Battling the weather for new hiking trails

Since we’ve moved to Huntsville, the weather here has been anything but predictable. As it turns out, we’re in Northern Alabama’s monsoon season and so the rains will be coming and going throughout the day for a few more weeks. What that means for me, is trying to plan a trip out to photograph stuff is damn near impossible. Just the other day I got everything ready to head out the door and in the time it took me to put on shoes, a thunderstorm had rolled in and dropped about 3 inches of rain on us.

Not to be entirely deterred, I decided to get out and do something regardless of the rain situation. So last week I drove up to Monte Sano state park and drove around a bit looking for a trail to hike on. The first one I stopped at, I got rained out of about 75 feet into the trail as the random sprinkling turned into a torrential downpour much faster than I was expecting. I was about to just pack it in and head home, but as I got back towards the front of the park, the clouds parted and I was given a second chance. It’s a good thing I took it as well! I ended up on a short trail that led me to a tucked away Japanese tea house and garden. The rain did come again while I was exploring, but the little tea house provided plenty of shelter for me to wait it out. Here’s some shots I got of that:

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All in all, it’s a wonderful little place and I fully intend to spend much more time there. Next time I’ll probably even take the Yoga mat with me and have a quiet and relaxing afternoon to myself.

On my way out of the trail and back towards the car, I noticed it started raining again, but not on top of me like before. This time it was dry over my head and downpouring about 100 feet into the woods behind me. So I stopped and snapped a few shots of that in a fun little panorama:

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The weird haze you see across the middle of the image is actually just the rain as the sun punches through the trees to hit it. It made for this interesting mist look and I’m happy with how it turned out.

If you’re curious what the weather looks like, I made it a point to bring my camera on our last little family outing into downtown so we could show our kiddo the park downtown (and let her feed the Koi fish). Within five minutes of arriving we were met with this:

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It rained so hard that in about five minutes it raised the water level of the pond from about 3 inches under the lip to flowing up over the top. After that nice five minute rain break, the clouds parted and the rest of the day proceeded as if it never happened. If I hadn’t spent the last four years in Utah watching it go from 55 to snowing to 60 to 35 and raining over the course of 4 hours, this might have shocked me. I am getting used to temperamental weather though, and as long as I can find a source of rain ponchos, I won’t let the weather keep me down!

That’s it for this round. On a more administrative note, I updated the portfolio pages (links at the top) and will be fixing the online store to add in newer products and adjust prices. So stay tuned for more stuff and as always, thanks for reading!
-D

It’s Been A Productive While

I just realized I haven’t posted since April which is much longer than I’d prefer, but I’ve been quite busy! With what you ask? Why with Moving!

You see, the wife had gotten a job offer from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and so we packed up all of our art and books, threw everything else in the garbage and drove 1800 miles from Ogden to Huntsville. The drive itself wasn’t much to write about, but we did make a few stops of varying levels of relaxation or stress. One of which was Memphis, TN. I’d had much higher hopes for the city as I’ve heard very good things about the nightlife and downtown. But, having arrived in downtown, on a Friday Night no less, I was saddened to learn not a lot was happening except for a few of the local bars were packed to the brim. We I still 21, that might have had some appeal to me, but given I’m an old fart now, standing shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of loud and smelly bar people seems like the opposite of a good time.

Instead, I went on the roof of the hotel and took some pictures. Here’s one of the “Famous” Peabody Hotel in downtown:

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You may notice for this post the photos look a little different than my pictures usually do and that’s because I edited them on my phone using PS Express instead of Lightroom. It’s not nearly as good, but for the ability to post a quick shot to IG (which you should follow me on @earthquakephotography) which is all I’ve been doing as of late, it works rather well.

After leaving Memphis, we drove a few more hours where we finally hit our new home state of Alabama:

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I’ll be 100% honest here (so if you work for the State of ‘Bama, take note): This sign is awesome. It’s probably one of the coolest “Welcome to X” signs out there. It’s carved marble with great patina, and has tons of most excellent character. However, it’s not nearly as big as you might be thinking, or all that easy to see. In fact, it’s largely covered by some bushes, behind a typical big-ugly-green-road sign that says “Welcome to Alabama” in the typical shitty ‘road sign’ font. Why would you put up a garbage road sign when you have something or quality and substance nearby? Shame on you Alabama. Shame.

For what it’s worth, the sunsets here are just about as good as they were in Utah. Here’s one from my front porch:

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I’m also quite thrilled to see that Huntsville seems to have an art scene, although upon a quick google search, the hip young people art place is out of business (Boo!). Nonetheless, you can find things like this down the alleyways of downtown Huntsville:

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Hopefully before too long I can get out and do some solid exploring in the area. Until then, hang tight peeps! It’s gonna be a clunky shift …

-D

Starting the Conversation: Suicide Awareness Shoot.

Like many of you out there, I’ve known more than one person who’s been down and out and felt helpless. Sadly, like some of you, I wasn’t there when they were at their lowest and looking for a hand to hold or an ear to listen to their troubles. It’s more likely than not that either you, or someone you know has had a close friend or family member take their own life. For me, it’s happened a little more often in the last few years than I’d care to think about. What hurts most when I think back on the lives of my friends who are no longer with us, it that suicide doesn’t care about what rung of the economic ladder you stand on, what color you are, your religious or even your political beliefs. Deep seated depression, the kind that makes you look at your liquor cabinet and full bottle of pain killers and say to yourself “Well, it can’t be any worse than it is now.” hits people of all walks of life.

But because we as a society are of the utmost level of cowardly when it comes to having difficult conversations or admitting when we need a hand; whether it’s in fear of being labeled weak, or the fear that comes from being rejected by someone we trust enough to spill out guts out too, when the time comes to have a conversation about how someone is really feeling or whether they (or even you, if you find yourself in this place) need some help, we clam up. We make an uncomfortable joke. We stop answering the phone when someone calls. We tell ourselves and our loved ones that everything is “fine” or it’s just a “case of the Monday’s”.

In all reality, suicide is not 100% preventable, but it damn sure shouldn’t be happening with any regularity. So when a buddy of mine posted some photos to Facebook a couple weeks back with the number to the suicide hotline hoping to start the conversation and get people to not shy away from the topic, it really hit me. Reading through the comments in which people were disgusted that he would post such a thing, to say the least, pissed me off. Was his photo shoot the absolute best way to show the ugly and dark side of how people feel right before going over the edge? Maybe, Maybe not. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you saw it. You saw it and it forced you to say something about it. His post if nothing else, was successful on that front.

That being said, I reached out and asked if I could come in to the studio and take a crack at my own interpretation of what that feeling looks like and what I felt may get the conversation going. The hardest part of the whole thing was trying to find someone who would model for, as once again it’s a touchy subject that no one really wants to have rammed in their face. Nonetheless, a most excellent human and good friend of mine stepped up to the plate and absolutely crushed it. Here’s the three shots I’m most happy with:

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Hopefully, my thoughts and intentions come across in the imagery. It’s definitely something I will be thinking about more and revisiting at least for the next little while. In the meantime, know that if you’re reading this (or hell, even if you aren’t), you are loved. If you are considering suicide as an option for you, know there is help. Reach out to someone. Don’t beat around the bush. If you don’t know someone who you think understands, call this number: 1-800-273-8255 or Text Connect to 741741 if you’d rather not speak on the phone. Whatever you do though, ask for help. You are not weak, you are not crazy. Helping and loving one another are what make us human and it’s the only thing that will ensure we continue as a species. Stay Safe, Stay Alive, Keep fighting. As always, Thanks for reading!
-D

Being a kid again: The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

What kid doesn’t love balloons? My daughter, who recently turned six has an obsession with them. Any mildly important date of note whether it’s a birthday, Mother’s Day, Saturday, etc. all days deserve a plethora of balloons to float about the house and eventually become awkward volleyballs for living-room sports. The first of October brought us a similar set of circumstances, except that we couldn’t later take the balloons with us as most of them were larger than our home.

Having run for over 40 years now, the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival is the largest hot-air balloon showing in the world, with most years having over 500 hot-air balloons roll into the sky during the nine day event. Odd as it is, even though I had lived in New Mexico most of my life, I’d never actually made it out to one. So this year we packed up the Jeep and made the drive figuring it would make for a fun way to celebrate the kiddo’s birthday.

While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I didn’t happen to really get a shot that “did it” for me. I had some decent ones, but over all the scope of the festival and my location left a little to be desired. I could have been down on the ground level which is where my wife and daughter were, but I wanted to get a slightly higher position so I could cat a good wide angle shot of the mass ascension (where all the balloons launch within a few minutes of each other). I though a view of the city, and the balloons spread across it would be good, and I didn’t want to take the same photo everyone else was taking either. In the end, here’s what I got, and while it could have been better photo wise, the weekend was enjoyable and relaxing and the Kiddo ended up having a great time. Which is really what matters.

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On the ride back I happened to snap a couple of pictures I was a little happier with including this one:

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I’m actually pretty happy with how that one came out, so the trip wasn’t a total photography bust. That’s all I’ve got for now. There are a few more things in the works, and as I get them together, I’ll be sure to post about them. Be sure to check out the storefront for prints if you see anything you’d like to own! As always, until next time — Thanks for reading!
-D

Bald Eagle Day: Lessons in Zoom.

Saturday was kind of a big deal here in northern Utah as the state puts on “Bald Eagle Day”. What is Bald Eagle day exactly? Well it is the height of the Bald Eagles Migratory period through the area, so the half dozen or so wildlife refuges in the area all open the gates for bird enthusiasts to come out and ogle the birds as they sit around with their metaphorical thumbs in their asses.

I for one, welcome the opportunity to photograph an awesome creature who is much too lazy to move around. It truly makes my life a lot easier. Nonetheless, this day still presented itself with a few challenges. The first of which was an awkward exchange with one of the park rangers for Farmington Bay. Basically, I somehow missed a sign that said I can’t walk out into the snow (mostly because I was looking at the Golden Eagle I was trying to shoot and not the 8″ tall, white sign hiding in the snow. Even Still, given my current setup can only zoom to a maximum of 210mm, I needed to get a little closer to get a shot that wasn’t of just a spec on an indistinguishable tree a half mile away.

In hind sight, I probably should have just accepted that I wasn’t gonna get the shot and moved on. I didn’t though. What annoyed me about the interaction with the Ranger though, was how exceptionally stupid and awful he was about it. Instead of a “Hey, you can’t go out there. Please leave.” to which I would have just left. Instead, I got him honking his horn and shouting at me then trying to tell me that I was scaring the birds with all the noise I was making. I was dumbfounded. Seriously? Me quietly sitting behind a bush in the snow is being loud? Not the guy who was laying into his car horn and screaming like a lunatic? Touche sir. Touche.

Even though that was a hassle, I did get one mediocre shot of that bird, which let me tell you was not worth the nuisance:

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After moving on from there, I decided to leave the dyke area and head over towards the information centers to see if they had set up any sort gimmick to attract the birds that way. On the way I noticed a guy who had pulled over and was shooting something out in the tree line that was pretty far off. Turns out it was a mating pair of Eagles. Neat! I pulled over myself to try and get some shots, but they were just too far off to get anything great. I ended up with these two which I had to crop so there would be something noticeable aside from just trees.

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The quality on the top photo is basically trash. Which is a bummer as otherwise it would have been an interesting shot. What this tells me is I need to explore a tele-converter or a larger zoom lens (something like a 400-600mm). Being unable to really pull in on something of distance is kind of frustrating when it’s the whole reason you’re there.

Of course, the day wasn’t entirely a bust. Over at the nature center, there were a couple of ladies from the nearby Hogle Zoo who had brought out a Peregrine Falcon and what I believe they said was a Harris Hawk. So I chatted with them for a few minutes about hawks and stuff and snapped a few pictures of the two birds.

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I’m not entirely sure why, but Peregrine falcons are the most adorable birds ever. They looks soo stupid and terrified all the time. That poor bird was so done with the day the second he got out of his box.

The last thing I did on my way out and back to the house was stop by and catch a shot of the Blue-Heron Maating colony as I thought it would make a decent image. Once again, I was wrong. The picture itself isn’t total garbage, but because most of the Salt Lake valley has been in an inversion the last two weeks (basically the smog has just sat in the valley due to a lack of wind or weather to push it out) and so our air quality has been worse than Beijing or Hong Kong. What this means for photos is everything is a very ugly grey and super difficult to shoot. You’re basically trying to photograph something through a thick fog which means a ton of post work is required to salvage you images, not to mention the natural lack of sharpness you get saddled with too. That being said here’s that shot:

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Overall, I had a lot of fun, even if the photos didn’t come along as I had hoped. I think I’m going to hold off on trying to shoot birds or wildlife for a while until I can pick up some additional gear to improve my options. As always, until next time … Thanks for reading!
-D

Social Sharing: Or “Why it’s better to just buy twitter ads”

Back in 2014 I wrote up a short write up about a site I use to share my various tweets and Facebook posts called Empire Avenue. This means I’ve been on the site for a bit longer now and after having reread that article which you can read here. I found myself asking why the hell am I still checking in on this thing? Then I realized I don’t really. Maybe once every 4-5 days or so. And for the longest time it seemed like a necessary evil in order to spread the word about my photography. Of course, some painful realizations have been had lately. But it did lead me to ask another question:

As an artist trying to promote your work, are social marketing sites worth your time and/or money?

Aside from taking photos and playing with the kiddo, I spend a pretty decent amount of time online perusing various social media networks. I’m a little bit addicted. Part of the reason for this I think is because I find it’s a fairly efficient way to connect with like-minded individuals or learn something about world events in real time. It is however, a dual-edged sword. Wading through a legitimate ocean of shit-posts, idiocy, and advertising can be a struggle. This presents an interesting puzzle as someone who also needs to market myself in order to spread the word about my various photography projects or works I am trying to sell. This brings me to the point of the post. There is a certain subset of social sites that exist solely for the purpose of self-promotion. Sites that provide a method by which you can share your work with a large and varied group of users who will like, share, retweet, reblog, or whatever, your social media posts to help you reach a new and broader audience.

Unfortunately, it’s a real dumpster fire to navigate. In exploring the quagmire that is these sites, I’ve found a few that I happened to use with some regularity for the purpose of seeing if they’re worthwhile at all. Spoiler alert: They aren’t. From here on I’ll compare two options, give you a run-down of what they claim to do for you, and what they actually do for you. The sites I’ll be discussing are: Empire.Kred and CoPromote.

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Empire.Kred (EAK from here out) claims to be “Social Media Rocket Fuel” and touts its ability to spread your reach amongst a number of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, WordPress, Instagram, and more. EAK which was formerly just Empire Avenue, was recently bought out by “Kred”, which is a social media scoring system similar to “Klout”. The basic premise, is that it will take some status you post then run it and all your interactions on it through a trash algorithm and then tell you whether or not you are internet famous. EAK takes this and goes one step further by allowing you to basically game that score through a “mission” based system. The site presents as an investing game in which you can buy or sell people like stocks based on how internet famous they are. It uses a fake currency called “eaves” which you can purchase with real money that you use to run the missions. Those missions basically allow you to pay another player the fake money so they’ll go and interact with your social media posts. You’re basically buying RTs, likes, shares etc. with the fake money. So naturally, your score reflects that you have a ton of meaningful interaction on your posts even though the people who follow you or share your post will never organically interact with you until you pay them again.

The Pros:

You can get a pretty good number of interactions on a post without having to spend any actual money. This can be helpful if you have a Google Plus profile since Google’s search algorithm factors in to some degree how popular something is on G+. So if you can convince a bunch of people to +1 or reshare your G+ posts, you can actually improve your crawl status. The same goes for sites like Facebook, which uses the like/share numbers as a metric for what appears in your friend’s feeds. The more popular something is, the more likely you are to see it while scrolling through your news feed.

The Cons:

While having a ton of likes and shares is nice on the surface level and may make you feel good about yourself, that feeling doesn’t last long when you remember you paid for them, and those people won’t ever interact with you again until you pay them more. It’s also the case that likes and shares do not equal conversions in any meaningful way. So if you’re trying to sell something, you may get 50-100 likes on a post, but also ZERO of those people will actually buy what your selling.

Another downside with this network specifically is that the user base is small and fairly incestuous. What I mean by that is that there are about 200 active users on the site (people who log in and do something every day). They all follow each other on each of their networks. So if Guy X RTs your tweet, then he is simply RT’ing it to the same 200 people who would have seen your tweet the first time. This means you aren’t getting any new eyes on your feed or your posts. It’s just the same exact people spreading the same posts in a circle. Also, since they are all doing the missions for these, if you are following them, you feed will be filled to the brim with shit-posts and spam. You’ll see the same tweet two to three dozen times. Or you’ll see the same person who just tweeted or retweeted fifteen to twenty things at once. So now you have to scroll past a sea of their inspirational quotes or trash memes before you can get to someone you follow because you enjoy their content.

Wrap Up:

This site is really only for those who consider themselves a “Social Media Guru” and enjoy seeing large numbers of likes and shares and doesn’t care about actual interaction with their content. If you’re one of those people, by all means, sign up. It’s free to do so and in about 4-6 months you’ll have a large enough bankroll of fake money you can start buying those RTs and Likes.

CoPromote:

Copromote as a site works primarily with Twitter, Youtube, Vine, and Tumblr. Similar in its stated goals to other promotion sites, the idea is to spread your content further than it would normally go. However, the vehicle by which it does so is a little different. Like EAK, CoPromote utilizes a fake currency as well, named “reach”. How it works is: I have 430 followers on twitter. So every tweet I retweet earns me 430 reach. I can set up a series of things I like or am interested in, such as art, sports, etc. and CoPromote will then show me tweets from other users inside those categories for me to retweet. Once you’ve amassed some amount of reach you’re happy with, you can “boost” a post, or offer up one of your own tweets for others to retweet (or reblog, etc.). Your reach is then spent based on the number of followers they have. If some person has 1,000 followers, it’ll cost you 1,000 reach for them to RT you. Simple enough.

The Pros:

Thus far this site has reigned in an OK number of shares for some of my twitter posts regarding blog updates (since I use all other social media to feed back to the blog). What I like better than EAK, is that these RTs I’m getting are going out to actually different people, meaning my stuff is spreading in a somewhat worthwhile manner. I’ve also managed to turn at least a small portion of those RTs into blog views which have led to a few more followers. Actual conversions are being made.
The other pro is that I only share from the arts category and I have managed to come across a decent number of things worth sharing. Awesome art projects, canvas prints, tattoo galleries, and much more I wouldn’t have normally found (since I don’t really go looking all that often). While I have only used this site for about half the time I have EAK, I’m pretty sure it’s done at least twice as much work for me.

The Cons:

Of which there are two: 1) The conversion rate is low. Like, really low. I’m talking 5-7% if things go well. 2) The reach system is a bummer for those who don’t have a massive twitter following. Because of this I am required to share 8-10 posts in order to get 3-4 decent shares for myself. Unless I plan on buying a ton of fake twitter followers it ends up seeming like it’s going to be more work than its worth.

Wrap Up:

All in all, it’s a straight-forward, simple system that has proven (albeit very slightly) worthwhile. If you have a twitter account you don’t care about and are using only for the purpose of spamming ads for yourself, this could be a good option for you to generate some semi-organic reach on your tweets.

So there you have it. A short comparison of a couple of promotion tools that may or may not work for you. There are lots of others out there, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but a lot of the other options like Guestr etc. are complete trash and not worth even testing. Over all I myself am likely going to just drift out of both before too long, but I am interested in trying to game them a little first to see what I can do with em. Especially the CoPromote.
I’ll be sure to come back next week and post some more photography related stuff. I have a couple ideas I’m working on, and I want to get out and shoot when it isn’t dumping five inches of snow in three hours.
As always, until next time, Thanks for reading!
-D

The Little Details

They really do make all the difference.

I got the chance to get out and do some more street photography in Salt Lake City last week, and I thought I’d try and apply a few things I’ve read/learned from some actual street togs and see what I could come up with. What all does that entail exactly? Well, to be honest a lot of it was just some interesting tips and tricks on how to interact with people so it wouldn’t be so awkward as I take their photo. Here’s a few I tried out that went OK:
– by continuing to look past someone after snapping their face, they often assume you were shooting something else entirely, so they don’t even ask about it.
– Ask to take someone’s photo then pose them in a few ways
– Snap first, then if they look upset or confused, compliment them on something they’re wearing. The compliment instantly eases tension and makes the subject feel you were more interested in their shirt/hat than their face.

Applying these tricks went mostly well. There were a few cases in which people were still taken aback by me shooting their picture on the street. This one in particular:

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After firing off a few quick shots and moving on as the moment looked pretty personal and I didn’t want to be too disruptive, the guy called out asking if he could at least see the pics. His tone was fairly annoyed. So I tried to compliment him on his suspenders which was a miserable failure. He wasn’t happy about the photos at all. The girl he was with started discussing how they’d just lost a friend/co-worker and so I sat and chatted with them for a few about the guy named Niko who had passed and gave them my condolences. They seemed slightly more at ease as I left.

Unfortunately, this image is just slightly out of focus, or I think it would have been an incredible picture. Part of the goal as a street photographer is to capture that “human condition” or raw emotion on the faces of everyday people. This was perfect opportunity but given the lens I was using and my distance from them, I didn’t get the shot as well as I would’ve liked. Case in point about the little details. In this case, having my focus point set to 3 feet instead of 6 feet caused a blur in the guys face, detracting from the shot.

A similar case of that could be found in this photo as well:

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In this case, the couple had no idea I was snapping their picture, but I was in too much of a hurry to make any sort of camera adjustments. As such, there are some awkward glare spots, and the sales clerk is exceptionally blurry. I would argue the clerk isn’t so big a deal as she wasn’t the focus of the image. The primary focus was to show the guy’s face who had clearly been drug out for shopping by his girlfriend/wife and had no desire to take part in selecting what color bath soaps they should get. It was a classic “Every man’s nightmare” scenario of being drug out shopping. My hope is I can fix some of those things with a little more post work, but the time being I felt I’d leave them as it ties together with the point I’m making.

Finally, the last image I got from that night that came out rather well, was of a young lady closing up the hipster tea place in the downtown mall area. What I didn’t notice on my first pass through the photos was some of the finer details of the image that weren’t her. For example, I ended up snap accepting this image since she was in good focus and the picture came out how I’d hoped it would.

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All in all a fine capture, but on the second look through the images I noticed a couple of things in a similar photo. 1) SHe was still mostly in focus; 2) The register had the full “Have a nice day” printed on it; and 3) the lighting was just ever so slightly different that when I went through and messed with it in post, it actually looked even more like she was closing up for the night.

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Those couple of small finer details I think produced a much stronger image overall. More likely than not I’ll be converting these over to black and white once the final work on them is done. In the meantime, I hope they did a good enough job showing you the difference in what taking those few extra seconds can mean for getting that perfect shot.

That’s all for this one. Until next time, thanks for reading!
-D