La Dolce Vita

I’m living a dream and I don’t mean that I’m Back in the Highlife Again. That would never happen. I have too much bad Karma. The dream I’m talking about is the one that everybody has. The details change, but in it, you’re trying to get something accomplished and things keep happening to thwart you. If you overcome one obstacle, another one takes its place and it’s usually worse. The dream goes on and on until you finally get to school and realize that you’re not wearing pants. I’m sure my dilemma isn’t a  dream because I can remember what happened yesterday and it continues after I wake-up.

I’ve had my current photo printer for three years and it’s the second one that I bought. I got this unit because the printing heads on its predecessor clogged and nothing I did would clear them, including a fresh round of ink cartridges. Of course, I discovered the problem when I urgently needed to make a set of prints for a reason that’s now escaped me, so I panicked and ordered the second printer, and even paying for two-day delivery. I salvaged all the new cartridges from printer #1 so that I could use them in printer # 2. It’s been a couple of years and I haven’t needed to replace the entire set yet.

The new printer is off most of the time. I only turn it on when I sell a print or I have to make a new show entry. I stopped printing all of my images years ago. My closet is full of print boxes that just take up space. Since I don’t do very many art shows anymore, I don’t need to replace the existing stock very often.

I have a new show later this month (more to come) and the committee selected two of the five prints I submitted, so I fired up the printer a couple of weeks ago. The first thing I do when I turn it on is run a couple of cleaning cycles before I ever load the paper. I want to make sure the printer is hitting on all eight cylinders so I don’t waste a sheet of expensive paper. I went to make my four prints—two for show and two for backup—and the first three printed perfectly. There was something wrong in the shadows with the fourth print, so I tried again with the same results. The indicator for the cyan cartridge was flashing, but I didn’t have a replacement in my stash. Instead, I ran the head cleaning maintenance a couple of times while I ordered another cartridge from Amazon. Then I tried another print, but the results were the same. I tweaked the paper profile, I used another brand of paper, I did more cleaning, but nothing worked. In desperation, I ran a series of cleaning cycles until the printer yelled at me, “Can not do the head cleaning, one of the ink cartridges is out of ink.”

My cyan cartridge arrived yesterday and I put it into the printer. Before printing anything, I ran a nozzle check. When you do that, the printer spits out a print with a series of color music scales. If one of the heads is clogged, that color scale has broken lines. In this case, almost all the black scale was missing. Now that I had plenty of ink, I began running cleaning cycles. After each one, more of the black pattern appeared and after a half-dozen cycles, there was only one small break in the black pattern, so I tried once more. The printer began yelling again, “Maintenance cartridge is full, please replace with a new cartridge.” When you do a head cleaning, the printer squirts ink into the maintenance cartridge and when that’s full, the printer stops working until you replace it.

So I’m waiting for the new cartridge to arrive from Amazon. Because of today’s holiday, it won’t arrive until next week. Instead of matting and framing my show entries, I have to spend the day being nice to the birthday girl. That means I have to cook dinner and watch Independence Day again because that’s what she does on July 4th. Jeez, it’s not even the alien invasion movie with the cool Slim Whitman ending. Maybe if I’m lucky, I can take a nap and sleep away this nightmare.

Until next time — jw

Free App Guaranteed to Improve Your Photography

Shortly after moving to Congress, I joined the Wickenburg Art Club (WAC) or more specifically, the Photo Group of WAC. I joined for multiple reasons. Being new to the area, I wanted to meet like-minded people and I felt that being a club member would open doors to show my work. Joining met both of my expectations, but now there’s a price to pay. When you tap into the benefits of any organization, you’re also expected to contribute and, in my case, I’ve been “volunteered” as a committee member whose mission is to organize a half-dozen photography seminar. The goal is to share our experiences with members looking for help. They’re essentially photography classes taught by journeymen.

Sunrise at the Bridge
One of my snapshots of Friday’s sunrise.

I spent a small part of my technology career as an adjunct faculty member teaching community college computer classes; including Adobe’s Photoshop. In a structured education system like that, students start with a history lesson where they’re taught about Atget, Stieglitz, Weston, et al. but we’re going to blow that off. Instead, I think we should start with a fundamental that transcends all cameras. It’s a skill that every photographer struggles with and few (including myself) ever truly master—the skill of seeing. It’s not a binary thing where you either got it or you don’t, but a continuum. We’re all somewhere on that spectrum and some of us sweat to improve.

At art shows, an occasional customer will comment while rifling through my bins, “Wow! You must have a fabulous camera.” Although I assume that they appreciate my work, it could be construed as an insult.  It’s like saying Alton Brown is a great chef because of his pots and pans, or Renoir had magnificent brushes (not that I put myself at that level). The fact is that I do have a couple of good camera systems, but they’re just tools. On their own, they won’t make me a master photographer.

A camera is a key tool in photography, but you can make good pictures without spending a fortune on fancy cameras. For example, look at the fabulous work being done with smartphones. To be a good (on the way to great) photographer, there is an app that’s even more important than a camera. It weighs about three pounds and you need to lug it around all the time. I know it sounds cumbersome, but you already do. The app lives at the back of your eyes between your ears—it’s your brain. OK, maybe that’s the hardware part which is a state-of-the-art processor. My point is that you need to train yourself to see like a photographer. It takes practice, but like they say about Carnegie Hall, “Take the subway.”

For these seminars, I’ve gathered some thoughts on how to start your journey. There are too many for a venue like this blog, it’s more suited for a book, and I’m too lazy to write one of those. In my upcoming posts, I’m going to take each idea in turn and write about it. That way you can take a break in between and think or practice what we’ve discussed—in the grown-up world they call that method distributed learning. After that, I’ll get into camera techniques and explain what the buttons do—and why. Instead of a lecture, I’d like a discussion knowing that some of you are more advanced on these topics, so I ask you to chime in. Ready or not …

Till then … jw

New Winter Showings

As we approach mid January, I’ve already made progress on one of my New Year’s resolutions which was to get my photo work on display in a gallery or show at least four times this year. Last Tuesday, Anne and I took a framed print down to the Wickenburg Art Center (WAC) for  display and sale in their gallery. I posted an article last month about having my work juried so that I could take part in local events. A side benefit of the jury process is that I can hang some work in their gallery.

The framed print that we have on display is the 4:5 version of Kluane Lake and Ruby Range that I shot this summer while in the Yukon Territories. It was one of the prints that I submitted for jurying, and since it was ready to go, it was an easy choice.

Kluane Lake a Ruby Range
Kluane Lake and Ruby Range – A framed 20×16 print now on display at the Wickenburg Art Center.

The Wickenburg Art Center gallery is at 188 S. Tegner Street. That’s two blocks south of US60. Tegner is the Wickenburg old main street and the light immediately west of the railroad underpass. If you’re in the area, stop in and enjoy the work local artisans have on display.

My next project is to get two prints ready for the Gold Rush Days Fine Arts Show in February. Those will be on display in the Wickenburg Library from February 10th through the 12th. I haven’t decided what to submit yet and perhaps you can help. I need to have the photos printed and framed by the beginning of the month and I think they should have a common theme. Should I submit two images from our trip? Maybe a couple of the local landscapes would be better; or how about a pair of old buildings as a submission? Which two of my images would you like to see hung on the wall? Let’s hear your comments.

Till then.


Frame Making

In my last post, I talked about getting some framed prints ready for a Jury Review. I had three frames that I repainted and printed the images to fit them. Although they came out nice and I got a positive comments about  them, I’m not really satisfied with store-bought frames. They chip and dent rather easily and the wood they used is hard to re-finish.  Besides, the ready-made frames don’t come in the format that I want to use for some of my 16:9 landscapes.

Since I have woodworking tools, I’ve decided to try making my own frames. I’m relatively new to woodworking, but after a few YouTube videos, I convinced myself to give it a shot. The worst that can happen is that I waste time and a couple sticks of lumber.

I think photograph frames should be simple and not upstage the art. I like the thin metal kit frames, but on a large image they‘re out of scale. I also want the image to stand away from the wall, and not be on the same plane. I want a black color, but with some grain, so I want them stained and not painted.

Milled Poplar
Out of the three pieces of poplar that I had, I was able to cut six lengths for my frames. That should be enough to assemble three frames.

I had several pieces of poplar left over from other projects so I pulled them out and began milling them to size. To keep the frame simple, I used the ¾” edge for the front face and cut uniform strips 1 ¾” wide. The next step was to route a ¼ rabbit for the glass, mat and backing to sit in. Finally I rounded off the front faces with a ¼” radius. With the pieces all cut, I put a black stain on them today.

The frame profiles
I want the framed image to stand away from the wall, so I cut the pieces deep with a generous rabbit.

I’m going to give the stain plenty of time to dry, so I set them aside until Friday. Then, I’m going to cut the angles to length and glue them together. Since I already have the glass for them, I’m a little nervous that I cut them to the right size. To make sure they are, I’ll cut them a little large at first and sneak up on the final length until they’re perfect. I’ll start by cutting one and when I’m convinced I’ve got the measurements right, I’ll continue with the other two.

This is the poplar with two coats of black stain applied. After I cut and assemble the pieces, I'll put a coat of sanding sealer and a couple coats of clear finish.
This is the poplar with two coats of black stain applied. After I cut and assemble the pieces, I’ll put a coat of sanding sealer and a couple coats of clear finish.

More later this week.


Dawson Creek – British Columbia

We’ve been on the road seventeen days with 2600 miles on the odometer when we arrived at Dawson Creek yesterday (Friday; it’s scotch night). Dawson Creek is an important stop on our trip.

  • It’s our first stop in British Columbia.
  • The weather is warmer than we’ve had the last few days.
  • This completes the first section of Fred’s itinerary.

The most important reason though, is that Dawson Creek is where we pick up the famous Alaska Highway. As Fred said this afternoon, “We’ve come all this way just to get to the start.”  If you want to drive to Alaska, this is the road that will get you there. Fairbanks is at the other end of this road, only 1500 miles away.

Gang under ALCAN Highway sign,
Fred, Sally, Deb, Anne and Jim take a moment to pose for photos under the highway banner.

The Army Corps of Engineers built the road in 1942 in eight months for military purposes during the second world war. The public didn’t have access to the road until 1948 and it wasn’t paved until the Alaska pipeline was built. Now the road’s covered with RVs. There’s a thriving cottage industry shepherding caravans of RVs on the same route that we’re taking.

Class A motoromes from a guided caravan.
A small part of a RV Caravan sharing the same campsite with us. Our paths cross often as we move from park to park.

A couple of days ago, I was afraid that we wouldn’t get into Dawson Creek. Last week they had torrential rains that dumped over four inches of rain in the area. The creek that runs through the middle of town (surprise, it’s also called Dawson Creek) cut the town in half by washing out the main road. Within three days, crews patched the roads enough to get traffic flowing again.

Damage on the Dawson Creek Broidge.
Only a couple of days before we arrived in Dawson Creek, over four inches of rain caused flooding on Dawson Creek and closed the major road through town.

We’ve now cleared the Canadian Rockies and the countryside is flatter, with farms and lots of timber. The towns are further apart, but they have all the franchises you’d expect at home. We even passed a Costco yesterday in Grand Prairie, which is something that we rarely do.

The geography of our route has changed from mountains to prairie as we pick up the ALCAN Highway.
The geography of our route has changed from mountains to prairie as we pick up the ALCAN Highway.

Tomorrow morning we strike out for Fort Nelson. A leg that’s close to three hundred miles or 450km. Although the road is famous, it gets bad reviews for its condition. We’ll batten down the hatches and suffer through it, because now we’ve made a turn and are on our way to Alaska.


Preparation – Protecting Images

Ah, the joys of extended travel. The open road, the breathtaking scenery… and the looming threat of losing all your precious digital files. I mean, what could go wrong when you keep all your images on those tiny little memory cards? I’ve had a few trips where a card disappeared into the abyss of the night, and my friend Jeff once left a box of prints in a motel room and had to backtrack to retrieve them. Can you imagine traveling nine thousand miles and having nothing to show? The horror.

So, how do I plan on safeguarding my files this time around? Rule number one is to back up your data and store it in multiple locations. I won’t be taking my work computer with me, but we splurged on a laptop perfect for traveling. It has loads of storage and plenty of working memory, and it can quickly run PhotoShop and my web management software. My first line of defense will be keeping backup files on it.

But what if the laptop gets damaged or lost? That’s where cloud storage comes in. There are many options, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, but I decided to go with Google Drive. I already have a Google account, and their pricing plan was affordable.

Of course, you can’t rely on just one copy, so I shelled out $10 monthly for a terabyte of space. That should cover me for the three months we’ll be on the road. And if I need more space, I can grab it on the fly – no waiting required.

The beauty of cloud storage is that I can access it anywhere worldwide and upload my photos as I go. When I return to my desk, everything will be there waiting for me to download. Unless, of course, someone hacks into Google and destroys everything. Who needs digital memories when you have the real thing, right? (Please don’t hack Google, hackers. Pretty please.)


Preparation – Apps

When I plan a trip like this one, I try to learn as much as I can about my destination. I want to know about the history, the climate, and what what’s cool about it, what makes me want to go there in the first place. I look for websites of local photographers and I look at the pictures on Google Earth. Along with all of that acquired knowledge, Queen Anne and I pack local travel guides and when we arrive, I pick up the best maps I can find. I can spend hours going over maps, mile by mile.

This Denali trip isn’t different, only this time we’ve stepped into the 21st Century. Anne just got a smart phone and I bought a tablet, and we’ve loaded several apps to help manage our trip better.

When traveling with an RV, it’s important to plan your camp sites. That’s what AllStays does for us. At $9.99, AllStays is the most expensive application we bought. This app uses Google Maps and overlays campgrounds, dump stations, LP dealers, casinos and even Walmarts along the route. Clicking on an icon opens a dialog box showing a brief description of the item and links to the location’s Website, directions from your current location, current weather conditions, pictures, reviews and if the campground is Web savvy, it will open a page that allows you to pick out a campsite and book it. The app also shows steep downgrades, low bridges, and escape roads, so you can change your route. It’s an impressive little app well worth the price.

When traveling, I always have a hard time reconciling all of my receipts and checkbooks. The next app that I bought will help me with that. This app is called AndroMoney and it was built mostly for business travelers. In it, you to enter something that you paid for and then stick it into a bucket, like personal, business or medical expense. You can start out with a budget amount and it will show you if you are over or under your daily, monthly, or annual allotment. It has built in reports and you can export the data to Excel or another money management programs. The cost for this was a staggering $2.99. At that price I figured that I couldn’t go wrong even if I only didn’t use most of its functions.

The next app is called TripLog and is free (upgrades are available for a small fee). You all know someone that keeps a mileage logbook in their car; don’t you? That’s what this app does. Each time you stop for gas, you enter the odometer reading, the amount of gallons, the fuel price and total sale. You can also enter other auto expenses like oil changes, car washes and such. You can log each trip you make with your vehicle and categorize them as business or personal and TripLog will generate a report that you can use for filling out taxes. There is a feature that allows you to connect a Bluetooth OBDII reader. Without getting too technical, that’s the port below your steering wheel your mechanic plugs diagnostic stuff into and figures out what the check engine light means. Don’t let that scare you away, you don’t need to use it, just put the numbers in manually. It’s something intriguing to techies because it means the app will automatically start a trip when you turn on the car. I plan on using this program to track segment and overall mileages, and yes I do own an On Board Diagnostic (OBD) reader.

The next two apps that I’ve loaded are just for fun. We are big fans of Food Network and especially the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We’ve tried several of the places that Guy Fieri featured on his show and we pretty much agree with his reviews (actually, if the restraint isn’t good, it won’t make the show). So the app named DDD has the show’s locations. Be still my blood clots. There are even three places in the Fairbanks area that you can bet we’ll try.

Triple D has a pretty good list, but the show was never shot in Canada. The other Food Network app not only includes the Guy Fieri shows, but includes all of the restaurants featured on the network, including the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate. This app is called TV Food Maps and does have places in Whitehorse and Dawson Creek. With all of these places to try, I’m getting antsy to get on the road.

The apps that we’ve loaded are Android devices, of course, if you own the other kind of device, there are versions for IOS that you can get at the Apple Store.