I’m a tools guy. I like equipment. It doesn’t matter what for. It matters that I have the right tool for the right job. I’ll improvise if I have to. I’m no stranger to that. But there is nothing like the satisfaction of having just the right tool to help out in a situation. The exception to this is my specialized bike tools. They are annoying. Instead of being able to take my bike apart and put it back together with regular tools it seems I need a specialty tool for each part on my bike. I get no satisfaction from that.
I’m thinking of this because sometimes I’ve been known to come up with my own tool for a given situation. Just modifying something to make it more useful to me in a given situation. I’ve built a few things in my day. My easel comes to mind as it is sitting next to me but usually it’s smaller stuff. I’m not much of a craftsman though. I’m pretty good at figuring out how to build something but it doesn’t end up being very pretty. You’d think that would be the easy part for me since I’m an artist but I often have little patience for craft.
It’s funny what a person can have patience for and what not. I always think back to my youth and my complete impatience for model building. I have all the patience in the world for drawing and painting. I can spend hours getting those things done. Taking care of all the small steps and details is okay with me. But ask me to put together a model of a spaceship and I can’t do it. I don’t have the patience for that.
What I’ve been thinking about building lately is a tool for photography. Or maybe it’s videography. Either way it’s a better monopod. For those who don’t know a monopod is basically one leg of a tripod. A tripod is what you can put your camera on to keep it steady and in place instead of holding it. A tripod has three legs that spread out for stability and the camera screws into a small platform on top of and in the center of the three legs. A tripod has been a standard piece of photographers equipment for a hundred years.
Though I’ve had a tripod, the same one, since my college days back in the mid 1980s I only recently got a monopod. A monopod only has one leg with the platform on top that the camera screws onto. It’s there to help you steady the camera a little bit in situations where a tripod isn’t practical. I decided to get one a few years ago to help me with some low light street photos and to help with holding the camera steady while taking video. Especially if I was using the big zoom on my camera. The further out you are zoomed the more the camera shaking is noticeable. That’s the way of cameras.
The monopod I got is pretty cool. It goes from a foot and a half to nearly six feet tall. It has cool telescoping legs and a nice loop handle. As an object I really like it. As a tool not so much. The problem I have with it is that it seemed to make my problem of keeping the camera steady worse and not better.
I know how to hold a camera to keep it as steady as possible. I shoot from the waist looking down at the swivel LCD and hold the camera close to my body. Much like carrying a bowl of liquid your body will automatically try to hold the camera level and steady. And by using your whole body it will act as a bit of a shock absorber for the camera shake.
The problem I had with the monopod was that though it kept the camera from moving up and down it didn’t keep the camera from drifting left, right, backwards, and forwards. Unlike a tripod you have to hold a monopod with your hand and any small movement of your hand gets passed on to the camera. I couldn’t keep the camera as still on the monopod as off. That made it useless. I carried it on three or four street shooting occasions and it never proved useful once. So lately I’ve been thinking up some ways to make it useful.
First off it would be nice if it could stand on its own. I don’t want it to be a tripod but if I could put a small tripod or foot on the bottom of it that would be cool. I thought about a bunch of things to use as a foot but the best one to come to mind is the base of my bicycle pump. It’s made to stand on its own and even put your feet on as you pump. If I put something like that on the bottom of the monopod maybe it can stand on its own. Then I’d like it to rotate.
Turning the camera on the tripod is quite clumsy. That’s when it shakes left and right and turns too fast and not smoothly. That’s when it struck me that I might use a bike part to help out with that. I could use the axel from the front wheel of a bike. That turns smoothly with small ball bearings and can easily be turned vertical to match the monopod. Plus it’s solid with no top to bottom movement. That might work.
Of course this is all conjecture right now. It’s all in my head. I have no plans worked out nor have I gotten all the parts I need. Though I have an old bike tire I could use I don’t have an old bike pump to steal the foot from. Plus neither of those things may work so I’ll have to gather a bunch of parts.
But that’s what I’m thinking about. I want a new tool. And since it doesn’t exist I’ll have to come up with my own.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got five new comics.
Check them all out here:
I was moving some stuff around today and I found a street photo I made back in January 2010. Hard to believe that was over five years ago now. This was one of the first 10×15 inch street photos that I made and it’s done in my classic cut and paste different photos into one big photo style. No words to go along with the image but it does have a title. “Subject Unknown”.
I’ve always face a little problem with my street photos in that none of these people had asked to be my models. They have no idea these photos even exist. They were all taken in public places but I still feel protective of people who didn’t volunteer or get paid to be my muses. So I’m always trying to find ways to work around their identities. It also helps me be creative. Plenty of other photographers make photos all about the model and the model’s identity or the model’s pretend identity so nobody will miss out if I make mine about obscuring the model’s identity. That trail eventually lead me down the path I use now with many filter recipes that give me different looks and effects over my photos. But before I developed those I did a few photos with this mask technique.
The rest of this photo follows an anonymous model technique too but that’s by giving the viewer little glimpses of a persons face and not the whole face. We see a nose and lips, pieces of arms, the back of a shoulder, and a figure off in the distance. I also uses blurry out of focus figures. I’m big on blurriness as one of the words in my photography vocabulary. Sometimes things need to be out of focus. It adds to the visual variety of a photo. I’ve actually made photos where everything is in sharp focus and they don’t turn out well. They lack a certain depth that the eye can move into. So blurry is as important as sharp. But I couldn’t make the main figures blurry to obscure their identities. Blurry can’t be the main flavor of the dish.
So I came up with masks. I draw masks all the time. I draw odd faces all the time. It was natural that I reach the conclusion that I should draw masks on the main people in the photos. I even thought it was an easy solution in that good old way where I think things will take way less time then they eventually do.
At first I thought I could draw the masks digitally. I opened the photo in Photoshop and proceeded to use my Wacom pen to try and draw the mask over the person’s face. It didn’t turn out as I’d hoped it would. I thought maybe if I drew it at a larger size it would be better but that didn’t work either. I just plain don’t have enough time in drawing digitally to get a real feel for it. I find the whole process clumsy. Drawing on a piece of glass with a tool that won’t do exactly what I want it too is frustrating to me. I’m sure if it was my job and I was doing it all day every day I’d get the hang of it soon enough but that was never my job. So I decided, once again, it would be faster to draw on paper and scan in.
Now the first thing I had to do was draw all those faces. This is easy enough to do digitally since it wouldn’t be a finished drawing. I just trace over the faces and then print that out in blue line to draw over. Though the faces are only an inch or so tall in the final photo I drew them at four to six inches tall. Each was drawn on a different piece of paper and then I scanned them in to be colored on the computer. Coloring a drawing on the computer is something I do all the time and am very comfortable with. It’s totally different than drawing on the computer. It took some doing to get the masks to fit just right though. If I remember correctly I had to warp and bend them ever so slightly in Photoshop to get them to look the way I wanted. They had to be in the right place compared to the hairline and ears while bending slightly around the jaw. That took more fiddling than I thought it would.
The last thing I remember doing to the masks is knocking back their layer opacity to 90%. That means the color is not quite solid. Ten percent of the face behind it shows through. That’s really not enough to notice any features or such but it makes the masks slightly less stark. They sure do stand out against their photo backdrops but a little less so with the 90% opacity. I went back and forth with that trying to figure out exactly how much if any of the background face I wanted showing through the mask but eventually I settled on very little.
Overall I like how this photo came out. I like the boldness of the masks paired with the boldness of the figures walking towards us. Plus it makes some sort of statement about our faces and the masks we wear on them. “My mask is my true face” are the words that go with one of my old prints and they can be used here too. What is real the mask or the face underneath? I don’t have the answers just the questions.
Either way I only did two or three of these masked photos. They ended up taking a lot of time to do. One of the reasons I like working with photos is that it’s a faster way of working with images than drawing or painting. I can get more done in the same amount of time. If the photo is going to take the same amount of time then it has lost its advantage. But looking at this on makes me want to do more. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to speed things up. Sure I will.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got nine new comics.
Check them all out here:
Here I go again with another trip to Bryant Park in NYC. This time I’m taking a different way in. Instead of taking a train into Penn Station from Nanuet I’m taking a train into Grand Central Station from Tarrytown. That means a little more driving an a more expensive trip. First off Tarrytown is across the Hudson River from me. That means taking the Tapan Zee Bridge. Any bridge means a solid chance of a traffic jam but on a Saturday morning at 9AM I didn’t run into one of those. Right now they are building a new Tapan Zee Bridge next to the old one. There are lots of big cranes along the span and a bunch of pylons have been sunk with cross pieces on them. Most of it was fenced off for safety and I was driving so I didn’t really get more than a glimpse.
It took about half an hour to get to the Tarrytown train station as compared to twenty minutes for the Nanuet one. The cost of a train ticket is more from here too. I just spent $20.50 on an off peak round trip ticket as compared to $16.50 from Nanuet. Plus there is the six dollar bridge toll. And you have to watch the Yankees schedule because Tarrytown has a pay parking lot that’s free on nights and weekends except when there is a Yankee game going on in the Bronx. Then it’s an extra six dollars to park. That’s why even with the inconvenience of having to change trains on the Nanuet line I usually take that one. The train also run more often in Tarrytown.
I’m on the train now. The good thing about this line is that the trains run a lot more often. There are two or three an hour as compared to one an hour over on the Nanuet line. This train also ends up at Grand Central Station which is a great building. It’s wonderful to travel through as compared to Penn Station which is a confusing ugly nightmare. It’s like it wasn’t even designed with humans in mind. What kind of crazy person designs the doors that a thousand people have to go through all at the same time to be two people wide? Penn is nuts. I was looking at some photos I took in Grand Central in 2013 that made me want to take this train again. So I did.
It’s also a very pretty ride along the Hudson River. I haven’t taken this line in a couple of years so I haven’t seen this view in ages. I think I’ll stare out the window for a while. Look the Palisades!
Now I’m in Bryant park. I made it in time to catch the last twenty minutes of the Saturday morning dance class in the park. It goes from 9AM until 11AM. That was my plan. I haven’t had a chance to shoot any of the dancers since last year so I’m glad I got the chance today. Now I’m resting for a moment because the sun is hot today. It’s in the low 80s so it’s not super hot but it’s not cool out there in that sun. I had some back pain yesterday but I rested up and am feeling much better today. Still I’ve got some twinges so I might have to take it easy. I wanted to walk down to 14th Street but I’m a little unsure right now. I’ll see how it goes.
I’m back on the train. Only one break to write in the park today. I kept busy but took breaks so I wouldn’t wear down my back held up well. I felt some dull pain early on as I walked around with me camera bag on my shoulder but it went away quickly. My camera bag isn’t even a real camera bag. I’ve had plenty of those before buy I find for me a day bag works best. I don’t really have a lot of camera equipment to carry but I do have other stuff. I don’t always carry my iPad but I have on my last two trips so the bag has to fit that. Plus I got one with a place to carry my water bottle. I have to stay hydrated on these hot July days so I carry my water. Then I also need room for my food.
My camera doesn’t even fit in the bag very well. I just kinda push the camera to the bottom. It distends the bag but is surrounded by padding so it’ll be okay for short trips. The camera is in my hand all day so it doesn’t matter that much if it doesn’t fit in the bag well.
I stuck to Bryant park today. I didn’t make it out of the area at all. The park was crowded and full of things to shoot. The library steps at the back of the park was especially full of people. I made a few laps of the park but I think I was enjoying taking photos of all the people on the library steps best. There seemed to be a wide variety of people all full of life.
I saved a little time to shoot some pictures in Grand Central but it was less than I planned. On my final pass at the library steps as I was leaving there were two weddings being photographed there. Lots of dressed up people posing. I was taking a few shots of the first wedding. They seemed to be Japanese hipsters. Japanese Americans I guess because who else would be taking wedding picture in NYC except the locals? Hipsters is only guess too because that’s how the bride and groom seemed to be dressed. I think someone was dressed as Elvis too. Hipster Elvis though. Not Vegas Elvis.
After shooting a few photos I turned around and was startled to see a dozen pink bridesmaid dresses. That was a lot of pink. The hipsters were more my style but I took some pink dress photos too. Finally dragging myself away I walked the couple of avenues east and caught my train.