Saturday, March 31, 2012

Paving Paradise, Inc

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Newly cleared land. I-4 west bound traffic is in the background.

Today on the way home from a local Walmart, I made the decision to go west on Turkey Lake rather than try to take my chances going east-bound. My wife and I were grocery shopping there when it started to rain heavily. Heavy rain in Florida is the kind that pounds the roof so hard it will drown out nearly any other surrounding sounds. It was that kind of rain, lasting for several minutes before tapering off to a more normal downpour. It was enough to really snarl traffic in the Walmart parking lot and Turkey Lake.

Turning west, Turkey Lake becomes Palm Parkway. I turn right onto Lake Street, then right again onto Apopka Vineland Road which leads me back to where I live. It was on the Palm Parkway section that I found new construction taking place, where a section of once-wooded land had just been cleared. From what I could see it is wide enough for a road. It was cleared all the way to I-4, which makes me wonder if a new interchange will be built here.

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There were four pieces of equipment on the site, three bulldozers and an industrial tub grinder. The 'dozers were intimidating enough, with their blades designed to dig up all the vegetation including the pines and young oaks that grow in that area. Yes, that area is forested and only very lightly developed, but it looks like it won't last that way for long.

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The Industrial Tub Grinder, a.k.a. the "Leveler Jr."

The one machine that caught my eye was the bit red industrial tub grinder. It reminded me of the Leveler in the movie "FernGully: The Last Rainforest." That movie, released 20 years ago in 1992, had a strong environmental theme. The girls saw it when they were six and four, and have talked about it ever since, even today. Batty Koda is still a fun character they remember fondly.

This particular machine was sitting next to a huge mount of ground-up vegetation, composed primarily of pine and oak. You could still smell the shredded wood where the aromatic elements were evaporating after the heavy rain. It was a beatific scent over a horrific scene of indifferent destruction.

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And there it sat, a small version of the Leveler, complete with grasping claw for grabbing knocked down trees and dropping it all into the grinder before spitting it out onto the pile in front of it. All that was missing was Nexxus.

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I could have spent the day taking in one of several fun activities downtown. I could have filled today's entry with photos of beautiful people occupied with their beautiful activities. Instead I came back here after the rains finished to photograph this during the golden hour. I have been looking for a special photographic project for this year, and I think I found it. Most of the land up and down Palm Parkway is still scrub forest, interspersed with fragments of former orange groves. Starting tomorrow (Palm Sunday) I'm going to start documenting that entire section of road, then keep documenting it as the inevitable development comes in. There's a lot of development cropping up around Orlando. Some of it is re-development, like the Dr. Phillips Arts Center downtown, or the extensions around the 408/417 juncture. But some of it, like this little area, and where the 408 is beginning to extend beyond its current east-side ending, are into new currently forested area.

I've been a Floridian since 1985. I've watched a lot change but didn't really care all that much. But since the early 2000s I've become a lot more aware of what's happening around me, and it saddens me. I sincerely doubt I'll change anything. What I'm doing now is documenting for the future, if we have one. I want to bear witness with my photography to the changes occurring around me. None of the trivial issues (mega-pixels, high-ISO, etc) mean much to me any more. All that matters is did I get the shot? So I'll be working on my photographic Ts an Cs (technique, timing, composition, and content) and use all the gear I've built up over the last three years.

Technical

Taken with the Olympus E-1 with ZD 1:2/50mm and the E-P2 with Lumix 1:1.7/20mm. Post processed in Lightroom 4.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The E-1 and Lightroom 4 - Experiment #1

I am no Lightroom expert. Even though I've owned it and used it since August 2009 (nearly three years ago), I've used it basically as a Raw converter with the ability to do some minor tweaking. In the right hands Lightroom can produce some remarkable results. Unfortunately my hands aren't that gifted. Perhaps, now that Lightroom 4 has gotten my attention, I'll work to improve my game a bit using this tool.

I enabled ISO boost on the E-1 and set ISO to 3200. I then turned the camera on poor old Rex and played a bit with the results. The first image is basically a raw conversion with exposure adjusted +2 to get the histogram back towards the middle. I don't know why the E-1 underexposed as much as it did. Highlights were adjusted -100 to open up detail in the light areas, while whites were adjusted +50 to lighten up the rest of the image. Color noise was adjusted to +100 to remove any color noise, especially in the shadows.

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Base Image

The base image shows the E-1's "limitations" at ISO 3200. Lots of grain and in the broad dark tonal areas what appears to be a bit of vertical banding. Looks bad on screen, not so much in print. But still, what can be done to "improve" the image?

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Base Image with Blacks -25

In the past I've used dark clipping to basically drop out the shadowed and dark areas, effectively hiding all details including noise and other artifacts. So I adjusted blacks -25, which darkened the shadow areas and help control noise in the shadows. The lighter areas are essentially untouched.

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Base Image with Luminance Smoothing +75

Luminance smoothing is a feature I've not touched in the past. This time as part of the experiment I set the darks back to 0 and then adjusted the luminance smoothing slider from 25 to 75. This pretty much knocked out quite a bit of the noise across all the image (especially in the out-of-focus areas), but in the process de-emphasized fine detail and left a subtle but noticeable saran wrap look across the portions in focus. If you want to know what detail was de-emphasized as an example, there's a small spider web that runs from Rex's unibrow off to the right. You can see it in the first two photos, but a good portion of it is pretty much gone in the last photo.

In this day of $3K+ (body only) über cameras from Canon and Nikon, it's probably worth asking why I would continue to screw around with a nine year old DSLR with a 5MP 4/3rds sized sensor. The answer is cost. I can't afford that kind of camera gear, nor the prior generation that cost in the 'lower and cheaper' mid $2K range. Instead, my budget allows for me to spend $80 for a Lightroom upgrade that brings enhancements and other features to wring more out of the older and definitely lower cost cameras. Yes, I spent a fair amount of money on my current collection; but in all the time I've been buying Olympus and Panasonic equipment, my entire collection's combined cost has yet to reach the cost of a single Canon 5DMk3 body.

I don't think I'm alone in this situation, not by far. Newer equipment will always outperform older equipment. But technique, skill, and a judiciously purchased tool can help close the gap between the generations, helping to extend the useful life of the camera you already own, while keeping your hard-earned money in your pocket where it belongs.

A Week in March 2012

Tall and Small
Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic 20mm

This has been a very busy week at work. I always carry a camera with me, the E-P2 with a prime on the front. Zoom use with the E-P2 is now a rare exception with me. All photos in this post were taken with primes.

My wife's Mac had to go back to the Apple store because the WiFi was still malfunctioning. While we were turning it in for a deeper inspection and possible repair we also noted that the screen's backlight was intermittent. We left it to fix that problem as well as look at the WiFi issue.

On the way out I happened to see this particular father-and-son tableau (I'm assuming it was a father and son), with the son up on the table and playing with an iPad. The adult seemed transfixed by either another device or something else equally small. He's clutching his wallet at the same time he's concentrating on the other item next to his wallet. Is he thinking of buying the little one an iPad?

The week was spend with me visiting the construction zone next to the BK. On the way into work I'd stop there for a sausage biscuit and a small orange juice. The secondary reason is for me to pick up extra coffee stirrers that are large enough to double as very small straws for cans of soda. When I grab a fist full of the stirrers I don't feel so bad if I've gotten something there for breakfast.

I know what they're doing now; they're digging out the soft wet wetland soil and filling it in with denser clays. You can see how deep the hole was in the nearest photo, and how much dirt has been added two days later in the next photo down.

More Dirt
Olympus E-P2 and Olympus 45mm
At Rest
Olympus E-P2 and Olympus 17mm

All was not happiness and light with the Apple Store. On Sunday they told me 3-5 days and they would call me about the WiFi issue. I didn't hear a peep out of Apple until Thursday morning when I called them. The woman on the end of the line said that what they really meant Sunday was that it would 3-5 days before they even got to my wife's Mac, and not very nicely. We We Not Amused, and I'm sure it came across.

I got a call later in the day informing me that the Mac was finished and I could come pick it up. I told my wife, and around 7pm that evening we went over to the Apple store for me to pick it up. My wife was not feeling well so she stayed in the car. I went in to pick it up, meeting someone at the store who checked me in via a dedicated iPad they all carry now. About 10 minutes later I got a call on my cell in the store from another employee in the back. She tried to tell me that my wife had to come pick it up, even though I was the one who was the contact on the repair order, and that was my phone on the order. I was getting cranky.

In short order the Apple employee with my wife's Mac came out, and repeated the same line about my wife needing to pick up her Mac. But because I had answered the number on the repair order she felt it was OK for me to pick it up, and oh, by the way, pay for it. I was wondering how it would look at Apple HQ if somebody got into a fistfight with an angry customer over a four-year-old Mac and a $42 repair bill.

Monoliths
Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic 14mm

As I was walking back out to the car, I passed this outside section of Neiman Marcus and, just happening to look up, felt compelled to photograph this monolithic monument to decadent consumerism. I felt inspired by my less-than-stellar experience at the Apple store.

They didn't repair or replace the WiFi card. I was expecting to spend upwards of $150 for everything. One of Apple's drones ran the same basic diagnostics on the card, and just like a week before, it came up basically working. But that just tested electrical and communication connectivity from the motherboard to the card. It didn't really exercise the card and check the radio portion. Rather, they checked to see if it could see the Apple WiFi, which it could. But that was with a cold system, not one that had been operational for an hour or more, which was where we were seeing the fault.

In the mean time I reset the Cisco E3000 wireless router at home back to factory defaults, then got into it again and reconfigured it back to a locked down state. This time, instead of configuring the SSID not to transmit I let it be transmitted, but locked both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels with WPA and a long password. I have a feeling that the last OS X update has a problem with WiFi access points that don't broadcast their SSID. Everybody else does, in particular Apple. So far, after 24  hours, the Mac hasn't lost WiFi connectivity. I'm hoping that the Mac stays together long enough until the mid-year Mac model refresh. Then I'll get a new replacement with the latest and shiniest from Apple, to last another four years with my wife. And this time I'm getting a silicone keyboard cover to keep my wife from spilling more soy over it and into the guts of the machine.

Dawn is for Testing
Olympus E-1 and ZD 50mm

Tonight I fired up the KT E-1 with the ZD 50mm and took some test photos at ISO 800. I wanted to try out  a technique for removing color noise at high ISOs, something that the E-1 really suffers from at ISO 400 and up. Since it was after dark, I just focused on a domestic scene near the kitchen sink and fired off a few shots. I then ran this through Lightroom 4 with color noise reduction set to 100%.

It seems to work. That and the Adobe raw engine seem to wring out a bit more from this nine year old DSLR and 5MP 4/3rds Kodak sensor. Yes, if you pixel peep and look at the shadows, especially around the corners, you can see grain and maybe a little artifacting. But if I were to print this I doubt you'd see anything. Good images out of the E-1 are more than adequate, at least up to 8x10. I need to re-enable E-1's ISO extensions and try this up at ISO 3200. I'm also using the same technique with the E-3 and the E-P2. They often say a rising tide lifts all boats. In this instance an evolving Lightroom lifts the quality of all my Olympus cameras.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sheer Genius

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My wife's Macbook is definitely showing its age. Purchased back in 2008, it has gone through hell and back in her dear sweet hands. It's survived drops and soy milk spills and trips around the state on various vacations. We tried to protect its white plastic exterior with an electric pink shell, but it's been broken so many times it's held on with duct tape.

The Mac's latest problem seems to be a consistent WiFi failure. Just about every morning Airport is disabled, and you can't enable it. The only way to get it working is to reboot the Macbook, then enter in the house SSID and password to get back on the network. My wife was getting Real Tired of all that, and I can certainly understand that part of it. So she called and scheduled an appointment with the Geniuses over at the Mall of Millenia's Apple Store.

When we arrived at the store it was before 10am, the regular opening time. Our appointment was scheduled for 9:30am. We got to the front door a stylishly late 10 minutes. By the time the front door bouncer let us in we were a stylishly late 15 going on 20 minutes.

We were met at the Genius Bar by Chad, who informed us that they only kept the appointment open for 15 minutes. After that it had expired. However Chad was kind enough to immediately re-schedule the appointment, and so we were going to wait for someone to help us around 10am. While my wife and I waited for our next turn in the queue, I went around and looked at an Apple store before opening.

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When there aren't very many customers around the store the crew seems to meet in the center for a scrum session. I wasn't paying much attention to what was being said, but the scraps of conversation I did hear were all over the map as far as content was concerned. Since I've never worked at an Apple store I have no idea if this is the norm for Apple in general or just this store.

I noticed quite a few blue shirts and a few black shirts sprinkled about. Fortunately there were no red shirts. I saw this security guy, what with cargo-like pants and some commo gear, but nothing scary like he was packing heat. He just seemed laid back, checking out some of the gear before the store opened, probably just keeping track of everybody (like me) out of the corner of his eye.

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We didn't wait long before Chad decided to help us directly. He hooked up my wife's Mac and started to run a few diagnostics to make sure the hardware was basically OK. It was. Then he went into the system and essentially deleted the instance of Airport as well as deleting three of its basic configuration files. He told us we'd have to re-login once we got home. He was able to connect to the Apple store's Wifi just fine. In fact, just to prove how perverse Murphy is, her Mac worked just fine at the Apple store.

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While we were waiting for all the various diagnostics to finish, I happened to turn around and find this customer being helped by a blue shirt. There was a lot of help and hand-holding going on at the Apple store. That's one aspect of what makes the Apple store so successful and reinforces the success of Apple products in general. You can go to an Apple store and get some fairly serious help with your Apple gear, help you'd be hard pressed to find in a general big-box store selling Apple (I'm looking at you, Walmart).

It's All About Me

On the way out of the mall my wife dragged me into an Urban Outfitters, on some mission to find something, I don't know what. While I was in there I happened upon this display with products aimed at the "young woman" that Urban outfitters attempts to cater to. I guess I'm too liberal, or maybe too conservative (who knows), but finding a table full of books devoted to the purely personal side of fashion, personal beauty, and great sex seems, well, odd. Although, when I think back to the days of my youth I don't think I was thinking of much more, with a greater emphasis on sex due to testosterone poisoning and less on the cut of my jeans and the car I was driving. So I guess I shouldn't say too much.

Later That Day

Back at the house the Mac's Airport seemed to come up and work out of sleep mode. Sure enough I had to re-enter the home WiFi SSID and password. Unfortunately, later on in the afternoon we ran into the same problem with the Airport just not working. Couldn't re-start it. When I rebooted the Mac it did come back up and re-connect to the home WiFi without having to re-enter anything, so I could say it's gotten somewhat better. I guess I'm going to have to wait and see if it comes out of sleep mode in the morning and the network starts working automatically.

If it doesn't then it's either back to the Apple store for them to dig deeper, or else I break down and buy my wife a new Mac. I'd like to avoid buying a new Mac right now if I could. I want to wait a few months and see if the rumors are true and Apple releases new Macs with Retina displays. Then I'd get her a new Mac, hopefully to last a little better than her current Mac.

Technical

Everything taken with the E-P2, most of the images with the black 17mm, the last with the Panasonic 14mm. Post in Lightroom 4. I'm paying more attention to color balance and overall exposure. These are lighter than most I've put up on the web, and a bit less contrasty as well. My tastes are shifting again.

Update 25 March

For the first time in some time I wasn't awakened this morning by the sweet melodious voice of my wife proclaiming "the internet's not working!" Yes, it appears that her Mac came out of sleep mode and found the home WiFi. The corrective measures applied, deleting the instance of Airport and its associated configuration files so that they can be regenerated the next time it starts reminds me of Linux.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Ol' Blue
Old Blue

Today I sold Old Blue, the silver 17mm µ4/3rds that left a bit of itself in Boston, to a very good friend of mine who'd picked up a new in-the-box E-P2 for the fire-sale price of $250 on eBay. I'd priced the 17mm at an equally fire-sale price to move it. Along with Old Blue I also sold one of my five(!) 4/3rds to µ4/3rds adapters, a Panasonic DMW-MA1. Before the sale I had an MMF-1, and MMF-2, and three DMW-MA1s. I think I can get by with just four...

Gentleman Jim
The Stoic Englishman

Hopefully nothing will go wrong with the 17mm and we'll stay very good friends. The lens works just fine, it was the cosmetic issue that bugged me a bit. In the end I felt a certain tug at the heart-strings when it came time to give Old Blue up, like I was selling one of my own as it were. But it was better to find a good home for Old Blue rather than let it sit in its box on the shelf. And Jim, one of the few Olympus users I know of in Orlando, has a meaty 4/3rds collection which consists of a Panasonic L1, a pair of E-510s, and a few lenses which includes but isn't limited to the 70-300mm. Jim's going to play with the E-P2 and adapted 4/3rds lenses and see how they behave on his body.

It's been a while since the two of us went out on photo safari together. When I went by his place to deliver the gear it was a real pleasure just to sit, talk, and look a bit on his new camera. I was able to quickly enable the gear menu item on his E-P2 (why in the hell didn't Olympus enable that by default?) so we could go in and set the upper limit on auto-ISO. As we were walking out we both promised one another to go out on another Real Soon Now. My wife likes traveling on my photo safaris as well, so the three of us may do something along those lines.

Oddly enough, now that I've sold some of my hoard, the idea of selling more of it, let alone any of it, is no longer anathema to me. With the new gear that's appeared in the past few months, and seeing others sell major gear wholesale, maybe it's time for me to part with a few things if for no other reason that to lighten the load a bit.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Still Diggin'

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They're still moving earth, and lots of it, on the property next to the Burger King on University. They've completely transformed the lay of the land. There's a lot of fill dirt and no indication this was wetlands before they started. This morning I found three machines at work in the area moving dirt from where it was lying to where it was supposed to be. Traffic's been tied up in the area with large dump trucks hauling dirt into and out of this area and the much smaller one across the street.

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I had very mixed emotions photographing this today. I'm still in a state of morning over the destruction of green space and habitat. But perversely I much enjoyed photographing the three machines with the E-3 and 50-200mm, not because I liked what they were doing, but because I could tell/feel I was getting some pretty good photos without having to chimp every other exposure. The E-3 and 50-200mm is a sweet handling combination in the right light, and today, mid-morning, the light was sweet and hitting at the right angle.

Technical

Top photo taken with an Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic 14mm. Bottom three with an E-3 and 50-200mm. All post processing with Lightroom 4.

I'm a Sucker for Pancakes in Black

M.Zuiko 17mm 1:2.8 Black on Black E-P2I know what I've written about my silver 17mm, both before and after the front cosmetic ring fell off. It was that falling off that prompted me to purchase the Panasonic 14mm 1:2.5 as a replacement for the silver 17mm. But then, one day while slogging through Amazon, I found the 17mm in black. And that's when the problems began.

Because I'm so Old School I was there to help build it, I tend to purchase camera equipment in black. Not red or green or white or silver. Black. As much black as possible. If the camera would work with black glass in the lenses then they'd be black too. That doesn't mean I won't buy silver. I purchased the M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R' in silver because it was dirt cheap. And I purchase the original silver 17mm because it was cheap and the only version available at the time. And did I mention that the 45mm is also only available in silver? Along with the 12mm. It looks like Olympus is going after retro silver-bodied lenses (think Leica).

More significantly I like primes. The smaller and jewel-like they are, the more I like them. I always liked to hold and use small primes from Minolta, Olympus, and Pentax in the range from 24mm to around 90mm. 35mm to 50mm at around 1:2 seemed to produce the smallest 35mm primes from all three. Nikon and Canon weren't after small. And Leica, well Leica has been and always will be far too expensive for me to own, let alone use. And so at the low price I found the black 17mm I went on ahead and purchased the second replacement for the sliver 17mm.

It arrived today (the day after my boxed Lightroom 4 updated arrived) via USPS. It was in a big box relative to the lens. I figured it was in such a big box because the lens shipped boxed. Or at least my sliver 17mm came in an official Olympus box. And then I opened up the box.

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Swathed in transparent green bubble wrap, further wrapped in a foam sheet and plastic bag, sat my new black 17mm. Not in an official Olympus box, but pretty much in the materials you see above. As you can read it was shipped from Cameta Camera. I've purchased other items from Cameta through Amazon, and I've never been surprised nor complained about anything from them. But I was certainly surprised today.

The shipping ticket says the lens is "NEW (NO Original Box)." I guess things are really tight where, to save a few dollars in profit, you ship the lens without its box. I wonder, if I'd know it wasn't shipped without a box, if I'd have purchased it from Cameta. But it certainly wasn't obvious from the Amazon page where I purchase the lens. The foam sheet and plastic bag are what you'd find in an official Olympus box, and when I opened it up it was immaculate and literally untouched. So I have no doubt it's a truly new lens. But it makes one wonder if it's grey market goods.

And it works, as you can tell in the photo above. Clear and sharp enough for yeoman duty, and a bit more suave and sophisticated than it's silver brother, it will go back to being used by me. I do see a need for a 28mm (14mm) lens vs a 34mm (17mm) lens. I sure wish I could purchase a more reasonably price 24mm pancake for µ4/3rds than the current $800 M.Zuiko 12mm. I would certainly be happy with a 1:2.5 ir 1:2.8 12mm for around $350. $800 for a non-sealed prime is a bit too much. I'm curious to see how much the M.Zuiko 60mm Macro and 75mm 1:1.8 will cost when released. The photos of the 75mm in particular show it built along the lines of the 45mm, not the 12mm. Hopefully it'll be reasonably priced around what the 45mm cost.

Quick Comparison

The 17mm, both silver and black, are slower to focus than the Panasonics I have. You can year the 17mm focus, where the Panasonics (and the newer M.Zuikos) are silent. The 17mm is also slower focusing in low light than the 14mm, but not by much. Point both at bright light however and they both are equally fast. For a time both the 14mm and the 17mm cost about the same. But Olympus has dropped the price of the 17mm so that it's about $60 cheaper if you know where to look. Especially if you get one without an official Olympus cardboard box.

Technical

Top was taken with the warhorse E-1 and ZD 50mm macro. I used the CN-160 lights to provide lighting from both sides, with the right brighter than the left. Bottom was essentially first light thought the 17mm on the E-P2. Both processed in Lightroom 4.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

So I Wrote This Blog Post Without a Title At First

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The former Samba Room

Long day. One of the RHEL workstations lost its mind, or more specifically, its disk cluster in the middle of a critical application install that's part of a project I'm working on. As a consequence Linux insisted on dropping to a disk repair prompt due to a corrupted superblock. Crap. After a brief poking about I decided what the hell, I'll do a clean re-install. All the critical files and data were on separate physical volumes. Before I re-installed RHEL I physically detached the drives. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon between meetings and re-installing RHEL 6.2. By the time I left it was back up and running with the accounts in place. I'll finish re-attaching and mounting the data volumes in the morning.

It was 6pm by the time I left the office. Rather than go home and cook supper I punted. I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some fresh fruit, then Chipotle for a couple of burrito bowls and than I headed home. Along that circuitous route I passed the former Samba Room on Sandlake and took a look at what's happened to it since it went belly up last summer.

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Interior reworking in the rounded section (above upper left)

Somebody's finally going in and refurbishing the place. The original building design is certainly distinctive and it's in a prime location in the Publix shopping center there on Sand Lake. I suspect it'll become another club, since there's already about a half dozen clubs and bars all up and down Sand lake between Apopka and International Drive. It'll be interesting to see what it reopens as.

Everything taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the Panasonic 14mm wide open at f/2.5 right before sundown, where there was plenty of warm sunlight. In post I dialed the highlights back -100 to pull as much detail as possible out of the highlights. On the upper photos I actually dialed down the color back a bit by setting vibrance to -50. On the bottom photo I got cute with a Lightroom preset, Yesteryear 2. Blacks were dialed back -75 to deepen the shadows in the back of the room.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tax Time 2012

I Can Park Anywhere!It is, for me, that time of the year when I report to my accountant and begin the short but painful process of getting last year's expenses in order so that I can pay the rest of my taxes. I can't remember the last time I got something back; it's all I can do to stay within the law to keep my payment on April 17th as low as possible. So I have to pull all my receipts and make sure I've accounted for all legal itemized deductions.

First stage is to take all the official documentation in, such as my W2 and my kids 1098t (college) and all the other official bits of required by the government. I then get a list of all I need to finish up (a burn-down tax list), then send that all in to him electronically.

Finally, I'll show up at his place, pick up the printed out forms, write two checks (a big one to the government, a much smaller one to him) and say goodbye until this same time next year.

On days such as this I go out for a bit of what Robin Wong calls "photo therapy." So I headed downtown to walk about a bit round city hall and see how far the new Dr. Phillips Art Center is coming along.

I parked in front of city hall, in the EV charging slot, the parking slot that is always filled with anything but an EV when it is filled, and went out a bit to look around. I wasn't gone long, maybe 15 minutes top. When I returned I found this parking enforcement cart parked right behind my little Prius. I thought "Great. A parking ticket." But no, no ticket stuck under the windshield wiper. But no parking enforcement person around either. Just the empty cart. What makes this humorous is city hall has marked off this area, which is two car lengths long, for press vehicles only. Strictly enforced, of course. And guess where this little bug was sitting?

When I took the photo I didn't realize it but I had one-person audience. When I was getting in the driver's side to drive away, I happened to look in his direction. He gave me two-thumbs-up and a big grin for me having captured this moment.

Construction

There is plenty activity happening, but nothing quite photo-worthy, especially when you've got chain-length fence blocking off what's currently a big hole in the ground. But I was able to grab something that represents the construction going on the site. Nothing inspiring, but in the long term, as I build up my collection of this area, it will eventually fit right in.

Dead Once Again

This was taken earlier in the day on the side of town where I work. This was a former Donato's Pizza that died the great Donato's Death back in 2009. About a year later this Thai restaurant came in, then about six months or so later somebody tacked on the Indian part of the sign so that it became "Thai - Indian Cuisine" restaurant. But I guess nobody wanted either Thai or Indian, and it went the way of all flesh. Now it's boarded up and the target of poorly talented graffiti spreaders.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Colors

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Since March of 2006 I have been a constant user of Olympus cameras, starting with the E-300, then moving on to the E-3, then the E-P2, and finally the E-1. During that period I used Olympus Master for post processing of JPEG output from the E-300 and E-3, then switched to Lightroom 3 for post processing of Raw from the E-3 forward. The abrupt switch from pure JPEG to (nearly) pure Raw was mid-2009, with the last six years roughly split between the two.

During that same time period I've used Olympus 4/3rds lenses exclusively with the lone notable exception of a Sigma 30mm. It wasn't until much much later that I started to mix in old OM lenses with the MF-1 adapter for 4/3rds and the MMF-1 adapter for µ4/3rds. Given my experiences of mixing lenses across all the bodies, I'd rather use native lenses designed for a given mount, and each lens has a unique color personality; different lenses on the same body, shooting the same scene, will usually require different handling if you want  the same results. Not always but usually.

During that time I've taken tens of thousands of photographs with all the cameras, the largest number with the E-P2. After six years, all those photographs, and all the years I've spent in post processing, especially with Lightroom, I believe I've finally reached a point where, at least technically, I'm happy with the results. Paradoxically I've learned that if I work with the camera and the light and scene in front of me most of the time I can live with the Raw results out of the camera with minimal intervention. Most, but not always.

Of the three photos, the first photo of bell peppers was the most heavily post processed. The original was taken with the Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 45mm. Here are the steps I used to produce the final image in Lightroom 4.
  • Highlights -100
  • White Balance: Tungsten
  • White Clipping -50
  • Black Clipping -25
  • Shadows +25
  • Clarity +50
  • Sharpening +25
Everything else was left untouched. All those changes were to bring a certain clarity and color depth to the whole image. It might be nothing more than four different colored bell peppers at a Whole Foods store in Orlando, but to me, printed up and on the wall, it reminds of me all those colorful paintings I made back in the mid-1970s, using canvas and bold acrylic colors. I loved acrylic because its colors were far wilder than anything that oils could provide at the time. Acrylic reminded me of Kodachrome, my all time favorite film.


Yellow Hibiscus

These last two photos were taken in the backyard during the last few moments of the golden hour using an Olympus E-1 and a ZD 50mm macro lens. I used far less adjustments with these images than the bell peppers;
  • While Clipping +50 for the Mandevilla and +55 for the yellow Hibiscus
  • Shadows +50 for the Mandevilla and -25 for the yellow Hibiscus
  • Sharpening +25 for the Mandevilla and +10 for the yellow Hibiscus
  • Clarity +10 just for the yellow Hibiscus
The camera did the rest (or I should say, the Kodak sensor did the rest).

I'm curious to see what I can produce with the E-M5 using these same post tools and settings. I'm certainly no Lightroom expert, and I have no doubts that my tastes will horrify certain folks who look. For those who feel offended by my work, I apologize in advance. Give me enough time and practice and I'll probably evolve this color style (if you will) a bit more. But right now I enjoy enhancing and reveling in the emotion of the color I see. Life is chock full of strong colors. So should my photographs be.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Watching Out for Leprechauns

Green-eyed Leprechat

Today was St. Patrick's Day. Lulu was on duty looking for leprechauns, lest they sneak in the house and practice their mischievous ways. Lulu with her green eyes has a special gift for spotting leprechauns.

Right.

This was taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the MZ 45mm, aperture priority and auto ISO. The camera chose both the shutter speed (1/100s) and the ISO (400). Post was done with Lightroom 4. I used LR4 a bit more aggressively this time:
  • Highlights -100
  • Clarity +50
  • Shadows -50
  • Sharpening +25
  • Exposure -1
  • White Clipping +25
  • Orange Saturation and Luminance +50
  • Yellow Saturation and Luminance +50
  • Green Saturation and Luminance +50
The goal was to bring back all the detail hidden in what appeared to be the over-exposed hightlights around the mouth, while loosing distracting detail in the shadows, and make the overall image more dramatic. The change in the orange, yellow, and green channels was to accentuate the eyes and the the nose, especially the eyes, which have a green and gold look to them. What's interesting was I didn't feel the need to fiddle with the black clipping. I got the look I was after with clarity, shadows, and exposure.

There's been an interesting back-and-forth about whether to use JPEG or Raw conversion over on TOP (here, here, here and here). When I purchased my first digital camera in 2004, a Canon Powershot A300 P&S, it produced JPEG only, and I took everything straight out of the camera. That was suitable until 2006 when I purchased my first Olympus, an E-300 kit. Then I was introduced to the Olympus Master, and used it to begin to manipulate the images the E-300 produced. I stayed with JPEG only until my next Olympus camera, the E-3. And I continued with JPEG all the time until late mid-2009. My sister was getting married and she wanted me to be the photographer. At that point I grabbed the beta version of Lightroom 3 and started practicing how to manipulate Raw from both the E-3 and the E-300. It was like a binary switch; I went from pure JPEG to pure Raw, and stuck with Raw processing pretty much from that point forward. The only time I dabbled with JPEG was when I got the E-P2, and I played a bit with the built-in art filters. Even then I shot both JPEG and Raw.

The reason I went with Raw all the time was paranoia. I wanted to have complete control over the process of producing the final image to my evolving tastes. Developing Raw is something very personal to me and has become an integral part of my workflow. The JPEG engines are very good in the Olympus cameras, but I want something a little bit different, a little bit unique. I still use JPEG with Raw, especially if I have photographed a very difficult scene. I use the JPEG as a guide and a reference to keep me from going overboard in post. I also use the JPEG for those few times when the person I've been photographing for needs results immediately after the shoot, and I don't have time to convert from Raw to JPEG, even if I make no changes.

It's foolish to make the claim that all images should be taken Raw and post processed. I do it because I want to do it, not because it was dictated to me. I know others who use the same equipment who can achieve quite acceptable results straight out of the camera. The biggest advantage of SOOC over post is the much shortened work flow. And there are a lot of situations where Raw processing just isn't necessary. The decision to use JPEG or Raw must be made on a case-by-case basis, and after a lot of time practicing with both. I'm comfortable handling Raw because I don't have a heavy work flow with thousands of images. If I were in that situation you'd better believe I'd move back towards a more efficient workflow that minimized post as much as possible, such as switching back to JPEG. The JPEG vs Raw arguments are silly. Bottom line is to use both where appropriate and as the image processing technology in the cameras and on the PC evolve.

Friday, March 16, 2012

TGIF Week 12 2012

Pink MandevillaIt's been almost a week since my last group of posts on Sunday. A long quiet period when I engaged with the real world and let the virtual world fly past.

Oh, I read all the news coming across the various services and fired off a multitude of tweets of 140 characters or less. While Shakespeare may have written in Hamlet that "brevity is the soul of wit" all I proved in my tweeting is that brief nonsense is still nonsense.

But tweeting was a way to scratch the need to write itch, even if said "writing" was as mundane as my longer winded blog posts.

Today I worked at home to help look after my wife, who had an out-patient procedure to correct a vision problem involving her eyelids. After coming home and sleeping for nearly four hours, she's up and about and already is happy that her vision is completely unblocked. Before the procedure she said it was like looking through partially open curtains. Now we just need to follow the doctor's directions so that the small sutures around her eyelids will heal.

In the afternoon, between chores and before I went out to Whole Foods for some of their 365 spaghetti sauce, I happened to look out the back window onto the potted mandevillas I got last year for my wife, and happened to see the setting sun blazing through their blooms. We've got three types, a standard pink, a standard red, and a compound pink. The standards are together in the same large pot. The compound hasn't really started blooming like these beauties, but it will.

Red MandevillaI used the E-1 and an OM 50mm 1:1.4 lens to take these. I was inspired to use this combination by Ken Norton and his latest post, "Late Winter, Idle Farms." Ken is an Olympus and comes closest to my own sensibilities when it comes to Olympus, heaping praise on the equipment and scorn on the company as appropriate. Unlike my own feeble efforts, Ken can make the E-1 with OM lenses simply sing out. It's always a pleasure to stop by and look at his photography.

I wasn't after some technically ultra-sharp photo, I was after trying to capture in some way the emotion I felt when I looked out the window. I wanted to capture the glow of the flowers as the late afternoon sun shown on and through them. I wanted to capture a sense of their beauty.

I get tired of all the dirty spots I see in the world; there are so many, so overwhelmingly many. With spring should comes renewal, bright bold colors that only nature herself can produce. And so I've been carrying my E-P2 and E-1 around and looking for opportunities to capture a little of nature's beauty as best I can.

EP154515

EP164520

Technical

Top to photos taken with the Olympus E-1 and Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-S 50mm 1:1.4 stopped down to f/2.8. Bottom two were taken with the Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.7 stopped down to f/2.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Another Sunday and Another Trip Back Home

Occupy Tallahassee

While other Occupy camps are being roughly disbanded by over-militarized local police (New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, etc), the camp in Tallahassee seems to be alive and well, having been established since October of last year, and having been at this location since Thanksgiving.

I found this while leaving Tallahassee after stopping by the Broken Brogan (see more below). I met several camp inhabitants this morning and they were all quite friendly. One of them, Aaron, gave me a thumbnail history of the area, stressing the fact that the city gave them permission to occupy this vacant lot at the corner of West Madison and South Duval. Apparently the Occupy group went to great pains to occupy the area legally.

Rules of Engagement - Occupy Tallahassee

I find it amazing that the city of Tallahassee would be so open-minded and cooperative with the Occupy group. Or perhaps I shouldn't be, with Florida State University and Florida A&M sitting right next door to the group. Both of these storied schools believe and support populist causes, and have helped produce like-minded local graduates for over 150 years.

The reader should note the "Please" board on the left, and the rules that the collective have set up for themselves. From all outward appearances the group is following these simple but effective rules. This is a far cry from the portrayal of other Occupy groups. I can only speak to the Orlando group, who were attempting to be as well-behaved as the Tallahassee group. The only problem were the local Orlando city fathers, who were manipulated by a local lying Tea Party group into using local City of Orlando police force to move the group and deny them their Constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights.

The Quad - Occupy Tallahassee

The area devoted to the group is clean and organized, but not regimented. In the peaceful morning, if you didn't know better, you'd think this was a group of camping baby boomers.

Big Yellow Bus - Occupy Tallahassee

I'm showing my age for sure, but this Occupy bus reminds me of the Muppet's Electric Mayhem Bus.

Green Tech - Occupy Tallahassee

And somebody's gone to the trouble of setting up some green tech. I don't know what the battery is for, but the solar panel is set up to trickle charge it.

Kuntry Kitsch

When in Tallahassee we stay predominantly at a local Redroof Inn, which is next door to a Cracker Barrel. We eat breakfast there before heading out for the day. Valentine's day has passed; the next commercial holiday is Easter. Rather than speak to the real roots of Easter, folks are more comfortable dealing with Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, and other bright glittery manifestations invented and/or perverted by our American culture.

Kuntry Kitsch

Broken Brogan

It's sad when a museum goes belly up, especially due to mismanagement. In the same area as the Occupy group sits the empty hulk that once housed The Mary Brogan Museum Of Art & Science. My daughter attempted to work there part time, but was released back in mid-December, just in time for Christmas. By mid-January of this year the Brogan had closed up shop, a train wreck taken over the edge appropriately enough by someone named Choo-choo (or is it Choo-cha?).

Broken Brogan

Undergoing Reinvention

What's sad is to see the simple piece of wrinkled paper haphazardly taped to the inside front, a kind of desperate attempt to convince the world there's still something left inside the place.

Empty MOAS

Until you start looking around the place with uncovered windows and see the now-empty shop, a key feature of the museum when it was open, that was once filled with merchandise. I picked up a few items when I was there last year.

Sunday Morning Toons

I remember as a kid growing up in Atlanta when the Sunday paper was so special. It was because of the 'toons. As I got a little older I enjoyed the editorial cartoons as well. Here's two pinched from NPR that remind me of those times, as well as pretty much sum up my growing despair and paranoia over U.S. trampling of our Constitutional rights. I thought this trampling would end when Obama was elected in 2008. Instead the erosion of our Constitutional rights has continued and is accelerating. If the Republicans had even a shred of party integrity and cared about this country as much as they claim, then they would have chosen Ron Paul as their presidential nominee long ago and been done with it. I could certainly vote for Ron Paul.