Monthly Archives: December 2015

10 photos for 2015

How strange that this is the last Monday of 2015. I’ve done a lot in 2015. I moved 2000 miles and started a new life. There’s nothing like new digs to inspire photography and boy have I been inspired. Even after the standard culling, I have over 17,000 pictures from this year.

I’ve tried hard to improve my photography, revisiting basic lessons like composition and exposure and flash. I’ve taken photos that I wouldn’t have taken before–and I love them. I’ve committed to learning more about Photoshop, editing, and making the most of my images. I guess the best sign of all is that I’m eager for more in 2016 after all the hours I’ve spent behind the lens and in front of the computer this year.

So, without further ado, ten photos for 2015. They don’t cover everything from the year, but all ten represent different things. It’s great to look back over 17000 photos, you tend to forget some of them!


The famous columns and herringbone brickwork of University of Virginia’s Academical Village. And for me, revisiting the basics of composition, contrast, and lines.


A band of clouds (maybe some variant on Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds?) over a farm in rural Virginia. And a study in black and white.


The Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, DC. Perfect blooms, perfect weather. And a composite of two focal depths so I would have my cake and eat it too, photographically.


A pinhole of a pinhead. My lovely Chat Noir posing on National Pinhole Photography Day. Pinhole photography is more fun than ever with modern ISO capabilities.


Iconic imagery in a new land. Pueblo deco architecture and classic cars on Route 66 in Albuquerque.


Western landscapes. A slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument.


Industrial decay at the Albuquerque Railyards, once the largest employer in the city, now a weekly farmer’s market. And a lot of neat, disused buildings.


Classic car and red rocks on our October national parks trip. So many of my previous posts are stuffed with images from those journeys that I decided not to include more than just this one. Ten is quite the limit!


The day before the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, balloonists visit local elementary schools and teach kids about aviation.


Bird love in Florida. Color, contrast, and life to end the year on a strong note.


Luminarias in New Mexico

It’s Christmastime, and in New Mexico that means the night is full of glowing paper bags. The streets of Old Town are lit with luminarias, candles in bags that are somehow transformative.

New Mexico is my fourth state in a decade. I’ve lived in Missouri, midwestern and self-conscious; northern New Jersey, its traffic snarled under the spires of the country’s greatest city; and central Virginia,pastoral and historic and preening. New Mexico stands apart. Maybe it feels different because it belonged to a different country until just before the Civil War. Maybe a place that actually gets mistaken for Mars (and is used to study Mars) inevitably feels different. But throughout my short six months in this state, I’ve enjoyed feeling like a stranger in a strange land that is still familiar enough to feel like home.

It’s luminaria season in New Mexico. When New Mexico was New Spain, Spanish merchants brought the tradition of paper lanterns from China . Something as simple as votive candles in brown sacks dates back centuries. And it’s as beautiful as ever to behold.


Luminarias in an Old Town courtyard


Old Town Holiday Stroll


Christmas in New Mexico


A four day weekend goes a ways out west

You can do a lot in a four day weekend in the west. We visited White Sands National Monument, Chiricahua National Monument, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, and Petrified Forest National Park.

The pictures can say more than me. And I’m already a day late on this post! When I updated my operating system, my entire photo preview collection got eaten. Poor computer has been slaving around the clock since I discovered that yesterday. No data lost, but lots of work for compy and about 300 gigs of disc space that’s in limbo. Remember to back up your libraries!

Black and White: Not just for faux artistry

I used to dislike black and white photography. It seemed pretentious and useless; it was for portraits of very wrinkly old people, or still lifes of food. It seemed like an attempt to introduce drama or emotion that I never felt. Unless you were Ansel Adams shooting on silver nitrate, what was the point?

But since that time, I’ve found love for black and white. I found it in photo editing. And understanding the reasons a photographer might choose black and white helped me to appreciate the images. I guess I got there backwards, but regardless, I’m happy to appreciate a new category of photography at last. And if there are any others out there that just don’t get black and white, here are a few reasons that swayed me.

Adding drama that would look artificial in color

I encountered this situation just last weekend shooting at White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico. It was cloudy. White Sands is, as it sounds, a region covered with white sand dunes. Without a light source, it is monochromatic and flat. The mountains in the distance were hazy. The first image below is what the camera captured. I love the composition, but this is not a good image as-captured. It is gray and washed out.

So, I went to work in my editor. I knew this image would be flat when I took it, but I had faith that I could add life in post-processing. I pulled down the blacks, increased the contrast, and pushed the tone curve around. I added a gradient filter bringing up the exposure and contrast on the sand so it would look brighter, but so that I wouldn’t have to over-expose the sky. The second image is what I got. I hated it. The sand looked dingy, rather than the dazzling white it was in person and in the first image. The color balance for the sky and the sand would have to be different. That’s doable, but that means fiddling with masks in photoshop on a photo-by-photo basis, and then having tifs that aren’t as flexible as the RAW format I shoot in. I set my White Sands photos aside to tend to other pictures from the trip, hoping for a revelation at a later date.

And I had that revelation a few days later: black and white. I took that second picture, added a warm light black and white filter, and had to tinker only slightly to get image #3. I love image #3. The sand is still dark, but I find it plausible without the saturation of image #2.

Black and white isn’t just black and white. As a photographer, you have a choice how to map between color and b+w. You could just use brightness for that conversion, but why be restricted? Maybe you want a nice dark sky, and thus you want blue to map to a dark black and white value. Film photographers used colored glass filters to influence which colors were light or dark in the black and white rendering of the image. They had to make this choice at shooting time because the image captured in black and white. Nowadays with digital, we capture in color and can make choices in the comfort of an office chair. A warm light filter brightens the warm colors of the image and darkens the cool colors of the image.

Image #4 shows what image #3 would look like with a cool light filter (with bright cool colors and dark warm colors). In my opinion, image #3 is the obvious winner. But you can see what a difference the bw/color mapping makes. Other than the bw filter settings and an exposure adjustment to avoid overexposure, images #3 and #4 are the same. They don’t feel the same at all.

San Andres Mountains behind White Sands

Image #1: Without any edits

San Andres Mountains behind White Sands

San Andres Mountains behind White Sands

Image #3: Black and white #1, using a warm light filter.

San Andres Mountains behind White Sands

Image #4: Black and white #2, using a cool light filter.

Directing the viewer’s eye

Sometimes I like to use black and white to clarify an image. In this case, the image isn’t a disaster to edit in color, it just doesn’t need its color info.   At best, the color is irrelevant, and at worst, it can be distracting.

In the first pair of images below, I liked the different linear elements, some horizontal, some vertical; some organic, some artificial. The browns and reds and greens of this image aren’t terribly impressive, and they don’t contribute to this narrative I wanted to convey. I felt that leaving the color would convey nature as the subject rather than the abstraction I wanted to convey. So I changed image #1 to image #2. I did this edit 8 months ago. Now I look at the black and white and want to push the contrast harder on the tree; perhaps if I did this edit again I would brush some contrast in.


Image #1


Image #2

In this pair of images, again I was interested in an abstraction. I took this photo as part of a photography prompt: photographing light. The windows of a building across the street were reflecting light onto these windows. The window-vs-window aspect intrigued me. But other than the window reflection, the image was of a drab building wall in shadow and a slightly washed out sky. Not very exciting. By removing the color information, I thought the image more truly captured the “photographing light” prompt that I wished for it to convey.

Windows and reflections of windows

Image #3

Windows and reflections of windows

Image #4

Of course there are other reasons to edit to black and white. Sometimes it is to convey mood or to fit a theme. But the examples above are reasons that didn’t occur to me when I first started shooting. And they offer a lot of creative options that I didn’t realize either. Black and white can be dynamic and fun!