Of Trips and Really Bad Weather

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 24, 2013 by Mitch Baltuch

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Susan and I decided to spend a long weekend in Amsterdam.  It is a city that we were both interested in and seemed to offer a wealth of great photography.  Indeed, it turned out that the city was a wonderful place, with very friendly people and great food.  It had interesting architecture and history and the canals, and the houses along them, made for great image opportunities.

Unfortunately, Amsterdam also has a prodigious amount of rainfall.  200 days a year, so we were told.  I firmly believe that most of it fell during the time we were there.  We experienced three days of rain, out of the four days we were there.  Partially, this was our fault in that we delayed our trip until mid-October, when the weather is less than stellar.  Also, I usually enjoy shooting in not-so-sunny days, as there is better color saturation.  The problem on this trip is simply that the weather was way too bad to do any serious shooting.  The one day we went out of the city to Noord-Holland to shoot windmills and the coastal regions, it was not only raining, but there were gale force winds as well.  It was so wet that even with a storm coat on my camera, I could not get any shots.  By the time I raised the camera, and could compose and shoot, the lens was covered in droplets.  Nice artsy images, but really…

That doesn’t mean that I did not do any photography and while most of what I shot was not anything of a quality that I would care to share, I did get some shots by following a strategy that tends to work well in bad weather.  Shoot detail, avoid the sky and include lots of color.

The picture above is a good example.  Everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam.  I think it is the national mode of transportation.  Bikes are parked everywhere, particularly on the bridges over the canals, where the railings make good places to secure the bikes with heavy chains.  These two bikes were on one such bridge and were also very brightly colored.  I liked the composition (somewhat abstract) and the variations of color.

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The canal houses are particularly interesting, but trying to get a picture that properly shows the houses and the canals, without showing a leaden, blown out sky, is really difficult.  So aside from a few memory shots, I tried to find interesting detail in a particular house, where I could focus in such a way as to crop out the elements that I didn’t like.  The image above was one such house along the Singel canal.  I found the contents of the windows to be most interesting.  I have no idea what the business was that occupied the building, but it must have been an interesting one.  I focused to concentrate on the building I was interested in and then did an additional crop (something I rarely do) in post-process.

So, photographically, the trip, while not a complete bust, was far less than I had hoped.  However, the city is wonderful and I hope to return again some day, hopefully when the sun is shining.  Oh yeah, the apple pie in Amsterdam is to die for.

Boreass Pass Road and Fall Colors

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2013 by Mitch Baltuch

Boreass Pass Road and Fall Colors

Fall color around eastern Colorado is not very good this year. Between the drought, then an overabundance of rain and a fairly hot summer, the color has been muted in most places. Even the western slope is not a good as it could be.

Hoping for some good color shots and good leaf viewing, Susan and I headed up into the mountains with the intention of driving over Boreas Pass. The pass road runs from south from Breckenridge, going up to over 11,000 feet and then descending into Como on Route 85. The road is dirt and follows an old mining railroad bed. It is narrow in spots, but pretty well maintained and can be done in a normal passenger car.

The nice thing about the pass is that it goes through a number of nice stands of aspens that are usually brilliant gold this time of year. With a clear, blue sky, the pictures can be outstanding. However, this year the colors are muted and in some places, downright ugly. Then again, with a bright sun in a clear blue sky (think polarizing filter), even marginal color can shine.

This picture is taken on the Breckenridge side of the pass and I believe that is Pacific Peak in the background. I am not completely sure of that. It was about the best shot I got on the drive, but I like it well enough, so the drive was a success for me.

The best part of the drive was afterward when we drove into Georgetown and had brunch at The Happy Cooker. If the pictures aren’t great, make sure the food is.

The Social Media Numbers Game

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2013 by Mitch Baltuch

For a long time, I resisted all forms of social media. Having a background in both photography and computer science, I am acutely aware of privacy and intellectual property issues, most of which have hugely negative impacts within the social media arena. However, for business reasons, I chose to finally jump in. I am now on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Oh the shame of it all.

However, a funny thing has happened. I actually find these sites to be of some use. Aside from the obvious business uses, they are useful for staying in touch with friends, particularly ones who I normally would not interact with on a regular basis. More importantly, in times of natural disasters (the Colorado floods immediately come to mind), severe weather and other important events, social media provides an immediacy of information that is extremely useful, if not downright life saving.

All that being said, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. I call it the numbers games. On LinkedIn, it is the number of connections a person has. On Facebook, it is the number of friends, or likes (for a fan page). For Google+ it is the number of people that have you in their circles. For Twitter, it is the number of followers you have. I am not sure when all this turned into a contest, but it is fascinating to watch. Also, I find that I am no more immune to the game than anyone else.

For example, on the Nature, Travel and Wildlife Photography group on LinkedIn, a discussion thread was started two years ago. It asked that people post their Facebook business page, so everyone who was part of the group could “like” the page. This raised your like count and, presumably, your reach. Over two years on, the thread is still going strong and people are getting likes in rather large numbers.

The problem with this game is the relevancy of the numbers to what you are trying to achieve. If you have a thousand friends, do you really? If you have a thousand likes on your business page, are they really customers? Aside from the rather shallow pride a person might take from high numbers, are these numbers doing anything else for you?

As a photographer, I want to sell my images. I would also like to get lots of photography assignments. To do this, both myself and my work need to be in front of my existing and potential customers and clients. Other photographers might fall into this category, but likely not. To me, the goal is not high numbers, but having the right people in my circles and following my pages and tweets.

I suspect, and others may not agree, that the real challenge on social media sights is reaching an audience for your work that can provide revenue opportunities and help us grow our business. I think I would rather have 10 likes from current and potential clients, than 1,000 likes from people just looking for more numbers. I believe that if we would all just concentrate on quality, rather than quantity, we would all be better served.

I received a like from my page, in response to a like I gave his page, from a photographer in Amsterdam. He does quite nice work and I enjoy his images. A good reason to follow. At the same time, I am traveling to Amsterdam for the first time next month, so I reached out to him with some questions. He was gracious enough to answer them. I then put a friend request in to him. Much to my surprise, it was denied. He did, however, send me a note that I found quite reasonable. He explained that he reserved friend requests for people he truly knew. How honest and rational. Someone who understands that social media is just that. For connections that mater, not for the garnering of large numbers.

The Creative Muse

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 8, 2012 by Mitch Baltuch

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I have been hearing a lot lately about the “Creative Muse.”  It seems to be all the rage for creative people these days.  Everyone talks about it, but I don’t believe many know what it is.  Along with all the talk comes many suggestions about connecting with your “Creative Muse,” henceforth to be known as your CM.

Scientifically, it is known that an individual’s creativity happens in their subconscious mind.  It is there that patterns are recognized and solutions realized.  The subconscious, which is really quite child-like, hands its musings off to the conscious mind to provide logic, structure and in general, make the idea useful.  And it is here that, for most people, it all falls apart.  Not that we don’t know what to do with the idea, or we are too stupid to understand it, but rather, we can’t hear the subconscious talking to us.

Understanding this problem is key to solving it.  We live in a world that is increasingly noisy, stressful and demanding.  We are inundated constantly with interruptions that act a a wall of noise.  Against this interference, ideas from our subconscious mind are rather like (to put it crudely) a fart in a whirlwind.  We just don’t hear it.  This is the reason that many creative solutions to problems occur in the shower, at 2 AM in the morning and while sitting on the toilet.  These are the few places where we are not being interrupted (unless you have small kids).  When the interruptions and other interference go away, we can hear what our subconscious is trying to tell us and our CM is back.

There are lots of strategies to helping this process along.  Daily meditation, taking regular breaks and/or walks during the work day, getting out of the office for lunch, etc.  These work and I use all of them, but they are short-term solutions to the problem.

I find that to be creative, which in my case means seeing scenes I want to photograph and hatching art projects that interest me, requires that I be both excited about what I am doing and have the time to think it through and have the necessary creative connection.  For that, a longer term solution is needed.  Thus comes the “Road Trip.”

The best way to quiet the external noise and interruptions is to get away from the environment that causes them in the first place.  Certainly a vacation can do it, but that has to be planned and usually costs a lot of money.  By all means, take vacations.  They are important and generally well earned.  However, for a quicker, cheaper fix, just get away for a long weekend.

For the past several years, Susan and I have, at least once a year, usually more, just gotten in the car and headed off for a 2-3 night trip somewhere.  We know the area we want to go and usually make hotel reservations.  We also have some idea of what we want to see.  Beyond that, we just go where it seems interesting.  We have some basic rules:

  • Unless there is no other way, stay off the interstate highways once we get to the area we want to visit
  • In fact, stay off all major highways of any type when at all possible
  • If a road looks interesting, turn
  • If we see something on a map that seems interesting, go there
  • If someone tells us about a place in the area we didn’t know about, go there
  • If we see a quilt store, we stop (Susan is a quilter and deserves to get something out of this too)

Basically, we just drive, visit, shoot, have fun and eat the best food we can find.  We avoid email for the most part, and the news, and we don’t talk on the phone, other than to check in at home in the evening.

Usually what happens is that the first day, I don’t see a lot of pictures.  By the second day, I am seeing more and by the third day, I have a lot to things to shoot.  I can actually feel myself relaxing more and more as we go.  By the time we get home from the trip, I am recharged and excited about photography again.  Just what I need to get reconnected with my CM.

Give it a try.  You might be quite surprised.

Encyclopedia of Life

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2012 by Mitch Baltuch

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Raptor Summit at the 2012 BioBlitz in Estes Park, CO

This year, the 2012 Biodiversity Festival and BioBlitz was held in Estes Park, Colorado.  Home to Rocky Mountain National Park, the venue provided great resources for the festival’s many activities.  Sponsored by National Geographic, the National Park Service and a number of corporations, the festival is mainly geared towards children, with many learning events and field trips over the course of 24 hours for them to participate in.

Susan and I drove up for the event.  We had not been to one of these (they are held in a different national park each year) and we wanted to see what the whole thing was about.  Besides, it gave us an excuse to spend some time taking pictures in the park itself.

As we were walking through the venues looking at the displays from organizations and vendors, we stumbled on a booth for the Encyclopedia of Life (http://www.eol.org).  The goal of this organization is to create an interactive encyclopedia with global knowledge of life on earth.  Partnering with content providers, it provides a resource for discovering information about living organisms on the planet.

Although my interest was in their ever increasing number of online field guides, this site is a wonderful resource for teachers.  It provides a wealth of material and interactive elements that will help create a wonderful learning environment for children.  With so much misplaced emphasis in our schools on rote learning to pass standardized tests, here is a collection of tools that help children learn about the natural world around them.  Not to memorize it, but to experience it and to develop a thirst for more knowledge that they can pursue.

EOL is truly an organization worthy of support and assistance.  Please take the time to visit the website and learn more about it.

(DISCLAIMER:  There is no disclaimer.  I am not involved with the organization in any way, but I think it is a tremendous idea that is sorely needed.)

Urban Shooting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 5, 2012 by Mitch Baltuch

George Lepp, a really fine nature photographer, did a day long lecture in a venue on the north side of downtown Denver.  This is an industrial/warehouse area with a lot of older buildings in various stages of repair.  Although the lecture did not start until 9 AM and the venue did not open the doors until 8 AM, I get down to the area a bit before 7 AM to do some urban photography.

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I have always enjoyed such shooting as I love details, reflections, colors and such that you find in such settings.  Old, rusted iron, crumbling concrete, graffiti and some really contrasty colors are always around in abundance.

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I spent about 45 minutes just wandering around an area within 3 or  4 blocks of the lecture venue and had a blast just shooting for my own enjoyment.  It was cloudy, so there wasn’t that wonderful golden light you get first thing in the morning, but for the type of images I was looking for, that wasn’t what I wanted.  Instead, with the overcase, while the light was flat, the color saturation was wonderful.

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Thoughts on Social Media

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 2, 2012 by Mitch Baltuch

Since their inception, I have sworn that I would never use things like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  Being an IT professional, as well as a photographer, the privacy and intellectual rights issues raised by such sites generally give me hives.  While I agree that there is no privacy on the Internet, I don’t want to expose everything and anything about me to the world.  My photography work, however, is a different story.

Never is a strong word and usually when you use it, it bites you at some point in the future.  That is certainly the case for me.

First it was Twitter (@MitchBaltuch).  I decided it would be good to use it as repeater for my blog posts to expand my audience.  In that, it has worked modestly well.  However, as I began to play with it and follow people and organizations I like and admire, I found it a good avenue for finding content that was useful to me.

Then (oh the horror of it all), last week I decided to take the plunge and join Facebook.  I set up a personal page (http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.baltuch) and then a company page (http://www.facebook.com/MountainStormFineArts).  After a week of figuring out how it all works and doing some tweaking, I have actually come to like it.  I can’t believe I just said that, but it is true.  I have reconnected with some old friends and colleagues, gained some new views of my photography work and, like Twitter, “liked” some people and organizations that are relevant to me and gained a view into new information and events.

Next week, I will tackle Google+.  Will the depravity never stop?

I believe the trick to making this work and avoiding the privacy and intellectual property pitfalls is to follow a few good rules:

  • Don’t expose more information than you have to.  Does everyone really need to know your birthdate, gender, marital status, etc.?  Just expose what you want known.
  • If you are posting photographs, make them less than useful for other purposes.  I post JPEGs at 60% quality and 600 pixels, longest edge.  Good for general viewing, not good for much else.
  • Separate you personal and business pages.  The personal can and should refer to the business, but the two don’t always mix very well.
  • The operative word in this space is “SOCIAL.”  If you don’t participate, people don’t see you.
  • Be careful who you “Like.”  If you like too many pages, you will get inundated with information to the point that you can’t digest it all.

I said “Never,” but I am slowly coming around.  It will be interesting to see where I am with it all over the next several months.

With a foray into Google+ looming large on the horizon, it begs the question, “Facebook, Google+, or both.”  Any thoughts from anyone?

 

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