Winter Doldrums: Page 2: A Saturday Inside

The winter is a good time for food photography I am learning.  It's cold outside and I just don't get out much with my camera.  Inside, lots of comfort food is blessing our dinner table thanks to Laurie's great cooking.  Recently I've been leaving a camera and a flash in the kitchen so I can take pictures of her evening masterpieces.  The results will be posted in future blog posts, I am sure.

It's snowing. Today is a day to stay inside... except for the 2 hours it took to clean snow off the cars and the driveway.  And actually, I hope to get a day of downhill or cross country skiing in tomorrow which will definitely get me out of the doldrums.

But back to today. See below. This is what it looks like outside, from our front door. It's really quite a beautiful scene. These two cedar trees and the one just to the right can make for a nicely composed winter nature scene, but for the fact that I needed a wider angle lens today.  I've taken this picture many times, but from an angle that eliminates the lamp post along our driveway and the two snow stakes barely visible in the foreground.

This morning, I thought I'd mess up the kitchen all by myself.  I wanted pancakes and found in the pantry an unopened container of gingerbread pancake mix from Stonewall Kitchen.  It had an expired date on it, so I thought I'd try a small batch and throw the remaining mix away if need be.  Well, I am not throwing it out!  I plan to make a batch every Saturday until it's used up.  Then I'll buy so more.  It is that good.

It also gave me a chance to play around with my camera and flash settings. I have pledged to myself that I will keep food photography fairly simple, using a combination of ambient light and a single flash attached to the hot shoe of either my Olympus EM-1 or Sony A6000. I am also using an old white 3-ring binder to bounce light.  Pictures of this set up can be found below.

I set up my camera and single flash to direct light toward the left and slightly behind the food, and to bounce this light back from the wall/ceiling. I "flagged" the flash with a piece of black plastic attached to the flash by two black hair bands.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's how my camera was set up.

The black flag causes all light reaching the food to be diffused by bouncing it off the wall/ceiling.  The light hitting the food will be coming from behind and to the left. The flag eliminates any light from the flash hitting the food directly. In my, albeit limited, experience this reduces any glare/shine/reflection off the food.

Here's what it looks like with the flash bouncing off the wall/ceiling behind and to the left of the food items.

After making the above image, I took my white bounce material (a white 3-ring binder that I found in the trash at my office) and placed it to the right.

Below is the result.  The shadows (example: between the egg and the measuring cup) are reduced. And you can see that the right side of the butter, the egg, and the measuring cup have more light on them.  Also, the label on the maple syrup is lighter.  The mixing bowl in the back remains the same.

To be honest, I am not sure which one I like better.

Crops: before and after using the white surface of the 3-ring binder.
The difference is subtle but noticeable.
The shadows have been reduced and the right side of the egg is brighter in the
"after" shot.


Winter doldrums: How to get some camera time - page 1

My guess is that like most photographers who live in New England, I take far fewer photos during the cold months than during the warm months.  Using the wonderful filtering tools available with Adobe Lightroom, I found that during the last 12 months only 3% of my pictures in total were taken during the three coldest months of the year (I've assumed that would be December, January, and February).  No wonder my shutter finger is feeling some "cabin fever"!

During these winter months I find myself from time to time grabbing my camera and photographing anything, even closeups of stuff around the house.  A recent pizza party at work was fun to take pictures of, but I promised not to post any of the pictures. I understand that. No one likes to see pictures of him/herself eating.

A couple of weeks ago, it was finally time to take down the Christmas tree and pack up the ornaments.  I decided it might be fun to do some macros of a few ornaments, using the lighted Christmas tree as a blurry backdrop.

What made this fun was the hodge podge of equipment I enlisted for the task.  I used a Sony camera, a Tamron manual lens, and an Olympus flash.  Since none of these pieces "talked" with each other, the fun was to get them to all work together (manual mode on all of them is required) to get a "good" image.

Below are two pictures of my set up.  These two images were taken with the wide angle perspective of my cell phone, so the foreground looks proportionally bigger than it really was, and the distances are difficult to guess. The glass front element of the 90mm Tamron macro lens was about 3 feet from the ornaments, and the ornaments were about 7 feet from the tree.  I used F2.8, though this created a depth of field of only about 1/4" according to the app on my cell phone.  This was quite obvious on some of the more three dimensional ornaments. As with human portraits I focused on the eyes.

And here are some of my results:

I really like these.  I get so "pulled-in" by macros, as I see details I wouldn't notice without the magnification provided by the lens. I'd like to do some more of these next Christmas.  A nice little manger/creche scene would be very attractive, I would think.


Reflecting on 2014- Which photos were the best?

I was kind of disappointed when I reviewed my images from last year to find what I think were the "best".  Of course there will always be images that are the "best" as it is a relative term that just means better than the rest.   Actually, the "best" images may not be "excellent" images in an absolute sense.

What I was hoping to find is that the images I think are the "best" are also "excellent".  But I'm not so sure.  And of course, beauty is in the mind of the beholder. As they say, "your mileage may vary."

There are only a couple in this group that I would view as good enough to put up on a wall.  On the other hand, I do have a lot of images that make me smile, including many others not shown below.  That doesn't surprise me because it's very clear to me that 95% or more of my images were taken to preserve a memory or record an event, location, or particular piece of information.

So, below are what I think are the best of the lot.  Nevertheless, I am not sure I would tag them as necessarily "excellent" images.  I imagine, if I had instead performed this little exercise next week, that I might come up with an entirely different group of 25 images.

If you are viewing on a high resolution screen, you will see larger, higher-resolution images on my Web site, by clicking here:



Reflecting on 2014 - an essay on photography, flyfishing and skiing

This is a slight variation of what I first published on my flyfishing blog.  After doing so I decided I'd like to publish it here with just a few modifications:

In 2014 it became obvious to me that photography had surpassed flyfishing as my #1 hobby.  My wife tells me it's been that way for several years.  Don't get me wrong.  I still love flyfishing.  It's just that I don't think about it 24/7/12 like I once did.  Instead I think about photography 24/7/12. 
I'm not even sure how many days I fished in 2014, whereas not so many years ago I kept a journal so I would be sure to know how many days I fished, with whom, what the weather was, where we fished, what the water temperature was, what flies worked, etc. etc.  
My best guess is that I fished 15 days this past year. I used to fish 40-50. 
There's nothing wrong with fishing less often.  And there's nothing wrong with lusting for the latest camera bodies or lenses instead of the latest fly rod or reel.  I think our lives are constantly evolving and re-balancing. As the current saying goes, "It's all good." 
It occurs to me that for most of us, an "interest" exists for a finite period. Then we move on. 
Interests often start off slowly, become more intense sooner or later, and then trail off as new or different interests come into play.  Some relationships exist this way.  Some jobs exist this way.  Some businesses exist this way. I think there is a natural cycle to everything. For some things and for some people, this natural cycle may last only days or weeks, while for others it may last decades or even a lifetime. Interestingly, sometimes an interest "hibernates" for a while, perhaps for years, then re-emerges. 
My interests, both past and present and in no particular order, include but are not limited to: archery, fishing, downhill skiing, stamp collecting, jogging, army dinky toy collecting, camping, backpacking, triathloning, bicycling, and photography.  Skiing was my first all-consuming pursuit. It started at age 10, gained intensity in my teen years and early 20s, then trailed off in my late 20s as I redirected myself toward family and children.  It was a very nice and enjoyable 20 year run. 
During the middle part of that period I thought about skiing all the time (or at least parts of every day...but, hey, I've always been a day-dreamer).  I remember during high school when I used to flip through the pages of skiing magazines every day after school and learned about and dreamed about the latest equipment and ski racing techniques.  In my late 20s, when my interest waned, I never stopped skiing entirely, and in recent years I've found myself stepping it up a bit by aiming for 10 days of skiing per year.  Do I think about skiing the other 355 days per year? No, not really. But years ago I would have. 
The same natural progression has occurred with flyfishing. Ten years ago I was fishing once or twice a week during three seasons a year, tying flies during the winter, reading all the catalogs, adding books to my bookshelf, participating in the online forums, adding to my Web site fishingwithflies.com, and acquiring gear. Not so anymore. This past year I fished perhaps 15 times.  I have no complaints about that, as I would have fished more if I'd wanted to. During the other 350 days of the year I did not think about fishing. But ten years ago I would have. 
Photography for me is now in the "intense" phase.  I read about it every day on the Internet, participate in forums, have this blog, have a Website peterfraileyphoto.com, use a feed reader to follow dozens and dozens of photography sites and blogs, participate in a photo club, and I acquire way too much gear, often buying and selling on eBay. 
But it's all so much fun.  I realize too that taking pictures is really only one aspect of the hobby.  Gear is another aspect.  I love toys, even if they don't necessarily make me a better photographer. If it is like other interests and hobbies I have had, there will be a day when photography consumes a smaller portion of my life. But hopefully, when it does, it will be because another interest has taken bloom.  As I said earlier, "it's all good."
---Peter  1/2015


A special New Year's Eve dinner

Laurie and I decided we were going to stay home for New Year's Eve.  A nice dinner and a movie were two things on our to-do list.  Laurie was in charge of the dinner and I was in charge of the movie.  My job was easy.

Living in New England, fresh lobster is very available, though I can't recall the last time we had a winter meal with lobster.  Usually, in the summer, especially when traveling along the Maine coast, we manage to eat a few lobster rolls.  (Lobster rolls are made with grilled buttered hot dog buns that are overstuffed with cold lobster meat.) Our most frequent eatery?  Sprague's on the wharf in Wiscasset, Maine.

For our New Year's Eve dinner, Laurie decided to make something scrumptious with lobster: Lobster Macaroni and Cheese. She made this recipe once before and decided it would be even better with a larger allocation of lobster. Who was I to complain.  And, since it is winter here, and since I get very little opportunity to take pictures in winter, I was anxious to take some photographs of the construction process.

For geeks: All but the last of this series of images was taken with a Sony NEX A6000 (a new, only two-week old acquisition) with either a Sigma 90mm F2.8 prime lens (#3,#4) or an old Minolta 35-70mm F3.5 zoom (#1,#2).  The final image was captured with an iPhone 5S as I wanted to immediately text it to a few friends who I knew would be extremely jeolous.

Oh, what movie did I pick?  Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.

mixing the lobster in with the noodles and cheese sauce

 sprinkling cheese on top, which was followed with some bread crumbs

baked to perfection

 on the plate (iPhone image)

served with a fresh beet salad