Of National Parks and Classic Cars

Looking back on the past week or so I realize that I’ve spent a lot of time uploading slightly refined versions of photos previously taken rather than taking anything new. As much as I may enjoy looking back on old holiday snaps, I’ve come to realize over the years that no picture of crater lake…

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… can really do the place justice. While I’m reminiscing joyfully in my head about the place, the rest of the world just says, “oh. lake. Cool…?” Totally understandable. Those determined stalwarts who wish to may check out Crater Lake National Park, Diamond Lake, Oregon, and the Umpqua River. I don’t really expect you to necessarily do so, but as this blog is primarily dedicated to what I’m doing photographically, there’s your answer.

No, what I’m really here to chatter on about is the Zionsville fall festival. As the seasons turn here in Indiana we find ourselves ready to celebrate the coming onslaught of winter. I wandered out see what could be seen on Sunday of last week and ran into a classic car show. I’d rather forgotten how much I adore the visuals at these things. All the wonderful chrome details are just generally dazzling. I need to make a point to get out to more classic car events.

I just can’t get enough of these shiny, gas-guzzling old birds. Even when I was a wee lad I dreamed of owning a 57 Chevy in cherry red. Until, of course, I realized what it would cost to drive a 57 Chevy in cherry red. Ah well.

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And that’s the day that was, more or less. If you’ve got a classic car or anything else that needs photographing drop me a line. I’ll be there with bells on.

PS: Click any photo for a closer look and go look at flickr if you want even more photos.

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Hire me!

In the vein of needing things to take a picture of, I gave in to the pressure of 57 Facebook adverts and signed up for a new-ish site called ‘thumbtack’. It claims to connect professionals with jobs in their field. At worst it’s a site that mines personal information for some sort of nefarious gain. Either way, I signed up. Worst case scenario I don’t have any more gigs than I did before. So that said, go hire me!

Rob Slaven Photography

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On portraits and “Tamelife” photography

If you look at my work at all you’ll notice that it’s quite a lot of random. When it comes to photography, if something sits still I’ll shoot it in macro. If it runs I’ll chase it and if it’s looking back at me then I’ll try to pretend I’m not really taking its picture. I tend to approach all my photography like I’m stalking a wild animal on the Serengeti, even if it happens to be the middle of GenCon and everybody will stop and pose even if you look at them funny.

Despite this general outlook, I still like the idea of taking people’s pictures because they want them taken. For years now I’ve put out the general message that yes I will take your picture, dozens of pictures, and give them to you if only you ask. You don’t even have to sit still because I’m accustomed to that sort of behavior in my subjects, though usually they’re furrier and faster than the average human. On a very rare occasion someone will take me up on my offer and I’ll show up and awkwardness will commence. Having done this a couple of times I’ve come to realize that portrait photography doesn’t really have all that much to do with actual photography, at least not as I define the science of the whole thing. I’m used to having to sneak up on my subjects and work for a couple of hours to catch them at their best whether they want to be caught or not. When you’re doing someone’s portrait though, they do something even more unnerving than run away. They stare back at you expectantly as if to say, “you’re the expert. so now what?” Somehow the desired answer of “Just go about your business and do whatever you’re going to do” doesn’t sit well with people.

This, I think, is a real pity though because it’s those absolutely frank and unposed moments that are most evocative. For example, a few years ago at the Talbot art fair I was behind a dad who had a very tired and very hot child in his arms and snapped this shot. It’s one of those absolutely raw moments but her eyes bore in to me even a year later. This is the sort of thing you get after you’ve let your guard down and stopped smiling the 3rd grade photo day smile into the camera.

I’ll wrap it up because I’m close to coming up on rant status, but I guess my real point is that the good shots happen after your hair is down, your makeup is smudged and you’ve forgotten anybody is taking pictures at all. It’s that moment when you look up and say, “Dad, is it time for lunch yet?” in your best and most expectant face. And that, I suppose, is the difficulty of Tamelife photography. Getting it to revert to its natural state so you can get the best out of it.

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Highlights from August So far…

Things have been quiet around this old blog lately but there’s certainly plenty going on in my head. As of late I’ve been remiss in posting but mainly because I’m going back through my entire photographic history and trying to be more organized and post everything to Flickr. So if you really want to see what’s going on then go check out Flickr. I promise fewer words, more photos.

In going through eons of old photos, I’ve reached the conclusion that I need to be much more meticulous in my post processing. In the past I’ve just gone out, spent 7-8 hours shooting random things and then come home exhausted and spending as little time as possible in getting things up. This, as it turns out, is a mistake. After only a few days I started finding shots that I’d given up on and resurrected them from their graves. Take this one from Crown Hill Cemetery, looking up through the monument of James Whitcomb Riley.

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Before it was rather a washed out mess in the middle. It was one of my “This turned out OK but it could have been better” shots. Just a tiny tweak in post though and it’s one of my faves.

Also, after telling myself for years that I was going to go and really set myself to looking at the State Fair in detail I bothered to spend about 11 hours there for a daytime and an evening session. I’m not absolutely tickled with the results but they’re reasonable I’d say.

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Well, ok, I admit that I’m absolutely amused to the hilt about this batch. I spent an hour or so looking at the people trying to win $200 staying on the mechanical bull. Needless to say, the bull was undefeated but the expressions were timeless.

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I also did a bit of scrabbling about in the yard. This Praying Mantis was wonderfully patient with me on one weekend morning. Couldn’t have asked for a better subject.

Brown Praying Mantis in Macro

At any rate, you can find more of my randomness on Flickr. The photos from this post were from the sets below; feel free to poke around if you have free time.

Crown Hill Cemetery
2013 Indiana State Fair
Insects

Add me as a contact on Flickr and I’ll return the favor. ¬†Always looking for more photos to thumb through in that 10 minutes first thing in the morning when I’m not quite alert enough to safely get out of bed.

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Frank’s Joyride – Reunion Concert

On August 3rd, Lafayette Indiana was treated to a reunion concert from perennial local cover band Frank’s Joyride. Since their formation 25 years ago, the band-mates have drifted apart to various parts of the country but they come together every few years to rock out in front of their fervent and fanatical fan-base. The band describes itself as “Sloppy and you never know when we’re going to come back. We’re the McRib of music.”

Musically, they’re a joy as they hit all the old standards with great enthusiasm. From a photographic standpoint, trying to get any good shots in this venue was a nightmare. Lighting was scarce and the lead singer had a red spotlight in his face the entire night which made post processing lengthy and deeply troubling.

Here’s our red spotlight victim; I finally managed to negotiate his beet-red face down to a cool and shiny magenta. Also didn’t help that I failed to realize early on that I should have been shooting at about 2 stops below my camera’s suggestion.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

The expressions here are wonderful as the band jams away. The guy on the left was perfectly lit in white the whole night.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

I never could wrestle this into anything but the rather psychedelic colors the camera picked up. I pondered a grainy black and white but in the end didn’t go with it.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

See! Like I said. Enthusiasm! He was in the red spotlight for this shot as you might be able to tell. I couldn’t wrestle him down much past a rather pink cast.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

Unaltered, he just looks like his head is going to explode.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

Sometimes you just have to take time to relax even on stage.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

Eventually, they sent the drummer out to sing a song…

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

… but the other two are keeping a close eye on him.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

Moving away from the music for a bit, there are some great images just hanging about in the dark. This half-empty beer glass caught the light just so…

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

After a brief break in the music, the band was back with a vengeance.

From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert
From Franks Joyride Reunion Concert

After playing for 4 and a half hours, the band went back to their day jobs. Check them out when they’re next in town…. whenever that might happen to be.

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The Old Round Church – Richmond Vermont

We had some time to kill in Vermont so we took to roaming the countryside somewhat randomly. One of the things we stumbled upon was a unique church built in 1812 with a round configuration. The volunteer tour guide explained that the church was a combined congregation from several neighboring localities so the shape was rather apropos of the spirit of the place.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

The original construction cost $3,000 and was paid for by sales of the pews. Once you bought a pew, it was yours to sit in or pass down to your heirs as you saw fit.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

If you’re nice, they’ll let you stand in the pulpit and say a few words.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

From time to time they have concerts in the place and a pipe organ was brought in from some other neighboring historical building.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

It looks rather octagonal on the outside…

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

… but it’s round enough on the inside.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

I close with the view from the pulpit.

From 7-31-2013 Richmond, VT

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Vacation, Niagara Falls and the Dynamics of Post-Processing

A week or so ago I took off for the east coast with three intentions close to my heart:

1.  Take lots of photos.  Not just random touristy crap but shots with a sense of artistry in mind.  Shots that make me think when I get back.

2.  Do #1, but be patient and let the art come to me rather than trying to force it.

3.  Make time each day to sit down and write about whatever happened during the day.

As I sit back here in Indiana after a week…. yeah, I have to give myself a complete F-.  I took lots of photos but it was, frankly, lots of random touristy crap.  I wasn’t patient and I sure as shylock didn’t write about anything on vacation.  So here I am a week later trying to piece together the fragments of a vacation that, admittedly, was a lot of fun, but left me with more bullet points than I started out with.

One major addendum to #2 has been opened and it came to me as I sat at the kitchen table processing photos from the trip.  I realized that I was in some sort of bizarre race with myself to just put out product.  Like a McDonalds fry cook I was pushing out identical hash browns rather than trying to savor the details.  I recall during various points in the trip that I was shooting for the purposes of HDR but when I got home I couldn’t be bothered to actually do the processing required.  I’m happy to drive 20 hours across the country to take a photo, but that 60 seconds required to process it correctly… well, screw that.  I have a Facebook audience that demands instant gratification… or… wait… maybe it’s just ME that demands instant gratification.  So here we pick up a #4

4.  Be patient with post-processing, taking hours or days or weeks to generate a quality finished product rather than just a quick one.

What does this mean?  Well, many things.  Sure, you want to take the time to balance everything visually in a proper manner but this also means tagging and adding descriptions and taking the time to put down the words that go with the picture.  Sure a picture may be “worth 1,000 words” but a few scant words go a long way to making those 1,000 “words” much more meaningful.

***

The words I should have written last night about Niagara run somewhat along the following lines….

The night before we drove from Vermont to Buffalo in an bleary 6-hour stretch that lasted until 3am.  We pulled into the hotel in a state of paranoia about whether the desk clerk would have held our room for us so late into the night.  Luckily for our sanity, he had received instructions from his predecessor so we were not unexpected at that ungodly hour.  Mercifully, checkout was not until 12 and we used every minute of that in our beleaguered journey to the land of wakefulness.

Rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we motored onward to Niagara and my impressions of the place warrant another spate of bulletpoints.

a.  When I was a wee lad in the early 80′s traveling with my grandparents, we roamed from west coast to east and the world seemed an open book.  Sure there was kitschy  randomness but it was the exception.  Arriving at Niagara  I was stunned at just how… commercial… the whole thing had become.  My mind wandered to times 400 years previous when Samuel de Champlain stumbled upon the site and discovered this monumental natural phenomenon. It really puts into perspective how much we’ve sanitized the natural world for our consumption. We’ve taken the awesome spectacle of nature and enclosed her in guard rails. It makes a one rather sad, to be frank.

b. The number of languages spoken by the people in evidence here made me want to go back and study my German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Danish with much more attention. We spent many hours wondering “what language was that?” as we walked around listening to the varied cacophony. As a xenophile who appreciates other cultures much more than his own, it was endlessly gratifying to see people from all over the world enjoying the same bits of America which held our attention.

c. The falls is a rather striated locale. On the Canadian side, you have a casino and what looks like the most abundant accommodation. From the American side, it looks like the Canadians really have their shit together. This could be a totally wrong impression since we were passport-less on the American side and thus, completely stuck, but the other side of the river… yeah, it looked like flipping Nirvana. On this side, we had a view of the falls, mostly under construction and a huge 7-story building that someone built without any knowledge of who would actually bother to rent space in it. The first floor is a souvenir shop worthy of any good flea market and the second floor is a “made in America” shop that offers t-shirts and random unsavory food items. I’d heard that the Canadian side was “better” but I had no idea it was this unequal.

d. The American side of things offers several “attractions” for an extra fee. For $15 a person you can go out on a boat and get closer to the falls. This is the “Maid of the Mist” that’s been running for ages. The boats do go fairly close to the base of the falls and I guess… well, we didn’t choose this particular option for our extra $50 but it seems like it would be tolerable. We chose instead “The Cave of the Mist” in which you can walk up a wooden stairway and get right under the hellacious torrent of the falls themselves. Part of me is disappointed that they did this at all really. They took a natural wonder and put stairs under it after all. Another part of me … well, the part of me that stood there under the falls getting drenched was delighted by the idea. It should be noted that I intentionally didn’t take my camera to “The Cave” because of the risk involved in taking $2,000 worth of camera equipment under a waterfall. As it turns out, except for the “Hurricane” platform, my camera would have been fairly safe.

Alright, all that diatribe was pursuant to waiting for the upload to finish so let’s get on with the photos.

I was surprised… and yet not surprised… at the crowds. It wasn’t terrible on a weekday but it wasn’t exactly intimate.

From Niagra Falls, NY

It is truly amazing to think that this small overlook is the juncture between two huge lakes, one emptying into another. What’s more, it’s been a focus of human attention for millenia. No matter how the tiny humans may scurry and worry, the Earth carries on in its well-worn groove. Makes one feel more than a bit insignificant.

From Niagra Falls, NY

What strikes me here is the rocky profile under the water. For tens of thousands of years, water has poured over this rocky decline. Yet this sharp point persists, resisting a million, a billion tiny nibbles from every minuscule particle of sediment that made its way over the falls.

From Niagra Falls, NY

The Canadian side has high-rises, a casino, even a Burger King. The American side…. well, it has a flea market. I’m not exactly sure what that says about us, but taking away all that, it is a truly epic sight.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Here are my three traveling companions for the trip.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Ahhhh, the observation deck… This also leads to the “Maid of the Mist”. That attraction costs $15 per person. Luckily, the organizers were nice enough to offer a $1 trip down just to look around. This is what we paid for. It was a $4 well worth it. Not sure $60 to go out on a boat would have been similarly well received.

From Niagra Falls, NY

From the observation deck, I recalled the intent to capture the falls “as if frozen”. This is my attempt at 1/1000 of a second. Doesn’t look much different from the standard.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Here are the “Maid of the Mist” crowd.

From Niagra Falls, NY

One has to admit that taking a step back, the whole area is pretty phenomenal. This has been going on, pretty much as it is now, for thousands of years. Those glaciers did us a favor. Whether you believe in God or not, this is not a place to be taken lightly.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Looking the other direction, we have the bridge to Canada.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Laura is always chippper….

From Niagra Falls, NY

I leave you with the awesome majesty of the falls. Pounding on and on for centuries.

From Niagra Falls, NY

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