Monday, April 28, 2008

When 300mm Just Isn't Enough

I'm very lucky to live in a house with a huge back-yard. Well, I say I'm lucky, but when I'm only halfway through mowing the lawn, and there's still an hour of work to go...Let's just say that I enjoy the yard when all the junk is taken care of.

Still, it's awfully fun to be able to shoot all the different birds that call our back-yard home. We have the obvious suburban bird life: crows, sparrows, chickadees. But we also have a few surprises. Woodpeckers are a huge neighborhood problem, but they are awfully fun to watch as they try to bang their way through aluminum siding. (Is that cruel?) Once a beautiful barn-owl came out of nowhere and buzzed my wife and my heads.

But the hardest bird to photograph are the teeny hummingbirds, just like the one in the picture here. It had been sitting on a the branch for a good five minutes, which, I gather, is about twenty years in hummingbird-time. I was able to get my camera set-up and my big 300mm lens on it. But the dang things are so tiny that even with that huge lens (and even with the 1.6x conversion factor my 40d provides) it was hard to get a good clean shot.

One of these days I'll get a real lens. Something about 600mm long. Maybe then I'll be able to to fill the frame with these little buggers. Until then, I'll keep snapping away. Who knows? Maybe one of them will land on my lens and I'll get a close-up of the underside of a hummingbird.

Now THAT would be a picture!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Beautiful Bread

Is there anything more wonderful than a fresh baked baguette? I don't think so. Hundreds of years of tradition come together in the baker's use of water, flour, yeast and salt. Rich, sweet, almost nutty in its flavor, with monster holes and a cracking crisp crust, nothing beats fresh bread with a little bit of sweet cream butter.

I've been baking bread at home for about three years now and tried tons of different recipes and approaches to making bread, but the
Pain a l'Ancienne pictured here breaks every rule in the book.

"Yeast needs warm water to thrive, right?" Wrong. This bread uses nothing but ice cold water. "But it has to rise in a warm area. That I know is true." Nope. Straight into the fridge with this stuff. And it doesn't even get a normal rise in any sense of the word. And it's a huge pain the butt to work with. It's wet, and sticky, and oozes every which way. And yet...

And yet the bread is amazing. The best French baguettes I've ever made, by far. I even love the goofy, rustic shape.

Honestly, do we really need another metaphor for the fact that just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's not worth it? I didn't think so.

Oh, the
Pain a l'Ancienne comes from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." Great book with amazing photography by Ron Manville.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What's Easy is Hard

I spend a good amount of time talking with other photographers and artsy-types. Most of the time we yap about normal life stuff. How's the family? Did you see the latest Judd Apatow movie? Does this mole look dangerous to you? Eventually, inevitably, we start talking shop.

When you're around a like-minded group, this can be very cathartic. The sense that we're in the same boat (leaks and all) is palpable. Commiseration about a lost job comes just as easily as congratulations for signing the big contract. We know the long, solitary hours needed to create. And we know the deep sense of satisfaction that only comes when you finish a major project.

But sometimes the differences come out as well. If you want to provoke long, thoughtful pauses, and are willing to wade through a sea of "Umms," "Ahs," and "Good questions," just ask an artist, "Do you enjoy the process of creation?"

For most of us, the answer is, eventually, "Yes, I do enjoy it. But it's very hard work." Boy, howdy, is it ever. There are days when the last thing you want to do is sit at the computer and edit yesterday's shoot. After all, you've already done the job, right? Or, worse yet, you've edited it and sent it to the art director, only to have them say, "It's good, but we decided to try something different. Can you reshoot?"

I mention this because I just spent the last three hours story-boarding a new project. (A children's book, if you must know.) And as much as I enjoy being an artist and letting the creative juices flow, most of this afternoon was like pulling teeth. Every line had to be examined. Every frame thought through. Where does this character go? Will this layout work with the text? How in the world am I going to shoot this?

Yes, it was hard work, pulling ideas out of the either and putting them down on paper so I won't forget them. (Memory like a steel-sieve.) But I finished all twenty-eight panels. And I feel good.

That is, I'll feel good for about an hour. Then I'll realize that I've only just started; barely scratched the surface to be honest. It's going to be months of location shooting, creating models and working in the studio, until this project is done.

But I know that I have good people around to help me through. When I'm so sick of the project I can barely look at it without cringing, when it takes all my willpower to sit down and do one more edit, when, three-quarters of the way through, I get a better idea and have to change everything that's come before, then I'll lean on my friends and family. They're there for me, and they know the awful truth: Art looks easy. Creating art is hard.

Friday, April 18, 2008

April Snow

For years I used to tell people that Seattle had the best weather in the world. Sure, winter was quite rainy, but all it did was clean the streets and turn everything a lush green. But the past few years are making me change my tune. I'm talking about snow.

You should probably know that I hate snow. Just despise the stuff. After graduating from a Michigan high school, I immediately moved to Arizona. No more scraping my windshield each morning. No more dangerous walks across ice rink-like parking lots. Good by ice-dome, hello sunscreen!

But my heart was in Seattle and I knew I would return. But not to snow. Not in Seattle. And for God's sake, not in APRIL!

Did I mention that I hate snow?