Cooking up an impromptu photo shoot

My girlfriend Alicia’s birthday was a few weeks ago. Among her gifts were some new clothes, a watch she had been wanting for a while, and several books on the topic of cooking — the last of which I feel compelled to point out is not entirely, or even predominantly, self serving. For reasons unknown, Alicia loves to cook. This comes in handy, as my culinary skills are pushed to the limits once I get to “stir thoroughly and microwave two more minutes.”

As a side dish to these birthday gifts, however, I also served Alicia with an impromptu photo shoot, previously a staple of our relationship. The recipe is simple enough: just two strobes, an umbrella, and one willing model. Cook for about 30 minutes, season with a little Photoshop, and serve on a blog.


Of course, portraits have never been my signature dish, and this wasn’t a particularly ambitious shoot, but it’s another baby step in my mission to re-familiarize myself with the photographic basics after what seems like a year of absence from the craft.

Click a thumbnail to see the full image (pressing right/left on the keyboard lets you move through photos):

Brian and Debora’s wedding

My good friends Brian and Debora tied the knot this weekend. Decorum demanded that, as a groomsman, I not carry a camera with me down the aisle, but I was certainly able to get some shots before and after the ceremony. (You might also recall I took some engagement photos of them in July 2009).

Since my home is conveniently located across the street from the church, it became the changing room for Brian and all the groomsmen.

The ceremony was held at St. Joan of Arc Parish. Both my girlfriend Alicia and I had the honor of being in the wedding. She and I walked down the aisle together, and I told her not to get any ideas. Then everyone headed to the Holiday Inn French Quarters in Perrysburg for the reception. The building’s beautiful atrium-like “holidome” lent itself to good pictures.

Brian and Debora are off to a week in Cancun now. Soon after they return, they’ll be heading south again to start a new, warmer life in Florida. They will be missed.

An old-timey town

There is one place on Earth I feel I must visit every Summer for it to count as Summer. That place is Grand Rapids, Ohio — a quaint, old-timey town about 20 miles southwest of Toledo. I try to make at least one annual bike ride there, as it offers some of the most beautiful views of the Maumee River, and it’s a great distance for a biking day trip.

The area is frequented by fishers and boaters, who head to Mary Jane Thurston Park. Moreover, its downtown is an attraction for lovers of antiques, collectibles, and all the other knickknacks that people like my mother and aunt find irresistible.

After months of deferring this trip, my friend Josh and I at last set out for the town along familiar country roads last weekend. I toted along my brand new Nikon D700, armed only with a wide angle lens so as to lighten the load, just in case there were any good shots to be taken.

I shot some pictures of “downtown” Grand Rapids (one street), as well as several of the river and the surrounding area. One of my fondest memories of summers past is traveling to this town and watching the sun set over the Maumee. Sunsets aren’t easy to photograph in a way that’s original and creative, but I tried anyway.

You may have noticed the below photo has a somewhat strange look and feel to it. That’s because for some photos from this trip, I experimented with a post-processing technique called HDR, or “high dynamic range.” Some think this technique is bizarre, unnatural, or (after a few years of heavy popularity) hackneyed, but others continue to use it (quite successfully) for the majority of their photographs.

The sun sets over the Maumee. (An HDR image.)

HDR typically involves combining multiple images taken of the same scene that are all at different exposures. These images are meshed together in a way that allows the resulting composite to show a range of contrast that would probably be impossible with a single exposure. Some of the examples below use this technique; it should be fairly obvious which ones, but it’s also denoted in the image captions.

Click a thumbnail to see the full image:

A dispatch from the “real world”

Though much of this blog has changed over the years, there are a few seemingly unmovable constants:

  1. Small islands of posts interspersed by oceans of silence,
  2. promises that such oceans will evaporate,
  3. and entries brimming with photographs

I will repeat #2 in the hopes of doing away with #1, while embracing #3.

But first, an obligatory update:

I’m about eight months deep into the “real world,” that is the gainfully employed world. Those months have included a move to a new home and getting the hang of my new career. Though I wear a few hats, I’m primarily a copy writer for a company called Fondriest Environmental, located in Dayton, Ohio. I still live in Toledo, so I work from home most of the time, but I usually commute to Dayton for a two-day stay during the week.

Data BuoyThe company provides researchers with all kinds of sophisticated technology that helps them monitor the environment, especially with respect to water quality. For example, we commonly deploy real-time monitoring data buoys like the one pictured to the right.

Fondriest has provided monitoring technology for everywhere from the Everglades, Gulf of Mexico wetlands, Great Lakes, and a monitoring system that helps protect drinking water in the nation’s capital.

Working at Fondriest has also given me the opportunity to become editor at Lake Scientist, an affiliated online resource that provides lake and freshwater news and information. It’s allowed me to continue writing news stories, and I’ve learned a great deal about Great Lakes science in particular — certainly enough to keep me from ever wanting to swim in Lake Erie.

While there’s some photography involved in the job, I crave more. And that’s where my renewed interest in this site enters. My passion for photography has largely taken a back seat since I started working at Fondriest, and probably since long before that. That’s been changing over the last few weeks, though.

In an effort to resuscitate my photographic interest, I treated myself to some new gear — for those interested, an upgrade from a Nikon D70 to a D700, which is quite a leap. I know it’s not the gear that makes great photos or photographers, but boy does it make shooting more enjoyable. It’s made going out and photographing fun again, so I’ve been doing so during every opportunity I’ve had.

My plan for this site is to do what I’ve always done: share some of the pictures I’ve taken and offer some commentary. It will be a good way to encourage myself to get out and shoot on the weekend or when I have time after work. I don’t guarantee quality initially, since I have a pretty thick layer of rust to sand off my photographic abilities. And there might not always be a large gallery of photos, maybe just one in a post since I don’t have much free time, but I hope to update at least frequently enough to keep the cobwebs from forming on my blog.

Watching the watchdogs

It was nothing short of a high-noon showdown last March when Jon Stewart notoriously scorched CNBC’s Jim Cramer on air. As Brian Williams put it, the encounter “had the impact of Cronkite turning against Vietnam” within the late-night crowd. His confrontation with the “Mad Money” host, though, was merely the culmination of Stewart’s extended assault on CNBC for its habitually bad financial advice and failure to hold business leaders accountable in the midst of economic collapse. And this was only one of many cases of “The Daily Show” host functioning as the treatment for our ailing mainstream media.

Jon Stewart on the set of “The Daily Show.” (Photo courtesy of Comedy Central.)

I often feel a bit hesitant about regarding “The Daily Show” as a legitimate component of our modern news mediascape, but then I take stock of the times Stewart has either lambasted the news media for their inadequacies or simply filled the gaps in their coverage. Moreover, the interviews he has with politicians and experts are often far more substantive than the shouting match debates elsewhere.

His authority is further congealed by the fact the mainstream media not only recognize his role but also at times have had to correct themselves, apologize and reevaluate as a direct response to their late-night lashing.

Case in point: Just last month, Stewart busted the Fox News Channel for using old footage from a completely different event to make a GOP health care rally in DC appear better attended than it was.

On the Nov. 10 broadcast of “The Daily Show,” Stewart compares the footage Fox News showed for two separate rallies.

Stewart revealed that the clips used on Sean Hannity’s show while he discussed the more recent health care protest were identical to film shot two months earlier from a much larger rally.

“If I didn’t know any better,” Stewart said, “I would think they just put two different days together.” The next day, Hannity ended his show with an apology
directed personally to Stewart, claiming the error was “inadvertent.”

This incident and others like it should worry us for two reasons: 1) The obvious — that a major network such as Fox News continues to migrate toward overt propaganda, and 2) that it takes “The Daily Show” to report what the mainstream media seem unable or unwilling to tackle.

Media Matters notes that this is only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Fox News’ egregious list of deceptive broadcasts. The fact Fox News breeds a culture of unethical coverage, however, is not shocking to many. It’s become the elephant in the room — a reality other networks seemingly avoid — and that’s the disappointing part.

We rely on a “comedian” to hold news outlets accountable, whether it is for the conservative agenda espoused by Fox News, the softball-lobbing business coverage by CNBC or any number of other continual deficits expressed by mainstream media on a nightly basis.

It’s no wonder a Time magazine poll from July showed Stewart voted most often as “America’s most trusted newscaster.”

One of Stewart’s most notorious ventures outside the role of comedian was when in 2004 he appeared on CNN’s “Crossfire” and earnestly told hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala that they were nothing more than “partisan hacks.” Stewart ignored Carlson’s suggestion he should “be funny” and continued to implore that they “stop, stop, stop hurting America.”

He had used the opportunity to lecture the hosts about their duty as journalists — complaining that shows like “Crossfire,” that were supposedly “hard” and “cutting,” were really only theatrical renditions of politicians’ talking points.

Shortly after, CNN President Jonathan Klein told the NY Times, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise,” and he subsequently cancelled “Crossfire.”

The list goes on: Just a couple weeks ago, Stewart exposed the peculiar coincidence that Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who regularly advocates viewers buy gold to protect themselves against financial loss, is also a paid spokesperson for an Internet gold company, which has raised some questions at the network. Then there was the time Betsy McCaughey (the mother of the “death panel” myth) had her absurd reading of the health care bill dismantled before a live studio audience. And Stewart’s exemplary coverage of the last two presidential elections — more ably cutting through campaign rhetoric than the major networks — would merit a blog of its own.

Stewart understands something that the mainstream media don’t seem to get:

What the news networks do matters. It matters a lot.

The media tend to ignore the fact that they not only report the news but that they influence tomorrow’s news; they participate in shaping the future of our democracy.

The way the media frame important issues can affect how both the public and public servants make decisions. When Fox News, for example, inflates the size of an anti-administration rally, it can provoke the right-wing base — the kind who scream at town hall meetings — and unjustly pressure wavering progressive legislators already on the fence about issues such as health care reform.

We all rely on our media to be effective watchdogs; when they fail, it hurts us.

Of course, relying on the show that follows South Park to be our vigilant media watchdog might not seem ideal, but it’s hard to deny “The Daily Show” provides some of the most consistently substantive news and media criticism available on TV. Stewart has earned a title far beyond “just a comedian” and his show a definition better than “fake news.”