Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Six months in a leaky boat

Rusty freighter
Boston, MA, January 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Thrifty car rental's lot isn't at Logan Airport proper. It's about a five-minute drive north of the terminals, right beside a navigation channel where, as luck would have it, a rusty old freighter was anchored when I first got off the shuttle bus and walked into the building.

After I signed my life away and was given the keys to what could very well have been my grandfather's car (a cream-colored Chrysler 300), I asked the attendant if he would allow me to walk to the back of the car lot to take a picture. His eyebrows furrowed in the universal "you're insane" pose, but he good-naturedly asked his supervisor. She happily shrugged her shoulders and said she hadn't done anything all that interesting all day, so this seemed worth a shot.

Out we went into the clear, late afternoon cold. In a very friendly, Boston-gregarious kind of voice, she asked me why on earth I wanted to take pictures of a boat. I gave her my 30-second I'm-addicted-to-photography speech before we arrived at the back fence. I took my camera out and shot through the fence. She noticed a hole in the fence and suggested I try to shoot through it. I carefully navigated over the icy ground and got the second shot in this sequence.

I showed her the images on the camera's screen - another thing I love about digital - and she chatted amiably as we headed back inside. In a strange city far away from home, I had somehow managed to leave someone with something she likely wouldn't forget for a bit. Neat.

Your turn: Connecting with strangers in a strange place. Please discuss.

More background on the boat: I dug up a couple of links that share some more background on this ship. The Romo Maersk is a Danish vessel, built in 1986 to carry chemicals and oil. When I juxtapose the rust over the kind of cargo she carries, I'm left with a bit of a sinking feeling. At least she's double-hulled. Anyway, enough of my eco-whining. Neat links are here, here and here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Playing with water at the airport

Dancing water
DTW - Detroit Metro Airport, McNamara Terminal, January 2007
[Click all images to embiggen]

On my way to Boston last week, I managed to clear security a bit early, and consequently had a few extra minutes before I needed to head to my gate. One of the joys of moving through this airport is despite its gargantuan size, the combination of high-speed tram and moving sidewalks means even the furthest gate in the furthest terminal is no longer an hour-long hike. Which means more time for goofing around with a camera.

The McNamara terminal stretches out for what seems like a mile in either direction. Smack in the middle sits a computer-controlled fountain whose dancing streams of water give travellers a bit of a break in the middle of an otherwise-alien place. Out came the camera. Unlike most of my in-transit photography, I wasn't alone this time. Folks from everywhere speaking every language imaginable milled around the base of the fountain, chatting animatedly about the best way to record the fascinating piece of public scuplture.

The light was a challenge, but shooting into the gigantic window with the Northwest Airlines 747-400 parked just outside gave the scene a bit of an ethereal tone. I lost count of how many pictures I took in the 12 minutes that I was there, but I was - and remain - thankful for large memory cards and long-duration batteries. I had taken pictures of this fountain the last time I came through the airport, but a point-and-shoot doesn't have the speed or flexibility to do justice to fast-moving water that changes consistency and composition every fraction of a second. It was like painting a portrait with a Benjamin Moore paint roller, and I was disappointed with the results. This time, I was glad that I had returned with a somewhat better tool for the job.

I wanted to stay there for just a few more minutes. I had lots of battery, lots of room on the memory card and a head swimming with ideas for capturing this in other ways. But the clock was ticking, and the last thing I wanted was a last-minute mad dash through the terminal a la O...well, we won't mention him. So I carefully tucked my camera back into its bag, closed everything up and started the long trek to a gate that likely resided in another zip code. My journey was nowhere near over, but I had already succeded in capturing a small piece of it for everyone back home.

I blew off the moving sidewalk and decided to walk to my gate. Tomorrow, I'd be in this same place, heading home. I wondered what other scenes were awaiting capture as I criss-crossed the countryside.

Your turn: What's your immediate reaction when you see the flying water? Do these pictures work for you? How?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Looking over the railing

Wood and water
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006 [Click to enlarge]

Sometimes, the most memorable images of being in a unique place are also the most abstract.

Your turn: What three words come to mind when you first view this image? go

Anyone who knows me remotely well knows how jazzed I get from technology. Not technology for technology's sake, mind you, but technology for the purpose of squeezing a little more fun out of life. Or for the purpose of squeezing out more life in the first place. If it has a bottom-line benefit that regular folks can understand or appreciate, I get excited.

A friend of mine turned me on to something called the Avvenu Music Player a couple of days ago. It takes all that lovely music that you have bottled up inside iTunes or your iPod and frees it. Want to get at your tunes remotely? Can do. Want to share your music with your friends? No sweat.

We'll set aside the legalities of sharing music for another day. But my take is simple: anything that helps build out the community of sharing that makes music such an experience of humanity is by definition a good thing. If it broadens our knowledge of what's out there and points us toward a richer base of artistic output, then you've got to applaud the effort.

The product is in beta now, and it's free to try. (See the Digg here.) The geek in me will be playing around with it in the weeks to come.

Your turn: As someone with a significant stake in tech, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this new offering. I'd also want to know if anyone wants me to share a playlist from my own library. I have highly eclectic tastes in music, so I don't want to scare anyone. But if you're feeling adventurous...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Caption This 3

[Caption to be filled in by you...]
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006

They say a picture can speak a thousand words. As soon as I saw this person, I knew that old saying was indeed true. I know I crossed lines of privacy by taking this image from afar. But I thought sharing a poignant moment justified it. A month after I captured this, I remain ambivalent about whether this is the case.

Your turn: If this is your first time submitting a suggestion to Written Inc.'s weekly Capture This feature, click here for the rules, such as they are. Click here for last week's entry.

Before I forget...last week's winning caption is:
I'm proof that life IS good!
Terri penned this keeper. If you haven't yet had a chance to visit her site, Island Writer, I wholeheartedly suggest doing so without delay. Her writing is a not-so-hidden treat.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Part of a balanced breakfast

Having a look at the menu
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006

On the last day of the year, we went out for breakfast. Because I didn't want to end the year with any degree of inconsistency, I brought my camera along and noodled around with it before the food arrived.

Sharp-eyed readers will recall that we went to this place, Shelby's, last year. I'm happy to report that not a whole lot had changed after 12 months. It was still an unspoiled little slice of the way it used to be.

I thought a closer look at the menu would tell the story of this place better than any words could.

Your turn: I hope you'll click on the image and let your eyes linger for a bit. You might begin to notice details that suggest this isn't a slick franchise operation. And that's a very good thing indeed, wouldn't you agree?

Pretty plane

757 at rest
Logan International Airport, Boston, MA, January 2007 [Click to turn it into a Jumbo]

Those who know me are well aware of my fascination with all things that fly. Unilike most folks in this post-9/11 world, I still enjoy getting into a plane and leaving the planet for a little while, especially if that plane is bringing me home.

I have a hierarchy of commercial aircraft. Some, like the Embraer E-Jets and the Airbus A-320 family, rank very highly. The lowly old DC-9...not so much. I've got a soft spot for the Boeing 757. On Thursday, I flew this one, a Northwest Airlines 757-200, from Boston to Detroit. While waiting for the ground crew to get the plane ready for our flight, I snapped a few quick images through the thick glass windows of the terminal.

Why the 757? It's subtly pretty. It seems to sit relatively high on its landing gear, and its thin, long fuselage stands out as it moves across the tarmac. It was a highly successful design for Boeing that marked its move into a new generation of fuel efficient, sophisticated designs. That it's the flying equivalent of a sports car - same engines and wings as the heavier, wide-bodied 767 in a much thinner, lighter airframe - makes even the most routine flights a touch more fun.

In this angle, the curves and the surface detail defy the conventional definition of the airplane as a mere tube. I wish I had more time to capture the scene.

Your turn: Pictures in an airport. Please discuss.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pause for technical update...

Quick note to let you know that I've transitioned off of the old Blogger and onto the new. It seems to have gone well, save for the fact that the links to some - OK, make that many - commenters' sites have been stripped out, and it now looks like I've had lots of anonymous commenters.

There's a fly in every ointment, I suppose.

I had intended to stay on the old platform until completely transitioning off of Blogger, but I won't have time to do the full-on migration anytime soon, and Google was making it a royal pain to keep maintaining the site under the old regime. So I caved.

I'll keep my eye out for other little foibles along the way. In the meantime, I'm glad I'm still (virtually) here.

Smart food

London, Ontario, December 2006 [Click to enlarge the chocolate]

I take pictures of food. Anything with color or texture is fair game. It doesn't say no and it doesn't walk away, so it's pretty easy to work with.

Smarties are sort of like a Canadian version of chocolate M&Ms. We get the latter product here as well, so you can well imagine the arguments that ensue over which one is better.

Taste-wise, I'll commit heresy and admit that I'm a Peanut M&M fan above all. Photo-wise, chocolate Smarties take the cake. They're flatter and more uniform, so they tend to lay down more predictably. And when you're shooting macro, depth of field is critical: the narrower the depth of the object being photographed, the more likely you will be to get it all in focus.

Yes, I think about this too much. No, I don't know why. No, I have no intention of stopping.

Your turn: What are your favorite foods to photograph? Why do you photograph food in the first place?

One more thing: Got home incredibly late last night. Was welcomed by lake effect snowstorms and bitter cold that delayed my trip, but in the end I made it home in one piece. It's good to be home. New pictures soon...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reflective father and son

Us, exponential
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006

This little pizza restaurant just across the street from the beach was very good to us: Great food that made the kids happy, and a great set of opposing-wall mirrors that allowed me to handhold this image just before we headed back to the beach.

I've played with mirrors before. Click here, here and here for earlier examples of the optical games I play when the shiny surfaces line up just so.

I love this picture because it is yet another glimpse of yet another magical moment I got to spend with one of our children. I guess I'm just a really lucky person.

Your turn: Do you do mirrors with your camera? Why?

Note from the road: I'm blogging this wirelessly from the hotel lobby in Framingham, MA, which is a town west of Boston. I took some rather unconventional pictures on the way here. The most interesting ones involve a jumbo jet, water, and a gigantic window. I look forward to sharing them with you upon my return.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Carved in stone

Angled mantel
Delray Beach, Florida, December 2006 [Click to embiggen]

A camera, a tripod and some free time. It's a pretty good recipe when I'm feeling creative and I have an itchy shutter finger. As I meandered through the living room, the tripod allowed me to use longer exposures and smaller apertures, which allowed even oblique compositions like this to be tack sharp from edge to edge.

The texture pulls me in every time I look at this image. I feel like I can touch it.

Your turn: What's photographable in your living room? Will you be taking a picture of it anytime soon?

Quick note on life: I'm zoomin off into the big blue sky tomorrow - oops, make that today. Heading to Boston to work on a fascinating project. It's a quick trip - I'll be back late Thursday night - but I suspect I'll find a way to capture unique, new-to-me experiences along the way. More soon...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Little folks, both serious and funny

Our three kids
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006

We managed to get them to shmush their faces together for just long enough to capture this fleeting moment of childhood. I don't often pose them because I'd rather quietly capture them as they are. But I like to take periodic our-three-kids pics because, well, that's what parents do. And because their grandparents asked.

Of course, they're my kids. Which, as you know, means they've got a funny streak that extends well beyond the horizon behind them. So mere seconds after I grabbed this picture, they went back to being the insanely funny folks that they usually are. In doing so, they repeated history, as it was my mission when I was a child to make a funny face in every picture my parents took of me. (Note to self, scan and upload Carmi's childhood pictures. Should be worth a laugh or two, ya think?)

Since my parents used film, I can now appreciate why my father's teeth were so often clenched when he took pictures of me. Still, it's the unexpected images of childhood that seem to stick in my mind. And theirs. Hence, the following picture...

Click either image to embiggen.

Your turn: Silly pictures. Please discuss your perspective on this time-honored family photo album staple.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tea time in Toronto

Reflective teapot
Toronto, Ontario, January 2007

I think I've figured out the trick to the artistic photography thing: the key is to be always on. To that end, I constantly find myself looking at the world around me as though it's framed in a viewfinder. I wonder what a given scene would look like if I shot it. I wonder who would be interested in sharing the scene with me. I wonder what memories it might trigger years later.

So when I'm chatting with friends and spot a rather large spot of tea on their kitchen counter, I sometimes find myself wanting to capture a surreal slice of that image. As I did here. Thankfully, they know me well enough to let me have free rein: Bless them. I hope you like it, too.

Your turn: Please click on this image to enlarge, then look deeply into it. What do you see?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cover me

Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click to open further]

Umbrellas shield us from the rain, from the sun, or simply from prying eyes. Whatever they're protecting us from, they can represent interesting studies in geometry and color if you take the time to stare at them.

As you've likely figured out by now, I stared at this one for just long enough. What first presented itself as a compositional exercise in predictability became anything but when I noticed the runny ink at the apex. Imperfect perfection: it's a theme that should crop up in a few other pictures of mine in the days to come. Stay tuned...

Your turn: What's protecting you?

Caption This 2

[Caption to be filled in by...YOU!]
Deerfield Beach, December 2006

This is Noah, our youngest son. I often call him the happiest boy in the world. He has a sunny, sweet and kind personality that can break through to even the crustiest of cynics. This picture pretty much sums him up, and I'm turning to the readers of my blog for help in writing a caption for this image.

This entry is the second one in my just-launched Caption This series. For more background on how Caption This works, please click here.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a caption for last week's CT image. The winner is...

My fellow Londoner and a mad-cyclist too, Persia! His caption is: "Cute @ss, 10:00".

Your turn: How would you caption this photo of Noah? I'll post my choice next Sunday - along with yet another new image for you to caption. Have fun with it...and thanks!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Waves and transitions

A wave's end
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006

The sun was setting fast as I snapped the last few images of the day. I stood ankle-deep in the surf, watching the kids play by the water's edge, and thought about a question our six-year-old had asked earlier in the day. He wanted to know where waves came from. We did our best to explain, but our limited knowledge of oceonographic theory compelled us to keep it simple. We talked about how waves can begin, how they travel, and how they end when they reach shallow waters by the beach.

Now, as I stood in the middle of the churning surf, his little voice played in my head as I watched wave after wave roll up the smooth sand and then cease to exist. I couldn't adequately explain wave theory to our kids, but I sure could try to capture the last seconds before the whole process came to an end.

Beginnings. Endings. A little boy's question. As I stood between land and sea and watched day slowly turn into night, this seemed like a nice way to capture it all.

Your turn: How do you answer a child's unanswerable question?


Roof meets sky
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006

I'll take pictures of anything if it captures my eye just so. The changing room/services building beside the pool is your typical one storey concrete building set amidst countless other forgettable structures. But every time I walked past it, I found myself staring at it. Its stark, unadorned angles seemed to have their own charm,.

I like the edges and the color of this one. The shadows seem to invite the eye in for a closer look. The picture reminds me of where I stood when I took it. The kids were swimming with my wife just behind me. Their voices sang in my ears as I took the picture before putting the camera away and joining them.

Your turn: Why am I so fascinated by all that is plain? Why are you?

Photographic update: The blue isn't enhanced. I believe pictures should faithfully reproduce what the photographer saw when the image was first shot, so I limit any Photoshopping to occasional minor tweaks. Florida sky is just that much cooler to look at, I guess.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Endless waves

Rolling surf
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006 [Click to double the wave height]

The ocean looks different every time you see it. Time of day, weather, waves and wind influence how the water dances with the atmosphere, and how it all hits your eye.

But how to capture it? I had no idea when we first got to Florida, and I didn't feel I was any better informed when we left. I must have taken hundreds of pictures from the sandy shores, but I didn't have a eureka moment where I felt I suddenly knew how to confidently shoot the surf.

But that's fine by me, because it gives me another reason to go back. To here. To another beach. Wherever. As long as I feel humbled the next time I feel sand under my feet, it'll be worth the trip to get my family there.

I like this image because it illustrates the various shades of green and blue in the water. It was the first thing my wife noticed when we first arrived, and as soon as she said it I knew I needed to capture it in some way.

Your turn: How do you feel when you first get to the seashore and you see and hear the waves?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

iPhone, you phone, we all phone for iPhone...

My exciting, jet-setting life continues. I've was on TV earlier this afternoon, talking about the latest developments in the high-end smartphone market. Pat Bolland and Amanda Lang from Report On Business Television interviewed me.

The deal is that LG released a new phone, officially known as the KE850, but more popularly called the Prada. In a collaboration with the famous house of fashion, LG's new phone is a sexy-looking, giant-screened affair that's already inviting comparisons to Apple's just-announced iPhone. For 600 euros ($780-ish if it sold in the U.S., which it won't for the forseeable future because it isn't designed to run on North American carrier networks, but I digress...) it should also make breakfast.

So I sat down for a chat to sift through all these big high-end phone announcements, to speak about the whole designer-phone thing, and to assess what it all means for folks like you and me who just want to get work done. All in all, very cool stuff. I love what I do!

Oh yes, you can actually see the interview by clicking here. Warning: if you've never seen or heard me before, viewer discretion is advised.

Your turn: Was it fun to watch?

In the margins

In the shadows
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007

When I first decided to become a writer, I began to appreciate the green and red markups that my teachers/reviewers would leave in the margins of my submitted work. The richness of their feedback helped me take so-so first drafts and turn them into somewhat better pieces of work. I learned that the real value in something isn't always in the stuff you see first. Rather, it's buried in the margins, in the less obvious places most folks won't ever see.

Handwritten markups have largely been replaced by electronic collaboration tools. Microsoft Word's reviewing tools add a whole new dimension to the process, but the fundamentals remain the same.

It spills into my photography as well, where I find myself peering beside and behind the main subject, looking for little snippets of brilliance that will make the thing fly and, on occasion, stand out on their own. Consequently, I look down and a lot.

Your turn: What do you see when you look beside and behind?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A tale of two birds

Egret takes a walk
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click to see the beak close-up]

All parents eventually find their way to the local pharmacy. And when they do, it's usually because at least one of the little folks responsible for them being parents in the first place is emitting bodily fluids in ways that suggest something is not quite right in Pitkinville. I know that's gross. Then again, so is cleaning the bathroom after a six-year-old's had his way with it. But you don't see me complaining.

Thankfully, my trip to the Walgreens was for nothing more than picking up doodads that kids invariably need when they head for the beach. A happy visit. Phew.

Now, a quick word about parking: I always park as far away from others as possible. I find people to be incredibly rude about how they open their doors in parking lots. They routinely smack the car next to them without so much as a second thought. This fundamental lack of basic decency bugs me. And since I can't change the world, I can at least do my best to keep my vehicle from looking like it's just served as target practice at a driving range.

(Bear with me: I do have a point.)

So I parked waaay off to the end of the parking lot. Beside a stretch of grass next to a leafy clump of bushes. A mere couple of feet from three lanes of traffic rushing to beat the other three lanes of traffic onto the I-95. And I saw a whole whack of birds with their beaks buried in the grass.

Cool, I thought. Lovely white birds with long beaks. Didn't have any like this at home. So I slid the camera out of its case and quietly stood beside the car while I assessed my options. Despite the fact that I was nowhere near them, they sensed my presence and slowly edged away from me. I zoomed the lens to Embiggen Max mode and started shooting anyway. They kept their heads buried.

Eventually, this one lifted his (her? Someone please help me with my fowl-gender-identification skills, as I essentially have, um, none) head and stepped away from the madding crowd. I stabbed the shutter before the magic moment ended. Sure, I ended up filling the card with useless pictures. But I also got The One that was worth keeping. That, I'm learning, is the way things sometimes work in this photography biz.

But wait, there's more...

(I know: You're thinking that Ron Popeil has taken over my blog. You're thinking that pretty soon, a fiendish combination of Ginsu knives, K-Tel records and Popeil Pocket Fisherman products will rise up and try to sell you useless crap with a voice that would make the stereotypical used car salesman proud. And you could potentially be right. Come back after the next picture for the end of this long and winding story.)

Red head
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click, big head, etc.]

And we're back...

So as I savored the successful egret photo, I turned to walk into the store and saw...a scovie duck. He (again, she? It? Does it even matter?) was hiding in the shade while I stalked the egrets. He didn't move, and instead stood there as if he was posing for a magazine. Far be it for me to disappoint a bird with such a pretty red head. I raised the camera and once again brought home pictures of a bird. Yup, still more photos of flying feathered animals. My photographic legacy. My mother would be proud.

Eventually, I put the camera away, went into the store and found the requisite kid-beach-doodads. I came home late but happy. And the next day, our properly equipped children played happily in the sand.

I have no idea where the birds ended up. Wherever they are, I hope they're happy, too.

Your turn: This entry turned into a long and winding avian journey. It wasn't my original intent, but I had fun writing it. More?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Frozen lights in the sky

Iced tree
London, Ontario, January 2007 [Click all images to embiggen]

I was up early Monday morning finishing off some writing for work. I often do this when I have early morning deadlines: I wake up early, around 4-ish, boot up the laptop and hammer out as much prose as possible before the kids bring the house to life around 7.

This time, as I tapped out text from the warmth of the living room couch, I could hear the incessant light patter of freezing rain gradually coating the windows of our house. I tried to ignore the growing weather-based threat, but the prospect of leaving the house after breakfast and de-icing our not-so-mini minivan made this Monday seem more morose than most. I cranked up iTunes and focused on my writing.

The clock hit 7. A certain six-year-old bounced out of bed and meandered down the stairs. My writing was done. The day had begun.

We got out of the house early because you never want to be rushing when it's icy outside. As I first stood on our porch and took the scene in, I thought this would make for some nice pictures. But using the camera in the rain didn't seem like such a great idea. Oh yes, I also had no time...had to de-ice the wondervan. Pictures would have to wait.

As you can see, they didn't wait long. Just before dinnertime, I went outside with my tripod-mounted camera and carefully composed a bunch of low-light, long-exposure images. Obliquely lit tree branches almost seem to come alive when they're coated with ice. For the second image in this sequence, I'll leave it to your imagination to concoct what it may or may not be.

After 37 minutes of wandering around our front lawn taking pictures in the damp cold, I turned to face the house and saw a little girl waiting for me to come back inside. I grabbed a quick image of her lovely little face in the window before I headed in for supper. Warmth just on the other side of the window. Such a world I live in.

Your turn: I believe that cameras can be used to tell stories - even small vignettes of family life. Are you using yours to tell stories in your own life?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Green Coke

The pause that refreshes
Pompano Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click to enlarge the droplets of condensation]

Ronnie B's is a 50s-style diner that sits barely a block away from the end of the runway of the local airport. Stepping into it is like going back in time. While we waited for our meal to arrive, I snapped away quietly, trying to capture the essence of a place that usually exists only in our imagination.

I'll post more images from this experience in a future blog entry. For now, I wanted to leave you with this iconic image of American history. On the surface, it represents sugared water. Beneath it, however, it evokes memories of times distantly removed, of lives we once lived.

That, and the color, shape and surfacing of this image were really friendly to my eye. Hope you like it, too.

Your turn: Times of innocence. Please discuss.

A stranger's sojourn by the sea

Staring out...
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006
[Click to embiggen...enjoy the pattern in the fence]

Photographing total strangers is a bit of a dicey proposition. I take great pains when I'm out in public to avoid shooting people's faces. You simply never know when you'll run up against someone who simply doesn't want his/her face on film (OK, not film...) Of course, it cuts both ways: I'd rather keep my face off the cameras of others as well. And don't even ask what I'd do if a total stranger took surreptitious pictures of my wife and kids.
(Time for a tangent: I made a slight exception for the recently-posted ladies at the nearby pool. They'd been watching our kids raise hell in the water all week. Somehow, it felt less taboo to shoot pseudo-anonymous pictures of them. Let the debates begin. End tangent. For now.)
But the back of someone's head from a distance is a bit of a different proposition. Unless said subject has a Gorbachev-like splotch on his balding head, it's difficult to identify anyone from behind. And a longish lens comes in very handy when you simply want to capture the image and move on.

Which is what I did as I walked along the beach that afternoon. I have no idea who this person is. He's a stranger who took a moment to contemplate the meaning of life alongside an immensely large body of water. Indeed, the not knowing of this image is what made me want to shoot it in the first place.

Your turn: Let's project our imagination on this person, shall we? Who is he? Why is he here? What is he thinking? Where did he go after his sojourn by the sea?

One more thing: This image was taken along the same stretch of beach in Lake Worth as the pink-and-yellow image I posted last week. I guess the pink is a theme.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Caption This: Two ladies chat...

Picture to be named (see below for details on Caption This, my new weekly feature)
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007

The woman on the right had been sitting quietly beside the pool for quite some time. Her attendant had brought her in her wheelchair to enjoy the sun, and sat dutifully behind her. There was no way of knowing what she thought of our three noisy kids, splashing around the shallow end. Perhaps they brought back some distant, fond memory. Perhaps they were merely an annoyance to her, an unwelcome disturbance to her precious solitude. Either way, she sat impassively in her wheelchair while the world moved along around her.

I idly thought of capturing her loneliness in a photo, but by the time I got out of the pool, another resident had joined her for a chat. The original story of solitude was gone, replaced by something entirely different.

Here's where I likely crossed a line with my camera, but I thought an indirect angle would be better than simply walking up to them and shooting. I surreptitiously stood behind them from quite a distance and took carefully considered pictures. I had no idea what they were saying, but here's where you come in...

Your turn: The very considerate Maryanne has suggested that I post pictures and ask my kindly readers to supply the corresponding caption. She has inspired me to start a new feature on Written Inc. I'll call it Caption This. Every Sunday, I'll post a new image and invite you to name the picture. The next Sunday, I'll weigh in on my favorite submission when I post the next one. I have no idea what the reward should be - perhaps you can help me there. Maybe being added to my blogroll. Maybe my everylasting gratitude...go nuts!

Pretty in pink

Pink shoes, poolside
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007

I went flip-flop shopping with my wife. She had been wanting a pair to wear to the beach and the pool, and kept forgetting to pick them up because every time we were in a store, we were so busy making sure the kids got everything they needed.

That's the mantra of the modern family vacation: all's well as long as the kids are happy.

But we eventually found ourselves alone in a store, and I found myself deciding between a black pair and a pink pair. She trusts me that way.

The pink struck me as happier and bouncier. I liked how the color jumped out at me and said hello. Although the black ones were likely the more logical, sober choice because they supposedly matched up with more things, I kept leaning toward the pink because they were so much kinder to my emotional side.

These wouldn't have been so much fun to shoot poolside had they been black. And she wouldn't wiggle her toes as she does if she had bought the other pair.

Your turn: Do you help your significant other go shoe shopping? Is it fun?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Concrete stairs

Sunny green
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007

The buildings in the development where my in-laws live are built from concrete. It's a great choice for a hurricane zone, but the lack of variety betrays its roots in 1970s architecture. On the surface, it can be somewhat monotonous and otherwise not worth capturing. That is, until you look more closely at the details, or come back to the same ones at different times of day.

The light down here plays differently than it does back home, so even a seemingly sterile concrete building can offer up an interesting palette of color, light and shadow. The floors on all outside surfaces are painted a fairly standard shade of green, while everything else is white. On a cloudy day, it can look institutional, but when the full sun is out, its brilliance reminds you why Florida looks unlike any place on the planet.

I came back a couple of times to this spot at the bottom of the stairs near my in-laws' condo. The first shoot was a bit of a botch (yup, I make mistakes!) I exposed for the green and ended up washing out the white. It bugged me that I blew the shot, so just before we left, I went back and took a little more time with the light.

Your turn: What's your favorite time of day to shoot? Why?

One more thing: Click here to return to the Institutional green entry, posted February 4, 2007.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Pink, yellow and green

Beachside geometry
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006 [Click to see the big boat]

I almost didn't take this picture. While having lunch in a crustily old, tiny and charming pizza restaurant across the street from the beach, I realized our two-hour-limit parking meter was about to run out. As I headed out the door, pocket jingling with change, I grabbed my camera bag. My wife told me to come back quickly. She knows me too well.

As I walked out the door, I caught this glimpse of pink and yellow and thought how utterly Florida this was. The colors simply couldn't exist anywhere else. But I couldn't dawdle. So I kept going. I filled the meter and walked back. The colors were still there, beckoning me to take a picture. And since it would gnaw at my gut if I left the scene uncaptured, I decided to take the shot. But I couldn't waste any time. So I captured the scene without giving it too much thought: align the elements, confirm exposure, focus and click.

It ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the entire vacation. I'm not sure if it's the color, the geometry, the light, I don't know. Whatever it is, it reminds me of an interesting moment during an interesting vacation with my family.

Your turn: Can you figure out what makes this picture work? Does it work for you? What would you call this image if you had to name it?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Water, light and shadow

Deck chair, post-children
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click to turn droplets into globules]

It's late in the afternoon and we've finally succeeded in coaxing the kids out of the pool. They slowly get their sandals on as they sadly talk about the fact that this has been their last swim of the vacation. Tomorrow morning, we finish loading the van and head home. (Yes, I know I'm blog-posting way out of sequence. I'm strange like that.)

The neighborhood pool sported a new deck - interlocking brick, tres chic - and new lounge chairs this year. After the facility suffered significant damage during the 2005 hurricane season, the residents were decidedly happy to reclaim their pool and enjoy this quiet, bright spot. I wanted to take a picture of one of the new deck chairs to mark the site's return to normalcy, but a basic frame-and-webbing chair hardly makes for a compelling photo.

That is, until my kids are finished with it. Little wet bodies leave little traces of water in their wake. The glint from one of the droplets caught my eye as I picked up the last towel and prepared to walk away. I called to the kids to hang on a second - something they're all too used to thanks to my snap-happy ways.

I shot quickly before the kids decided that maybe they wanted to go back into the pool. This was another one of those times where I didn't have the luxury of time to artfully compose or otherwise fiddle with the camera's settings. Still, I rather enjoyed the pressure, and used the few seconds that I had to snap a few close-up perspectives. The few adults still there looked at me kinda funny. If they have Internet access, I hope they eventually find my site.

Your turn: I am always amazed at the fun things you can do with low-angled light. Did you ever think taupe-colored plastic webbing could be so fascinating?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gull flies on New Year's Day

Is this my best side?
Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 2007 [Click image to see Big Bird]

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments about my most recent gull picture. You've encouraged me to upload this one.

I've loved this image from the first moment I viewed it on the camera's screen. The gull seems to be posing, almost waiting for me to take the shot. Never mind that he (she?) was flying in a fast-shifting formation of birds that had converged on a spot in the sand where some nearby 10-or-so-year-old boys had left some food in the sand. Somehow, my new bird buddy froze in the sky for just long enough for me to squeeze this one off.

I learned a number of lessons about action photography on this day: 3 frame/second continuous shooting is great for capturing motion but terrible for editing, continuous autofocus is the photographer's best friend (they move...the lens follows), always shoot birds as they fly into a stiff headwind, and sometimes you just need to forget the technical stuff and let your eye and your shutter finger do all the work.

This one's going in a frame. I can't resist.

Happy sigh.

Your turn: Do you agree that sometimes magic just happens?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Made a new friend at the beach

Eye-to-eye with a gull
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006 [Click image to close-ify]

Just because I've taken pictures of birds previously doesn't mean I won't do it again. At least that's what I told myself as I carefully carried my camera onto the beach and levelled it at this particularly aggressive seagull.

This is one of those images that makes me wonder why the heck I'm not spending every waking moment chasing down similar sights. On second thought...

Your turn: I've got more bird pictures. I'll add them to future blog entries if you're game. Just let me know. And also let me know what your first, visceral thought was when you first saw this photo.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Please don't get wet

First visit to the ocean
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006
[Click all images to embiggen]

That first trip to the beach is a big moment for our kids. As the car gets closer to the beach, the windows and sunroof are open, the music is off, and the only noise is the excited chatter from the back seats. As we crest the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, our daughter catches the first glimpse of the water and everyone cheers. A couple of short minutes later, we're parking beside the sand as the kids scramble to undo their belts and sprint toward the pounding surf.

Since it's late in the afternoon and we don't have all our swimming gear, the operative goal of this visit is to get a quick taste of the place. We repeatedly remind them to avoid getting wet. Yeah, right.

My wife and I brought them to this faraway place to allow them experiences they wouldn't otherwise have closer to home. As I wrote yesterday, we often spoke about The Experience, and felt that a quick walk along the beach would be something they'd remember.

They got wet anyway. They wore ear-to-ear smiles. They put aside their sibling rivalry for a little while and just enjoyed being kids. And my wife and I stood back a few feet and watched them drink it all in. Water evaporates and sand can be vacuumed out of the car, but moments like this don't disappear quickly.

As the sun was setting fast, we weren't there for all that long. But it was long enough to enjoy the unbridled joy of kids taking in a unique place. If we turned around now, it would have still all been worth it.

Your turn: Why is the beach such a powerful place for a child? Indeed, why is it such a powerful place for anyone regardless of age?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Home again

It was 1:30 a.m. when I backed the minivan into the driveway of our darkened home. Two days and 2,400.1 kilometers after bidding goodbye to Florida, we finally made it back. As I have after every long trip we've taken since we became parents, I quietly put my hand on the side of our car and gave a quick thanks that we made it uneventfully.

Well, we were chased by tornado and thunderstorm warnings out of Atlanta. And we spent a harrowing time on the I-75 in the middle of rains so intense that we could barely see the four-way flashers of the vehicle just ahead of us. And those rains dogged us continuously all the way to the border, at which point the gender-neutral weather-generating person saw fit to throw thick fog into the mix. But we picked our way through 30 hours of driving and safely delivered the little folks to their comfy beds.

We tucked them in as they doubtlessly still dreamed of sun, surf, sand, and spending time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My wife and I spoke often over these past couple of weeks about The Experience, and what they would remember and why. Our parents had done the same for us when we were kids, and our own memories of childhood vacations to faraway places loomed large in our minds as we tried to navigate our own family adventure.

At one point en route, I sat in a parking lot and updated my driver's log (I often keep tabs of where we stop, where, how far we've gone...I'm somewhat manic that way.) The engine was off, but I had the accessory power on because I was checking mileage. The defroster was on, and my wife said it smelled like the ocean. Here we were in deepest Ohio, and we could still smell the sea.

I wondered how long the smell would last. I wondered if I could save it somehow. One can always wish, right?

Logistical note: I took the camera and brought home enough pictures to seriously merit a new laptop with a larger hard drive. I'll start posting notes from the road and related images in the days to come. I hope you'll come along on the adventure with me.

In the meantime, I hope you'll understand why I don't post vacation entries in real-time. Because I write under my own name, I have issues with folks knowing when we're away from home. I like returning to an unburgled house, and the paranoid-geek that I am figures that thieves are just as likely to read blogs and put 2 and 2 together. That's the world we live in, I guess.

Your turn: Vacations from your childhood. Please discuss.

The light of a generation

Father's light
December 2006

If you're lucky enough to still have your parents around, I hope you are able to find the time to visit them. Last month, we were lucky enough to visit both sets of parents. I took this image as my father lit the Chanukah candles.

I thought the scene was particularly poignant: the holiday is the Jewish festival of lights, while a parent's role is to guide a child into adulthood. That role is, in many respects, a beacon to the next generation. And although the heavy lifting of parenthood is over for my parents, I saw a certain symbolism in my father's lighting the light for us and for our kids. If only those hands could speak...

Your turn: I hope you'll share a memory of your parents in a comment.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Eternal flame

I work kitty corner to the place where Sir Frederick Banting discovered insulin. The site is now known as the Banting House National Historic Site, and it has an eternal flame on the front lawn.

The problem with eternal flames is they aren't always visible. This one burns with such low intensity that you really have to concentrate your gaze to see any orange flames at all. But even if the flames are barely visible, the roiled, superheated air creates its own spectacle, and is equally worthy of a picture or two.

Flame or no flame, it's a humbling place to visit. And to think I can look out the window anytime and see it. Neat.

Your turn: Do you live/work near any locations of note?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Natural and artificial light

Food court light
Belleville, Ontario, December 2006

Malls are commonly dismissed as antiseptic, overcommercialized environments that are bereft of any architectural merit. This is, to a great degree, true in most cases. The typical suburban mall is about as unique and memorable as a box of Rice Krispies.

But that doesn't mean that individual elements of these artificial boxes can't be worth observing in their own right. Sometimes, the macro view within the larger, somewhat featureless context reveals features that, until the scope was narrowed, simply didn't present themselves to the eye.

This explains why I often stare out into space as I walk through the seemingly repetitive corridors of these soulless places. Somewhere within all that sameness lies a worthwhile image. Hmm, on second thought, maybe I'm not just talking about malls.

I liked the simplicity of this composition, and the juxtaposition of the sun and a lightbulb. I hope you do, too. And I hope this plants a seed in all of us to look up, and to look deeper.

Your turn: A typical scene from a mall is...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Same faucet, 13 months later

Quinte Mall faucet
Belleville, Ontario, December 2006

A little over a year ago, our brood stumbled upon a lovely little oasis on the long road to Montreal. I took a picture of the faucet in the family washroom because I thought it was rather neat that this lovely and well-maintained facility existed in a mall. Let's be honest: mall washrooms are usually much cruddier than this.

So as we cruised through Belleville early in the morning en route to Montreal once again last month, we found ourselves staring at the same faucet we had first seen a year earlier. Thankfully, the facility was still just as clean as it had been then. I did what anyone else would do: I looked around to ensure no other folks were there (imagine explaining to strangers what you're doing taking pictures in a bathroom...that's as quick a trip to the local jail as any I can imagine) and took a quick picture from the same vantage point.

Your turn: Do you revisit old photographic subjects? Why/why not?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Just a puddle?

Reflected sky at a highway rest stop
Somewhere in Eastern Ontario, December 2006

My father-in-law's name is Irving. So when we come across an Irving gas station, we always make an event out of it. This time out, we stopped at a truck stop near the highway to give the kids - and ourselves - a bit of a break on a monotonous drive. Cabin fever definitely sets in when you've been in the car since long before sunrise.

As we were finishing up, I wandered over to one of the huge diesel pumps for 18-wheeler trucks and noticed the horizontal patterns in the immediately adjacent wet concrete roadway. In the most gritty, industrialized place imaginable, I found a tiny slice of a bucolic sky. Imagine that.

Your turn: Have you found inspiration in a decidedly non-inspiring place?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


The second day of the year is a fine time to introduce (cue the deep, boomy voice) another photograhic mystery. I took this picture while wandering around the neighborhood near work. Beyond that, I won't provide any additional clues. I hope you'll answer the following two questions in a comment:
  1. What do you think this is?
  2. What does it remind you of?
In either case, there are no right or wrong answers, so have fun with it. I'll post the answer in a followup comment within the week. Until then, take as many guesses as you wish. And if you want to get your friends, in-laws or coffee shop barristas involved as well, the more the merrier!

Monday, January 01, 2007

A vision on concrete block

Swimsuit mural
London, Ontario, December 2006

As 2007 dawns, I wanted to revisit one of the core themes of my writing: that inspiration often exists in the places where we'd least assume. The simple, often-overlooked nooks and crannies of our planet seem to hide the most fascinating things - and that's where we need to look for the sparks of guidance that will dictate our future path. More simply, beauty exists in the most unexpected places. I'll keep turning over the plain-looking, figurative rocks to find it. I hope you do, too.

But enough of the prologue. On with the show...

A smallish, otherwise-nondescript building along a forgettable stretch of a busy road houses an insurance broker. On one side is a dodgy-looking bowling alley. On the other sits an abandoned gravel lot that used to be a gas station. It's been surrounded by a gradually collapsing chain link fence for a couple of years, awaiting a redevelopment project that shows no signs of ever coming. It's not the kind of the place where many people stop and gawk.

But the north wall of the building is home to the fascinating beach scene depicted here. I snapped it on my walk to work. In recent months, I had noticed a few such murals on various buildings in and around the downtown area. I made a mental note to come back with a camera, but never seemed to find the time.

I found the time this morning. I'm glad I did, because as I composed the shot and played with the settings, an early-at-work employee peeked out the window and saw me. I waved. She waved back. I hope she wonders about my parking lot photography as much as I wonder about what it must be like to work in a building whose owners took the time to have this painted. Everyone's got a story, after all.

Your turn: Got any concrete block murals in your neighborhood? What does this one make you think of?