the project a self-published book to be used for promotion and fund-raising. Plans for the he book are to include an overview of the Fotokids project, feature photographs by FotoKids students, and to touch on the beauty and challenges of Guatemala.

Additional customizable chapters will include bios on individual students, coverage of the Design4Kids project and a look at Jakaramba.

Instructors for this workshop will be Design4Kids director Jeff Speigner, teaching graphic design, Cathy Shea teaching marketing, and Eric Lollkema and myself teaching photography. I’ll also be working with Cathy to interject the small business, target marketing approach with her big business marketing skills and experience.

Eric and I will be arriving a week early and making a side trip to Honduras, where we’ll be teaching photo classes for several days at Guaruma, the Honduras branch of Fotokids.

An interesting side note I’ve recently learned is that while it is currently the rainy season in Guatemala, with moderate temperatures and daily storms, Honduras, right next door but on the Caribbean coast, is in their dry season, with hot sunny days and temps near 100! Quite a climate variance in a area the size of the Carolinas!

Check in regularly – I’ll be providing periodic updates during the trip – internet connections permitting.

Shooting in a Winter Wonderland

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Some of the advantages of living in the Mid-Atlantic region are the tremendous variety of recreational opportunities, from mountains to beaches and rivers and everything in between, the beautiful bounty of spring and fall, warm sultry summers.

And oh yeah – fairly short and relatively mild winters . . .

The day after our record-breaking second top-ten snowstorms in the same year, my own little corner of the world is doing pretty well.

Spent Saturday during the storm tackling the shoveling an hour at a time so that by the end of the day when the snow stopped everything was cleared out to the road. Then, about 7:00pm, much to my surprise the plow came through and cleared our street! (I was expecting it today, maybe tomorrow.)

A planned 15 minute photo walk around the block turned into an hour long meet all the neighbors you never know walk, as everyone says “hi” and welcomes the opportunity to take a break from shoveling. Events like this tend to bring people together.

Meanwhile my cleared driveway is now wet as the sun, even at 25 degrees or so, melts all the ice from the surface. And it was only 11:30. By 2:00 it’s dry pavement!

Streets are still covered in a thin sheet of snow, will probably take another day to dry up. Tomorrow’s forecast for above freezing temps, so that should speed things up. But these head-high snow banks are going to be around for a while.

Called my client in Virginia Beach hoping they had just gotten rain out of all this, but they got a couple of inches of snow. Not a lot, but enough that they don’t want their big beach-front home photographed in it. Maybe by the end of the week.

A rare event like this gives an opportunity to get photos that are otherwise simply unavailable. This will give me a little extra for the classes starting this week!

Wherever you’re reading this from, remember, you typically want to over-expose from what your meter tells you by about one stop in snow. And think about your white balance – deep shadows and overcast light tend to make things go blue pretty quickly. You can either adjust for it, or let it go and use it creatively.

Get out there and shoot now. You can’t get these shots in the middle of summer!

Photo Excursion To Panajachel

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Daisy BlogToday the group took a break from the teaching and project work and went for a day trip across the lake to Panajachel. The largest town on Lago Atitlan, Pana, as its often known, is the tourist and ex-pat mecca of the Atitlan area. This makes for a busy and photo-op rich environment.

One on Pana’a attributes is that all three of Atitlan’s volcanos – Vuncans Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman are all visible from the town’s harbor. Heading up into town and all streets are predictably lined with shops offering local clothing, jewelry and all manner of souvenirs. It’s a colorful gauntlet, and if the shops don’t entice you the street vendors are always there with their offerings.

But we weren’t there to shop. Bree Hankinson, who runs the Fotokids program in Santiago, created The Amazing Photo Race for the kids (and the mentors). We teamed up in teams of three and went out into the town to solve a cryptic list of photo assignments. It made for some very creative thinking and rewarding inter-cultural teamwork between the kids and mentors. Not to mention some interesting interpretations and translations of the photo list!

Tomorrow its back to class and work on the project.