2016, It's been an interesting year

Holding Back the Day
This year started out rather confused when it came to my hobbies and things that I was wanting to do.  On one hand, I was coming off of one of the most successful cycling years I had ever experienced, but was tired of the training that I had put myself through.  On the other, I was changing my job function at work which meant that I was trading in my patrol car office for an actual office inside of a building.  Yep, I was going to be driving a desk after 16 years with the department.  This was a very good thing for both me and my family.  It also came with some bare walls that needed to be decorated.

With the cold weather of winter, I had reduced my cycling to shorter rides, and only on days that I could manage the cold.  On other days, I was starting to get back into my photography again with the hopes of getting some new pictures that I wanted on the walls of my office.  Funny how things go full circle, since I originally got into photography to dress up the walls at home.  Well, I was getting out occasionally, but found myself going to the same old places over and over that I have for years.  I was actually taking many of the same pictures as I had done over and over.  There was not much excitement for me, until I made a trip to Hanging Rock and shot something completely different.

Braided Knot
This simple old, fallen tree on the way to the Upper Cascades caught my eye.  When I printed out the proof and showed Toni, she immediately fell in love with it.  I liked it, but it wasn't all that great in my mind.  She told me to get that printed out as a 13x19" and get it framed for the house.  OK, why not.  It wasn't what I would really want, but what the heck.  When I printed it out, I was amazed at the detail and textures.  I fell in love with it, and that love was even stronger once it got framed.  I could then see what she saw in the picture, and I was impressed.  It was this printing, and framing that really motivated me to do a bit more with my photography, and I had hopes of finding some really good pictures to put up in the office.

Fast forward to January 1st, when I was out riding my bike once again, putting photography on hold.  I didn't mind, the plan was to be a photographer when cycling wasn't possible (cold, wet, nasty days).  I got my 62 miles in on New Year's Day like every cyclist was supposed to do.  I felt great for having done the ride, but somehow I felt like I had pedaled the day away.

When Toni and I went on our anniversary trip to West Jefferson, I took my camera as I usually do with the intention of getting out for some pictures in the mountains.  We made several long trips around the area and I had fun with my camera, but I still didn't have that excitement that I was wanting to feel.  My photographs felt forced for lack of a better word.  My goal was still to find pictures for my walls in my office though.  I didn't find that picture...Toni did.

Rust and Splinters
There I was driving around, minding my own business when Toni yells out something to the effect of "How about that barn?"  It was too late, I had gone past it and missed it entirely.  I asked if it was worth turning around for, and she said that she thought so.  When I saw it, I was so happy that I had turned around.  It was perfect!  Set underneath an evergreen backdrop with a little bit of a snow flurry falling.  There was a fence keeping me off of the actual property, and the road was under construction, so there were orange barrels all around, but that didn't keep me from grabbing several different views of this old barn.  When I got home and processed the picture, I knew right then and there, I had one for the office.  Now, I was experiencing the excitement that I love so much with photography.

Unfortunately, the rest of January kind of piddled out photographically.  I was getting out, but I wasn't seeing near the success I was wanting to see, and the excitement was dwindling once again.  I was still doing a good deal of bike riding, but it was mainly on the trainer inside, since it was getting much too cold for me to ride outside.  At this point though, I was more going through the motions on the bike, and my heart really wasn't in it any more.

In an odd twist, Toni and I decided to go out to the Outer Banks in late February since we both like the beach in small doses, and without much in the way of crowds.  As you would expect, I took my camera with me, but found myself jealous of Toni who went out running in the mornings.  I kept thinking that I should have just brought my bike with me since early on in the trip I was not really liking the pictures I was getting.  Then the last morning happened...

Outer Banks Reflections
The sunrise wasn't all that great, but knowing what I could do with a camera made up for the shortfalls.  I pulled out the long lens to compress the sky and take advantage of all the color that I could, and slowed the shutter down to smooth the ocean.  This was more what I was looking for.  I was still wishing I had brought my bike, but I was now happy I had brought the camera.  Once I got home and started going through the pictures, I found a number of them that I really liked.  I was happy now that I had brought the camera and not the bike.  Yeah, I know, I'm not good at committing am I?

It was nearly another month before I got out with the camera again.  If memory serves, I was suffering some artist block, and was just unable to think of what I wanted to photograph.  Of course, that pushed me back to the bike again, and with the temperatures getting warmer, I wasn't really complaining.  On the last weekend in March, it was raining and cold, and I was tired of being on the trainer, so I decided that I would take off and head to South Mountains to photograph the white water.  It was largely a bust, and I didn't really get excited about the outcome.  There were some decent pictures, but something just wasn't clicking between me and the camera.

I found myself thinking less and less about photography, but I wasn't wanting to give it up.  I just ended up spending more and more time on my bike.  I traveled some 5,000 miles over the course of 2016, stopping occasionally to go out with the camera every other month or so.  I just wasn't really happy with what I was bringing back from these trips.  To make matters worse, I was having a very hard time with my prints having some very strange color casts on a good many of my proof prints.  It was less of a problem when I printed through Photoshop, but it was still discouraging to have a nicely balanced image on the screen which printed through rose tinted glasses.

Several things happened toward the end of summer which greatly changed my direction as a photographer.  The first thing that happened was I decided that I would enter the Dixie Classic Fair as I had done in years past.  I had no idea what I would enter, but for some reason, I really wanted to participate again.  The second thing that happened was my computer crashed.  Yeah, that sucked!

Since the computer was nearly 10 years old, I really didn't want to upgrade the hard drive.  My only option was to buy a new one.  Since I was still dabbling with photography, I decided to find a computer that would be able to handle photo editing a little easier than my previous one.  With Toni's blessing, I shelled out a nice chunk of change to get a new computer with all new software since all of mine was designed to run on Vista.  My biggest challenge was whether or not to upgrade my Photoshop to the Creative Cloud.  Ultimately, I did.  I also got Lightroom which I had heard about but never used.

I'll be honest, the Creative Cloud programs sat idle on the computer for a while before I went out and got some new pictures.  Wanting to get familiar with Lightroom, I set out one afternoon to shoot a barn which I had done several times before.  This was not so much about getting a great picture as it was about really trying out the new software from a capture to print workflow.

Dairy Barn in the Summer in B&W
What I found while I was at the barn was, I just didn't want to shoot the same old compositions here.  I was used to going with a wide angle lens and shooting it up close and personal.  This time, I refused to do it, and I really don't know why.  I fitted my long 70-200mm lens and stepped back.  I had tried many times to include the white fence in this picture, but never really liked the outcome.  The scale was always off.  With the long lens, however, things came together perfectly.  I had the picture I had always wanted.

I was excited about it when I got home and tried to edit it in Lightroom.  That was a mess!  I had no real idea how the different sliders worked, but I fiddled with it for a while and then gave up.  I brought the picture into Photoshop and started to work it there, but found that I was liking what I had in Lightroom better...so, I went back and started over in Lightroom.  I ended up with a photograph that I really liked in color, until I printed it.  Again with the odd color casts.  I removed those, and printed it again, and it was tolerable, but not quite what I was looking at on the screen.  To get around this, I did a B&W conversion which looked great and it printed out decent too.

Overall, I was happy with the day, and had a couple of really good pictures which printed out marginally well.  In fact, I was considering outsourcing the printing to see if maybe my color profiles were just jacked up.  I wanted to see this print done as a large print, but wasn't really wanting to see it from my printer, LOL!  I was feeling defeated in the middle of feeling happy.

I spent the next few days looking at different YouTube tutorials on Lightroom, and reading all I could about it.  I was finally able to make sense out of most of the controls in Lightroom, and knew what they could do, and the limits that they could be pushed.  As a slight bonus, I was also searching out the issues that I was having with the printer.  I found my answer, and it was one that I had known all along, but had thought I had already addressed it...disabling the automatic color management.  Well, I now knew how to properly do it, and I was looking for a test subject.

Since, I was mostly displeased with the print of the barn in color, I tried that with the new color management and found that it was spot on accurate with what I was seeing on the monitor.  This was amazing...I had finally fixed a problem which had vexed me since getting into print making at home in 2008!!!  I was on a roll, and now armed with a much higher quality of print.  It was time to start deciding on what to enter for the Dixie Classic!

Well, I had my B&W entry already set with the picture of the barn.  I just needed to find a color picture that I could enter.  I was going through my recent catalog, but just couldn't find the right one I wanted to put in for a competition.  I needed one that would appeal to a majority of viewers since I didn't really know who was going to be judging.  I decided to try putting my new found understanding of Lightroom to the test and and go back for a rework of a previous image.  I went through my old RAW negatives and found one that I really liked from a compositional standpoint, but had given me a terrible time with exposure latitude.  I imported it, and started to do the edit.  It looked awkward at first, but as I started to fine tune things, it all started to come together.

Down to Earth
I don't think that I have ever posted a RAW image before, but here is the original image shot in 2014.  When I saw the difference that Lightroom had allowed to the details, my heart rate soared.  This was going to be my entry for the Dixie Classic Fair.  Knowing that my printer issues were more than likely fixed, I went ahead and threw caution to the wind and set it to print for the first time as a 13x19" print.  This was a bold move since it costs a fair amount to print at this size, but I was feeling bold that night.  When it rolled out of the printer, I was absolutely amazed at what I saw.  It was excellent in every capacity, and I was beyond excited to get it framed.

It was this photograph that really changed me as a photographer.  While I still don't care for massive post processing, I have learned to embrace what the camera is actually capable of doing.  The exposure latitude of my 5D Mk3 is much more than I had given it credit for in the past.  I was now able to look at scenes differently, and had a much better chance of presenting what I had seen.  Between the post processing abilities and the print making, I was now fully realizing the process that I had been striving for.  I felt like a photographer!

In October two things happened which went a long way in supporting my evolution as an artists.  First off, my two entries in the Dixie Classic both won first place awards in their class.  The second was after a trip to Virginia, I posted the new pictures online, and the very next day I went to work a dear friend of mine dropped by my office and made a surprising request that I wasn't expecting at all.

Blue Ridge Autos
After talking about some of my photographs, and discussing the handful that I had on my wall, she said that she wanted a print of the old cars lined up under the tree that I had just done.  Wait...was she...did she just...YES, she was wanting to buy one of my pictures, and not a small one either.  She was wanting a 13x19" print.  Holy cow, things were starting to really come at me fast.  I got it printed out, and delivered in about a week.  I was so excited to see this one printed out big.  Since it costs me to print like this, I don't do it often, so I love having the opportunity to see them, even if I don't get to keep them.

While I hadn't been in the business of selling prints for several years now, this was a mixed blessing for me.  On the one hand, it meant that my art was speaking to others once again, and that was great.  On the other hand, it meant that people would be wanting my art to hang on their own walls.  For an artist that is a scary proposition on many levels.  I started to wrap my mind around that, and slowly started to gear photography back in the direction of sales without trying to be a salesman.

Racing Towards the Sunrise
With Fall upon us, I had to make a choice.  I was either going to continue riding my bike and keeping up with my training, or I was going to focus on my photography.  I was seeing that when I tried to do both, I ended up finding all the excuses in the world not to do either, or to only do one.  It had been quite some time since I really hunted down Fall colors, so I decided that this year was going to be different.  It started in late September when Toni and I went to Brevard in hopes of finding the early color at the higher elevations.  That didn't really work out all that well, but I did manage to get out for a few sunrises that weekend which again showed me the power of Lightroom.  I was all set for the month of October and had my plan on where to be and at what times with the hopes of finding the color as it peaked.  The problem was, the drought that happened seemed to really mess up the timing of the season, and the colors didn't do quite what they were supposed to do...but that's nature for you.

Mountain Red Head
I went out every weekend in October regardless of weather.  The most memorable trip happened on the weekend that Hurricane Matthew hit.  It was windy as could be, but the sky was so full of awesomeness.  I spent the better part of the day on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but found very little in the way of Autumn color.  The skies more than made up for it though.  One of the hardest pictures to create came from Laurel Knob, and it was one that I really pushed the limits of the camera on, but found that the finished product looked very interesting, but I wasn't sure if I liked it or not.  In a way, it was kind of like Braided Knot, pictured earlier in this article.  I'll get into that a little more later on.

Things were going so well, and I was really coming into my own as a nature photographer once again.  I decided that I was going to need to learn as much as I could, and find new locations to shoot at if I was going to be successful as a photographer.  After some searching, I found one of the largest regional photographer's clubs, the Carolinas' Nature Photographers Association.  I went ahead and joined and started going to the meetings to learn as much as I could about photography in this area.  One of the first things I learned was photographers in this area go far away to get their favorite images.  Well dang, I can't afford to do that, so I tried to pay the most attention to things that were much closer to home.

Dream Catcher
Still trying to chase the Fall color, I decided to stick close to home at the end of October and try Old Salem.  I've been here many times in the past, and typically shoot the historic buildings, which are usually surrounded by modern cars, and signs that tell about the history.  On this particular trip, I was more interested in shooting the leaves where I could find them.  It was also one of those trips where I decided to break my normal patters by ditching the "normal" lens and using my 70-200mm primarily.  This forced me to consider the compositions differently than before, and ultimately forced the creative process to step in.  One of the resulting images from Old Salem was this one here which was another one of those that I just knew Toni would love.  She enjoys pictures of trees that show their character, and this one did that with a blast of color from the setting sun behind.  I was pretty sure that she would love this picture, and she did...but she surprised me with her request.

Sitting in the living room, she told me that she wanted to change the pictures up and bring some new color into the living room.  She detailed what she wanted to do, and told me that to balance out her beloved Braided Knot, she wanted a new tree picture.  I was thinking that she was going to go for this one, since they were both shot in portrait orientation, but I was wrong.  She wanted the creepy tree I had shot on the Parkway from Laurel Knob.  Well, like I said, I liked it, but wasn't so sure I liked it like that.  But what Toni wants, Toni gets.

Gnarled Centurion
I have to be honest here.  When I printed it out, I saw a lot to like about the picture, but I saw a bunch that I wished had been different.  I was on the fence about it, and it took until the next morning for the inks to settle before I could really look at it.  It was OK in my opinion, but Toni really loved it.  I know that I am always harder on myself than I need to be, so I went with the flow and took it to the framer.

David Card who has been doing my framing for the past couple of years at After 5 Framing was impressed with the picture and worked with me in selecting the right combination of mats and frame to really make it pop.  Since this was for Toni, I went wild with the options and tried not to cut any corners.  I was feeling a bit of buyer's remorse after getting the bill, but I liked what was planned for it.  After a couple of weeks it was ready and David called me and in a very creative way told me to prepare myself for the finished product.  He said this was the best one to date.  And, when I picked it up later that day, I have to say, I agreed with him.  It finally made sense in the frame, and it all came together.  Of course, Toni loved it and was happy to have it on the main wall in the living room.

The story wasn't over with that though.  David asked me if I would consider selling him a print of this old tree.  Heck Yeah I would!!!  He said that this was only the second time that he had wanted to buy a piece of art from one of his customers in all the years that he has been in business.  Talk about humbling!  Well, I went home and printed it out once again as a 13x19", which was signed on the front by request (little trivia for the collectors out there).  I again had that mixed emotion on seeing the print.  I kept picking out the things that I saw wrong with the picture, and that brought me down from the high that I should have been feeling, but David liked it, Toni liked it, and I was doing these prints for them.

Well, I took it to work, and had it laying out getting ready to take to David, and I had several folks drop by and talk to me about it.  One of which told me that he was planning on getting several of my prints for his home and office.  While all of this was going on, I got an email for a print request from my favorite barn shot in Jefferson, Rust and Splinters.  OK, this was starting to get real.  I was actually having to juggle orders in my head. I had one about to be delivered, one being ordered, and several others being spoken for.  It was a stress I was happy for, but again, it was rather scary.

In just a couple of days, I had a formal order for another Gnarled Centurion print from my coworker.  This was now the third time I had printed this particular picture in 13x19"!!  I still wasn't sure I liked it that much, but I was happy to be wrong on this one.  I started to feel like the singer that has that one song that everyone wants to hear at the concerts year after year.  I've got to admit, that isn't a bad problem to have

Well, I had kind of floated around with my photography at the beginning of the year with no intention of making it a serious venture.  There were a series of mundane trips through the year, and then, the computer crashed.  Once I got things up and running once again, I found new inspiration in my craft.  I have not seen the saddle of my bike in months now, and I have been fully involved with my photography.  Not only am I out trying new things with old locations, I am learning all that I can about the art of photography, along with post production.  There are still things that I have no interest in doing in Photoshop because it damages the integrity of the image, but I'm really liking the photo specific nature of Lightroom, and the opportunities that it is opening up for me.

A Bit of Drama
Guarded and Weathered
A Close Race
The Wolf's Cry
In each of the images here, I have stretched what I thought I was capable of as a photographer.  The techniques I have used here have focused on exposure latitude, and really trying to pull the details that were captured by the camera.  I'm by no means  fully proficient, but I have to say that the work that I am producing here in the closing months of 2016 is by far the best that I've done since starting back in 2005.  I have much to learn still, but I'm breaking out of my restrictive molds which have kept me prisoner for so long.

In many ways, I have Toni to thank for much of my success this year.  Whether it is her voice telling me to photograph a certain tree, or her constant support of my long days along the Blue Ridge Parkway, she is always behind me.  I am very fortunate to have her by my side, and am very fortunate that she has an artist's eye as well.  I love you, my Photo Wench!

No comments:

Post a Comment