This is a raccoon footprint preserved in dried mud in a salt flat here in the Bay Area. Over the last year and a half, I’ve gotten interested in animal tracking. Not trailing animals, attempting to follow or find them, but identifying their tracks and types of movement. It has opened up an additional vista into the landscape. We don’t often see animals such as bobcats, mountain lions, or foxes, but when they leave tracks behind we have evidence of their presence.
Last week I participated in a Cybertracker track and sign evaluation. Cybertracker is the international standard for wildlife tracking and certification. Over the course of a day and a half, we were asked 54 questions ranging from identifying the tracks and sign of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, to identifying their gaits (movement patterns). I achieved a Level 3 certification, which means that I scored 90% or higher. To get to Level 4, you have to score 100%. There is also a Specialist designation, which also requires scoring 100% in the presence of two evaluators over the course of a more rigorous two-day evaluation. Something to shoot for. 🙂
I actually made this photograph a couple of years ago while I was shooting railroad images at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in New Mexico. These trees were growing on a hillside next to the highway. I thought it was interesting how they grew straight up from such a steep embankment.
St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Davenport, California. It was built in 1915 entirely out of cement from the nearby cement plant. I have always liked the look of this small church and I often stop by when driving up the coast from Santa Cruz.
I went for a “sightseeing” tour around town with the wife today. I only take her to the best places, as you can see. 🙂
A musician friend of mine, Scott Kinsey, performed in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to catch the band for a night before heading to New Mexico. Here are some some photos I took of the Zawinul Legacy Band.
The Zawinul Legacy Band
Robert Thomas, Jr.
Last weekend I attended Charles Cramer’s Digital Printing for the Fine Art Photographer workshop. (That’s Charlie pictured above, about to take a look at one of my test prints.) It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, and I’m glad that I did. I had a great time and came back energized to take my printing to the next level.
Charlie’s workshop is a three-day intensive class, going twelve hours on Friday and Saturday, and nine hours on Sunday. It is limited to eight students, allowing for plenty of one-on-one time with Charlie, who has devoted much of his life to making the finest photographic prints possible. (And his prints absolutely glow.) For the first half of the workshop we reviewed post-processing techniques for making fine art prints from our photographs using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Personally, I’m an Apple Aperture user and the archiving and organizing features of Aperture are so superior to Lightroom that I don’t intend to switch anytime soon. Nevertheless, it was good to absorb Charlie’s Lightroom/Photoshop workflow and the finer points of using Photoshop to improve images, many of which also apply to Aperture. I learned a number of techniques that either I hadn’t thought of before, or which I had been unaware. This will definitely help me in the future.
We also did print critiques. Each student brought ten prints, which we reviewed as a group. Charlie believes in positive reinforcement, not the other way around. Charlie is an excellent teacher and a pleasure to be around. As a fellow student expressed via email, Charlie and his assistant, Rex Naden, treated all of the students with patience and respect, regardless of their individual levels of technical or artistic development.
For the second half of the workshop, we were turned loose on our own images, putting the techniques we learned into practice. The small class size allowed for plenty of one-on-one time with Charlie. In my case, I would get started on an image and then explain to Charlie what I had done and my thinking behind it. He would then offer suggestions and nudge me toward a better direction. We had access to large format Epson printers and were able to make several test prints. Charlie helped us evaluate them to determine what else needed to done to shape the image into an excellent print. Once satisfied, we then were able to make 17×22 prints, and one print up to 33 inches long. Many students worked on images they brought for the critique, and the improvement in them was quite evident and impressive. I was able to finish four images for large printing (see below), and got a good start on a couple of others.
Charlie emphasized that just because an image looks good on a computer display, it doesn’t mean it will look good as print. But an image that makes for an excellent print will also look good on screen. Therefore, to properly evaluate an image, you must make test prints as you process it. One thing this encourage me to do is to be more deliberate in my printing. In the past, I would often just print images to see what they looked like, accepting that some worked and some didn’t, and rarely taking it further than that. Now I’m excited by the concept of developing “master” images, or a true portfolio of finely printed images.
Of course, that will depend on my ability to put what I learned into practice. I’m pretty confident about the Photoshop techniques, but the hard part is that I won’t have the benefit of Charlie’s aesthetics and wisdom to guide me. Nevertheless, the workshop will serve as a base from which to continue developing. I may well take Charlie’s alumni class so that I can absorb even more from a master photographer and printer.
Here are the four images I finished at the workshop.
1225 At Dawn
The Blue Doors of Encino
I was lucky enough to attend the Kentucky Derby for the seventh time as part of the Sports Illustrated crew. Here are 15 or so from this year’s trip. I don’t have any of the race itself because it was doing work for SI at the time.
A scene from “the backside,” where the barns are located. It’s called the backside because it’s located on the opposite side of the track from the grandstands. More than 40 barns are tucked into a tight space and a lot of activity takes place out in the open. Horses train in the early morning hours and the backside is a flurry of activity well before dawn.
Exercise riders silhouetted by the sunrise.
I seem to take this photo every year. I’m easily amused.
This is Orb, the Derby winner, working out on the Thursday before the race. A magnificent animal. Starting at 8:30 in the morning, only Derby horses are allowed on the track for a 15 minute window. A huge line of photojournalists gather along the outside rail to get as many of the horses as they can so that the images can be transmitted back to their publications. Some trainers seem to operate in stealth mode, however, and send their Derby horses out under the cover of darkness at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m.
Many libations were consumed, though not by us.
This is trainer D. Wayne Lucas mounted on his horse while his charges workout before 6:00 a.m. At age 77, he’s the patriarch of the backside. He likes to accompany his horses out onto the track, something I don’t see the other trainers do. They usually watch from on foot next to the track. Seems like a cool guy.
From the backside early in the morning. The twin spires are iconic symbols of Churchill Downs. The track lights were installed only a couple of years ago. Before that, horses trained in the dark until the sun came up.
This shot is taken from the paddock on the opposite side of the track. Before each race, the horses are led around the track from the backside to a tunnel through the grandstands and out the other side to the paddock. There’s a small oval here where the horses are paraded several times around in front of those spectators that can actually see them. Then the jockeys emerge and mount up for the trip back through the tunnel and onto the track. On Derby day, the crowd surrounding the paddock is so thick that it’s almost impossible make your way through it.
Lots of study goes into selecting the winner. It usually doesn’t work.
Of course, hats are a big part of the Derby experience.
Part of the fun is prowling the crowds and stands looking for people to shoot. Women who dress like this will instantly assume a pose when they see a camera pointed at them; I like to catch them in a more candid way. Sometimes I feel like a stalker with a camera.)
The guys get in on the act, too. People-watching doesn’t get much better than this.
This little guy was sitting in a box right along the rail near the finish line. Primo seats–except when it rains. One of the perks of my photographer’s pass is that it grants me access to the track itself, so I could walk along the front of the grandstands looking for subjects.
An obligatory racing shot from turn one. This is the Kentucky Oaks run on Friday for three-year old fillies. The Derby is the big one, of course, drawing upwards of 160,000 spectators, but the Oaks drew over 100,000 people this year, making it probably the second most attended horse race in America. Louisville schools are even closed on Oaks day. For this shot, I was kneeling next to the outside rail on the track with a 300mm–not really a long enough lens for this shot, so I cropped it.
This is Kevin Krigger, the first African-American jockey in the Derby in more than a decade. I shot this on Saturday when rain made the track muddy.
Depending on the track conditions jockeys will wear several pairs of goggles one on top of the other, pulling each pair down to their chest as they get covered with mud during the race. I’ve even heard of jockeys stripping their last pair off and going without to the finish. This is Mike Smith. He was down to his last pair, but he won the race so he wasn’t getting smattered with mud at the end.
Babe the Muffler Man stands watch at Babe’s Mufflers on The Alameda in San Jose. Supposedly he’s been there since at least 1960, but the leading authority on muffler men claims the first one was made in about 1962. It was a Paul Bunyan character. The hands were arranged to hold his axe, but the clever creators realized he could be repurposed to hold lots of things. Like, say, a muffler!
If you know me well, you know that one of my passions is the band Weather Report. In fact, my sister is quite fond of reminding me of what an inconsiderate teenager I was blasting their music out of my bedroom.
Some years ago I created a website I called the annotated discography. It’s been the most informative website about the band ever since. But lately it was suffering from neglect and no longer formatted correctly on modern browsers. So I took advantage of my holiday break from Apple to revamp the site. It’s now built on WordPress, which has a number of advantages. It looks good on modern browsers, and even adapts to the iPhone. I like that. This site has been in continuous operation since 2001 and has been cited as a reference in three books (that I know of) and in the liner notes for various albums. In the process, I’ve gotten to know many of the musicians whose music I have enjoyed for 30-40 years(!), including Joe Zawinul before he died in 2007. You can check it out here.
The prominent neon sign mounted atop the front of Lucky Boy restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It was closed when I visited, but from the outside it looks like a classic dive, with Chinese food and hamburgers offered. And sure enough, the Yelp reviews confirm it. “It’s about as divey as you can get without totally scaring away your customers–which I mean in a great way, because the places that haven’t ever changed are the places who have a loyal customer base. They don’t need to change!”
Or: “Lucky Boy is one of THE strangest places I’ve ever eaten. The first time I walked in, I seriously considered running out of the place screaming. It looks dirty. There are no decorations on the walls. There is a large bucket with soapy water that you are expected to bus your own silverware to upon completion of a meal. In spite of that, I was intrigued, so I placed my order… and I’ve been going back ever since.”
I think I need to try it next time I’m in ABQ.