New Directions

As of today, Visual Notebook is at a new location. Please click the link below, and if you have a link to Visual Notebook on your blog, please make the appropriate change.

http://www.johnstrongarts.com/blog

Buick_Roadmaster

 

A Cat Lover

Cats, Nikon D610, Nikkor 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 200mm, ISO 100, 1/200 sec

Cats, Nikon D610, Nikkor 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 200mm, ISO 100, 1/200 sec

There are people who love cats, like me, who have been around cats most of their lives and gain a spiritual sustenance from them.  And then there are people who immerse their lives in cats, surrounding themselves with them and with the knick-knacks associated with the feline world.

I pass a little brick duplex on the way to work nearly every day.  For a long time I never gave it a second glance.  Then I began looking the unusual on my daily commute; after all, this was an older neighborhood and houses built back in those days had a distinct, unique look.  I noticed the cats ornament on the side of this house and as the days passed I paid more attention to it.  I realized that the ornament had a aged look to it – rust creeping in from the edges.  I noticed the little items on the window sill, and the decorations hanging in the windows.  Cats.  Lots of them.  The more I noticed, the more curious I became.  Everything looked old – really old.  And I never saw any signs of life – no real cats in the area or in the windows.  No humans either.

Whoever lives (or lived) there, clearly loved their cats.  If you look closely at the photo above, you can see no less than 10 cat related decorations in and around the windows.  That’s just the side of the duplex.

I wonder about the person living there.  I picture a little old lady, hunched over as she walks slowly from room to room,  now living alone, whose years have disappeared behind her and left her with just this small house, and these little items adorning it.  Items that, like her, are slowly decaying, eating away the time left.  Her real cats are long gone but yet she’s surrounded by the memory of mewing, purring, affectionate felines.  Her priceless friends.   Life is dwindling now – she’s past even the autumn of her life and is simply living with her memories.  A fate that awaits many.

I’ve thought about knocking on the door, meeting the person who loved cats, but my vision of that person would no doubt be shattered by reality.  I prefer my melancholy, endearing  view.  But, driving by that house everyday is now an event I look forward to. Will I see someone there? Some sign of life inside those dark windows?  Melancholy.  It’s really the only term that describes the feelings generated its appearance.

One day I’ll drive past and the ornaments will be gone, the house swept clean, to be replaced with some young couple just starting out, dreams and aspirations fresh in their heads.  Their future will be wide open.  Will they make the ‘right’ decisions in the coming years? Will they move up in life?  Will they develop an affection for animals?

Will they love cats?

Just a Couple of Photos

La Cour, Nikon D600, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ f/4.5, ISO 100

La Cour, Nikon D600, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ f/4.5, ISO 100

Well, now that I’m back from the “Amazon” and have rested up a bit, I can return to the really serious business of posting insightful, incisive blog posts accompanied by layered, thought provoking images that have people talking for days.  Or not.

Blue Door Dolphin, Nikon D610, Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 @ f/4.0, ISO 500

Blue Door Dolphin, Nikon D610, Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 @ f/4.0, ISO 500

I do have a couple images to post, but we’re in the middle of what seems like the mammoth undertaking of moving our offices a few blocks away.  The result – no subject matter for this entry, because my gray matter has grayed out on me.  These images were taken along Lincoln Street here in Denver – I see these houses everyday as I drive in and have wanted to get some shots of the colors.  The theme obviously is blue – or perhaps it’s just a coincident.  I will have a few others in the coming weeks from this route, but this is all for today.

Thanks for reading!

Is this the End?

The drums had been beating all day, the heat blazing sweat at each turn along the narrow, almost non-existent trail.  The jungle grew tighter, more claustrophobic as I ran; as I had been running for hours.  The insects ceased to be a bother – my problems had grown.  A different beast had taken an interest in me; a deadly interest. The hunter had become the hunted.

I stumbled on an exposed, wet, slick as oil root, and I tumbled through the underbrush, oblivious to the alien cries of tropic raptors (okay, it was a bunch of birds startled at my klutziness…happy?).  I sat up, half in anger half in embarrassment, and half in indignation.  Looking around I saw nothing except green. Then I stood up.  The squawking  birds were settling into a distant tree

Brushing myself off, I paused.  What was that sound?  I froze.  Nothing. A breeze whispering through the underbrush.  Except there hadn’t been a breeze around here in seemingly forever.   The drums had stopped.  The jungle was quiet.  The heat, sweltering, the sun, relentless, the air calm as the recently deceased.  And me.  Standing in the furnace, listening.

A rustle.  Off to the right? No, behind me.  Is that breathing?  I take out my camera in case I have to shoot something.  The battery’s low – very low, indicating enough power for one or two shots.  What next?  A filled memory card?  I look.  One shot left.  Thank the heavens!

There’s a low growl off to the left. I wheel around, camera ready. Then there it is, the sound I’ve hoped not to hear – the roar of the extremely rare Norwegian Forest Panther (indigenous to the Amazon…go figure).  He’s stalked me for days and now, here it is – the final showdown.   I raised the camera trying to get a shot off.  The last thing I remember before the darkness was something rushing towards me, my camera lifted, but auto-focus was off.  I think I groaned.

***

Article found in a recent edition of the Amazon Daily:

“Intrepid explorer and photographer Jstrong has gone missing.  The photographer was searching for the elusive Norwegian Forest Panther (indigenous to the Amazon – no, really!) with the hopes of landing a spot on the Ricki Reservoir show.  The popular talk-show host denies sending Mr. Strong on this wild goose chase, saying “there’s always a spot on my show for J”.

All that was found of Mr. Strong was his Nikon D610 camera. No signs of a struggle, no blood, no hairballs.  The memory card was filled, mostly with photographs of crabapple blossoms, but with one exception.  The last photo was of what’s obviously a cat.  But is it the Norwegian Forest Panther (indigenous to the Amazon – yes, I’m quite sure)?  You be the judge.”

Last Exposure - taken from the camera believed to be JStrong's...is this a photo of the "Beast"?

Last Exposure – taken from the camera believed to be JStrong’s…is this a photo of the “Beast”?

 

In the Headlights

Crabapple Blossoms #1

Crabapple Blossoms #1

Spring, that is. Spring is in the headlights.  The first little hints – certain smells, the days lasting a bit longer.  It’s coming – soon.  And in honor of what we’re about to enjoy for the next couple months, I’m posting this series of crabapple blossoms photographs.  You can almost smell their rich, sweet aroma.  The sound of bees buzzing – and buzz this tree they do.  It’s audible from 20-30 feet away.

 

Crabapple Blossoms #2

Crabapple Blossoms #2

 

Crabapple Blossoms #3

Crabapple Blossoms #3

It’s a wonderful time, the transition between winter’s harsh realities and spring’s green promises.  It’s the transitional times (winter-spring, spring-summer, summer-fall, fall-winter) which are the most appealing.  One season giving way to another, inevitably, inexorably.  They provide great photo opportunities, and excitement at the upcoming season.

 

Crabapple Blossoms #4

Crabapple Blossoms #4

That’s why I like living in Colorado – we get all four seasons, but even in winter we’ll be surprised by 60 degree weather that helps lessen the severity, and even in the height of summer we’ll be surprised by 60 degree weather.  Snow too.  I work on the 27th floor of our office building – two years ago, in July, we had snow swirling around us here on this floor, while below, it was rain.  Very cool.

Crabapple Blossoms #5

Crabapple Blossoms #5

It’s time to start firming up plans, instead of just dreaming about them during the cold hibernation months of winter.  Moab? Toadstool Park?  Grand Canyon?  Monument Valley?  All places I’ve been (except the Grand Canyon) and all places I could visit again and again (except the Grand Canyon, which, of course would probably be a place to visit numerous times).  What can I reasonably expect to fit in, what with doing craft fairs, pet photography and now people photography?  I could be stretched kind of thin.  But, thin in a good way since it’s involving photography.

 

Crabapple Blossoms #6

Crabapple Blossoms #6

 

Few things give me more pleasure than the release of a shutter – especially a DSLR with its mirror slap.  It’s a satisfying sound, much like the feel of a well-struck golf ball, or baseball.  I’m in a different world when I have my Nikon in hand – I look at things differently.  And I’m a more confident me when I’m shooting photos.  (Though I’m still a chicken-s&@t about asking strangers if I could make an image of them.)

I hope you enjoy these images and pass the link on to your friends.   And if you’re interested – I’ve offered them through my Etsy store too!   https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStrongPhotos

Thanks!

 

Feather and Feline

Feather and Feline, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.2, ISO 900, 1/160 sec

Feather and Feline, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.2, ISO 900, 1/160 sec

I try not to post too many cat photos in Visual Notebook – though, believe me, I could.  And a lot, too!  I’ve collected about 1500 since we got Cousteau back in June, and that’s what I have now that I’ve pruned a few hundred or so.  I can’t help it.  He’s one photographic cat.  Not only that, sometimes when I’ve been taking pictures of him, he seems to get in the groove and pose.  Seriously.  I click the shutter and he’ll shift to a new position, stop and I’ll press the shutter again. Then, he’ll shift and pose. Click. Shift and pose. Click.  I’ve reeled out 20 or so shots with him doing that.  Shift. Pose. Click.

The photo here was inspired by others images I’ve seen where the real subject is out of  focus behind the sharp secondary subject.  In this case, the feather is in focus and though Cousteau is not, you can tell his interest is concentrated solely on it.  I first saw this interesting technique used several years ago by a photographer on Pbase who produced daily images of his wife in semi-nude, yet tasteful poses.  One photo shows various articles of undergarments in sharp focus with his wife out of focus lying on a sofa in the background.  Your eye begins with the focused object but is then drawn to the main  subject.  Since then, I’ve seen the technique used effectively in a  variety of situations.

Christopher O’Donnell uses this method of presenting photos of Maine landscapes beautifully.  You can check his work out at http://christopherodonnellphotography.com/.   Great stuff.

See you next week!

Playing Around

Violin #1

Violin #1

Sometimes I like to experiment.  I’ll use textures, bracketed photos, toning; anything to try and give an image a bit more impact.  Such is the case with this one.  I’ve kicked this violin image around for a couple of years now, trying a few different things to create an interesting finished product.

 

Violin #2

Violin #2

As you can see from the top image, I simply placed the violin on the carpet in our living room, along with the bow, thinking I’d be able to “do” something with it in post-processing.  And I was able to succeed, but not without some anguish.  Here’s a tip:  if you plan to extract an image from a background (violin and bow from the carpet), make sure you have plenty of separation in the colors and tone of the subject from the background.  In this case a nice green background would have made it very easy to extract.  As it was, the carpet matched the strings too closely and it was a real pain to keep the two separate.  Fortunately, I used Perfect Photo Suite 8′s chisel tool in Its Mask module to assist.  That made it a little less painful.  (By the way, the monochrome image wasn’t post-processed using Perfect Photo, nor did I attempt to separate the background from the subject – I just blended it all!)

The monochrome image was processed in Photoshop – as I recall I was practicing the use of masks and blending techniques and came away with this one.  Not terrible, but not all that good, either.  Two years later I decided to try again and take that carpet completely out of the picture (hehe).  The result is more pleasing (to me at any rate).  I used three images here – The big crack you see is from a wall in a theater in Red Cloud, Nebraska – it also contributes the overall brown tone. Then there’s the image of the music and of course, that of the violin.

 

Violin #3

Violin #3

 

This one I like well enough to offer it to others on my Etsy site (https://www.etsy.com/listing/180395176/fine-art-photography-violin-2-print?ref=shop_home_active_1)  (you know  – if you’re interested!)

One day I plan to return to this subject.  Maybe not with this specific photograph of the violin, but something along these lines.

Look for more of these “blended” images in the coming weeks and months!

Thanks for reading!

 

Nebraska Redux

Brickworks, Hastings, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.5, ISO 100, 1/1250 sec, post-processing in Lightroom 5

Brickworks, Hastings, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.5, ISO 100, 1/1250 sec, post-processing in Lightroom 5

Another couple of images from my visit to Hastings last week.  This is the chimney from Brickyard Park – where, at one time, Hastings produced more bricks than any other town in Nebraska.  Now we have this chimney and some remnants of kilns as the only reminders.  From what I’ve read, there were four companies making bricks in the early 1900s – I’m not sure what, if anything remains from the other manufacturers’ facilities.

 

Elevator, Hastings, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.8, 1/4000 sec, ISO 100, Post-processing in Lightroom 5 and Perfect Photo suite 8

Elevator, Hastings, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.8, 1/4000 sec, ISO 100, Post-processing in Lightroom 5 and Perfect Photo suite 8

The elevators you see here are in Hastings, about a block away from the train station.  No longer used, at least not for grain storage, they too are slowly disintegrating under the remorseless progression of time.

Like many towns on the prairie, Hastings was founded based on the needs of the railroad and was boom and bust based on the railroads.  A second chance presented itself when the interstate highway system was being built.  Unfortunately, it was constructed about 16 miles north of Hastings, giving Grand Island the next boom – Hastings was left languishing and slowly dying.

However, there has been the first hints of rebirth here – a small, but growing art district anchored by Graham Gallery has planted its flag.  The Olsen Gallery across the street has stunning photography by Jorn Olsen (take a look – great stuff! http://www.jornolsen.com/).  Around the corner there’s a small spa, wine tasting, a bath shop,  and a wonderful little bakery/cafe (Back Alley Bakery) have sprung up in the past few years.  It would be excellent if Hastings became an art mecca in Nebraska.

Now, if they’d just take down the damn Christmas lights!

Nebraska Visit and 505014 series #4

Grain Elevator, Grafton, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/320 sec, Post-processing in Perfect Photo Suite 8

Grain Elevator, Grafton, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/320 sec, Post-processing in Perfect Photo Suite 8

Made a quick trip back to the old homestead over the weekend.  The weather cooperated nicely, though it was a bit windy at times – which, using the term “at times” to describe the wind blowing in Nebraska sounds weird since it blows pretty much continuously.  It’s like the old joke, “one time the wind quit blowing in Nebraska and everyone fell down”.

Silos, Grafton, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, Post-processing in Perfect Photo Suite 8

Silos, Grafton, NE, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, Post-processing in Perfect Photo Suite 8

 

As always, it’s good to see family and hang out for a while.  This time of year, there’s a lot of snow still around, though it was melting pretty well this weekend.  Of course, there’s a distinct lack of color that remains after the melt, unless you’re really into brown.  We took our usual drive around some of the smaller towns  in the area and I picked up a couple more grain elevator shots, which you see here.  Both of these images are from Grafton, Nebraska, a tiny community of just over hundred residents, some 35 miles east of Hastings.

Additionally, I managed another in my 505014 series, which you see below – this little cream pitcher sitting on the shelf in front of some wine glasses made for an interesting look I thought, with the bright aspect of the pitcher fading into the darkness of the glasses behind and framed in the dark wood.   I’ve included both the color and monochrome rendition, though I’m including the only the monochrome in my series.  I like both, but prefer the monochrome.

Pitcher - 505014 series 50mm4, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 2000, 1/80sec

Pitcher – 505014 series 50mm4, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 2000, 1/80sec

Pitcher_1043, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 2000, 1/80 sec

Pitcher_1043, Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 2000, 1/80 sec

Hope you enjoy the images – if so, please pass the link on.  My readership seems to be dwindling and I’d like to build it back up a bit.  Suggestions welcome (outside of “quit being so boring”)…

 

Here Comes the Sun

Sun and Snow, Nikon D610, Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 @ 28mm, f/5.6, ISO ISO 100, 1/320 sec

Sun and Snow, Nikon D610, Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 @ 28mm, f/5.6, ISO ISO 100, 1/320 sec

Sun Communications, Sony Nex 5n, 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 @ 31mm, f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/320 sec

Sun Communications, Sony Nex 5n, 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 @ 31mm, f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/320 sec

 

Couple of quick shots of the sun taken a little more than a week ago – one with my Nex 5 the other with my Nikon D610.  An observation:  optical finder on the Nikon takes a back seat to no electronic viewfinder.  Period.  It’s brilliant, big and beautiful.  But both shots turned out nicely, and in the end – that’s the important thing…