Monday, April 28, 2008

Slow dancing in the rain

I seem to have made a rather startling amount of progress over the weekend in uncluttering -- a very necessary but traditionally daunting task. What was most amazing this time was that although I was wobbly and exhausted after each day's progress, I was not triggered.

Photography is a thread that ties much of my life together. In Ohio, in Germany, in San Francisco, and often in Seattle, photography was a primary coping tool. In more recent blogging, I have photographed most of my serial perseverations, my intense interests.

Over the years it has usually been easier to go overboard on a primary interest and shunt others aside, some to be semi-forgotten, others to occasionally return to their place in the sun. the quiescent interests seem to always have a trigger risk -- particularly when the "overdoing" has been particularly egregious, or when I had felt particularly like I had found something that would give me enduring strength and entertainment.

Photography's thread might be piercing the barrier, the membrane, that forms as an interest fades. Without that piercing, a pressure differential can build until any effort to clean up the clutter risks puncturing that membrane and releasing a flood of triggers. The last few days, instead of floods of triggers, there there has been rue, and ennui, and some "wow, look at this, I should photograph some of this stuff."

At times, the transition from interest to interest has been a total break, often accompanied by (probably initiated by) a bout of severe depression. Sometimes it has been more of a segue from one to the other, with some carry-over. The latter seems to have been the case for the last several months. Progress?

Photography as a primary interest, and intense interest, may not endure this time any more than it has in the past, but my new understanding of how to relate it to my head stuff is showing dramatic benefit, and there seems great potential for building on that.

My last really good camera was stolen from my apartment a few years before Jo and I married. I have made do since then with low end cameras. That may have been a mistake. But not as large a mistake as letting photography's ebb & flow as an interest ebb quite so far. I have learned that sometimes I have to write things down to effectively communicate them from one part of my brain to another. It would seem that photography, beyond its other benefits, can play a similar role.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reflecting on cherry blossoms

I took these two cherry blossom pictures this afternoon in our back yard. For one I used a piece of white cardboard as a reflector to brighten the shadows. For the other I didn't. Quite a difference.

I've known since maybe 1968, certainly 1978, that a piece of white cardboard could be used that way, yet this may be the first time I've done it with sunlight. I've used it with flash a few times for Blockplay pictures, but even that was relatively recent.

At one level, that just seems weird. Why hadn't I done it? At another level it is rather reassuring to know that my head problems aren't new -- I'm still the me I've always been, just maybe more so.

It was hard to frame these while holding the camera, holding my hat to shade the camera so maybe I could maybe barely see something on the display enough to guess what I was including, and then holding the reflector as well.

I took some pictures at Saltwater Park in Richmond Beach this morning, too, before the camera batteries died (oops - I should always have freshly charged batteries with me). Flowers up high on the hill. Not a lot of pictorial success, but I considered it good 'process' progress -- I got out of the car and took pictures.

Back home this afternoon, with charged batteries, I got out in the backyard and took more pictures. I used a reflector to reduce contrast. I didn't say "I can't do this until I buy that. I can't do the other thing until I buy something else." That is progress. That is much more important, to me, than how good the pictures are or aren't.

After I tweaked some of today's pictures, I went back and tweaked some of last week's outing pictures.

I keep trying to think of places I can find lichen covered rocks in Seattle. Moss, yes. Lichen is harder.

I've been thinking that one of the reasons I was focusing on narrower views was because the previous several hours had been filled with broad vistas. But throughout those hours, I had looked at the vistas and thought about making nice pictures, and hadn't felt compelled to go through the process.

Another thought I've had is to compare this to the stages of block play, where the first step focuses on the blocks, and only gradually does one move toward building larger structures.

Even then, I was not taking pictures of isolated twigs or stones. I was intrigued by the variety of lichens, by the juxtapositions of flowers and sere grasses and tumbling water. So maybe it is the "lining things up" stage of block play, or habit of autistics.

Photography has meant a lot to me over the years. I am enjoying getting back into kinds of photography that I neglected too many of those years.

[click on images for larger versions]

All images shot with several-year-old Olympus D=450 (1.3 Megapixel), and tweaked & cropped in Picasa.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I had a bit of an adventure yesterday evening.

While reading on the couch and waiting for Jo to get home, my eye was caught by the golden curls of a small girl walking down the middle of our street.

I stood up to get a better look just as she passed from view, went to the window, went out on the porch, and determined that she had no adult accompaniment.

I hurried after her, and caught her just before she entered the traffic lanes of 85th, an arterial with fast, inattentive traffic. My very special cat, Sophie, died trying to cross 85th several years ago.

Kneeling to bring face to eye level, I tried to determine if she knew where she belonged. She spoke, but if she was old enough to talk coherently, it wasn't working for me.

We couldn't stay there in the middle of the street, almost in an intersection, so I picked her up and decided to take her to our neighbors to see if Britt recognized her -- I figured the mother of young children was much more likely to know the neighborhood kids and where they belonged.

After initially not coming up with anything, Dan & Britt suggested that she might be the little girl living with another neighbor I knew, and I went down there just as Jo drove down the street and missed my wild gesticulations.

I knocked on the neighbors' door and rang the bell, but got no response.

I went back home but was locked out -- I had gone out so quickly I had no key.

So I called Jo on my cell phone (calling your own house from your own front porch is a bit strange), and she accompanied me back to the neighbors, where we still had no success.

About then another longtime neighbor came out from a house across the street, and I called to him to see if he could confirm that this was indeed the child for this house.


More conversation.

Jerry went to get his wife, Peggy, to see if she had a phone number.

By this time I was getting chilled and the child was dressed less warmly than me. We went inside Peggy & jerry's and sat down while Jerry went and pounded loudly enough to get a response.

Jo and I returned the child to her mother, who is in chemotherapy and not doing well. We also got their phone number, which I entered into my cell phone, not having pencil and paper.

By this time I was thoroughly cold, my back hurt from toting even a light child for so long, I was headed into autistic shutdown, and was hypoglycemic.

I had had oral surgery in the morning and an insurance mix-up at the pharmacy had kept me from getting the prescription the periodontist had given me. I had been hypoglycemic & in autistic shutdown after that, too.

So, feeling that I had had far more than enough for one day, I headed home while Jo took my cell phone to go give Peggy the phone number.

Got home to find house locked again & I still had no key. And no cell phone.

I sat in chair on porch completing autistic shutdown, chilling further, getting more hypoglycemic, for an indeterminate amount of time while Jo had what was surely a reasonable and necessary conversation with Peggy,

When she finally came home she started to go right past me unseeing, to give Britt & Dan the phone number & fill them in.

I managed to make words & stop her, so I could go bundle into blankies on the couch.

Eventually, I we ate chicken soup & Jo went down to the pharmacy & got my prescriptions.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Head shot

It's not just about the pictures.

Certainly cameras and photography are often simply tools and processes to get needed or desired pictures.

Camera shop eavesdropping suggests that for some, the pictures are just excuse and proof-of-function for the wonderful gadgets.

But sometimes photography can be about the process, the pictures mostly just proof-of-function and diagnostic tool for that process.

Particularly if one has a moderate to severe case of Dysfunctional Brain Syndrome*, as I do.

My psychiatrist is fond of saying, "Don't pathologize everything." Not every difference is a flaw. ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.") But that doesn't mean it can't be beneficial to examine some nonpathological behaviors and attitudes.

A fondness for taking pictures of rocks or dried grass need not represent a pathological interest in dead things. But perhaps examining that fondness might help extract the most benefit from rocks or from dried grass or from photography. It might suggest other beneficial activities.

Applying my DBS head to the my potential DBS benefits from photography, I come up with the following:
  • Assisted seeing - A camera helps one focus what is seen. The resultant picture a record nut just of what was seen, but also of the process of seeing. In times of sensory overload, using a camera can help narrow ones visual input to be more manageable.
  • Active versus passive - Many of us tend towards more passive. Even walking and enjoying what is to be seen, our brains are not fully engaged. Photography can engage the brain in an interactive process.
  • Deceleration - Too often I get someplace, look around, perhaps walk briefly or perhaps not, then hurry away. Looking for photo opportunities and photographing slows things down, allows me to get more value from having gone there.
  • Purpose - An additional activity, with small scale focus, can vastly increase the number of destinations closer to home, especially when physical mobility is restricted (I have variably reduced walking range, variably reduced driving range). Having a purpose can also make it easier to be someone where there are other people, and often deflect unwanted social interaction.
  • Control - Our lives and surroundings are beyond our control, which can distress and frustrate. Expanding certain types of choices may compensate. By occupying myself with taking a picture of a rock or clump of dried grass, I may be less frustrated with my inability to hike further. By having a camera with a variety of automatic and manual modes, I may choose each of the camera settings, or choose to let the camera control all or some of them while I make other choices. An option rarely taken can still have significant hidden value in reassuring that the more common option was chosen, not forced.
  • Communication - Some parts of my head may not be communicating well with other parts of my head, perhaps unusual only in degree. Communication with others is even more problematic. The photographs I make may provide useful insight into some of the more obscure and abstruse parts of my brain.
Potential DBS problem areas in photography include:
  • Keeping track - We have variable ability to keep track of multiple things, whether "hardware" or "software." When we pass our limit, we lose hats, keys, lenses. We fumble procedural steps. Hence a noninterchangeable-lens camera, with automation options. Feedback is important - if a setting is changed, that must be clearly indicated so that it gets changed back.
  • Transitions - Change requires a period of adjustment. Changing a camera from one automatic or semi-automatic mode to another makes the camera harder to use for a while. This can be reduced by a mental model that reduces the scale of change, e.g. a perception that my brain and the camera's brain share well defined tasks, and trade off on who does what. An automated task that does not fit that model, perhaps because it is inadequately explained, can be more difficult than doing the same thing by manual choices. Good feedback of both automated and manual choices is vital.
  • Overdoing things - Whether called Obsessive-Compulsive or Autistic Perseveration, we often persist in something beyond our physical or mental stamina. We may then no longer readily transition to another activity, and almost certainly will have problems keeping track of the stuff we have with us, and of "finish up" tasks. Finishing and picking up must be straightforward.
Subject to the latter concerns, photography clearly has significant potential for therapeutic value, and more subtly, for "feedback" or "diagnostic" purposes.

However fun it is, worthwhile in itself, however useful or enjoyable the resulting pictures might be, for me the ranking of cameras, the significance of various features, and the justification for purchasing a camera, should be primarily based on mental health factors, and only secondarily on picture potential or "geek factors."

And as with so many things, including my block play, potholders, and probably eBay, I should remember that my photography is more about the process than the product.

*DBS is not my actual diagnosis, but is used here in lieu of a dog's breakfast of various neurological and psychiatric diagnoses.

[I am not finished, please consider this a work-in-progress.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dryside Daytrip

My first trip to the areas East and South of Vantage, Washington, was with my Boy Scout troop about 1964. I have been back many times since, with various daytrip companions.

Chris & I have been wanting to make another daytrip, for a while, and today turned out to be the day. I managed to get up & get going early enough to beat rush hour, so after meeting Chris & Schmoo in North Bend, we still had quite a bit of day in front of us. We ended up using all of it.

Headed over Snoqualmie Pass to escape the rain and found sun as we approached Cle Elum. After breakfast in Ellensburg, we were soon leaving I-90 across the river from Vantage, and had our first nature stop at the side of the Columbia just after we left SR 26 on the road to Beverly.

Back in Chris's car, we wee soon heading East from Beverly on Lower Crab Creek Road. I love that country, with the dry channels dating from the ice age floods I have recently been reading about, and the Saddle Mountains towering above to the south.

One of the things I wanted to do is actually take some pictures. Do some photography. See if I would actually be likely to get out and use a new camera, or just sit on the couch and read about photography. Providing my old D450 would cooperate.

I took pictures.

The first effort was abortive, with camera problems. But I changed the battery and reformatted the memory card, and the second try got the rock with orange lichen that opens the slideshow above, found in a small nature preserve along Lower Crab Creek Road.

We continued to Othello, turned south to Mesa, a place a high school friend was from that I had never visited before today. Then north to Lind, where the long-gone Milwaukee line crossed over the Northern Pacific on a long bridge. West through Warden to O'Sullivan Dam, where we made our longest stop, took our longest walk, and I took the rest of my outing pictures.

The sildeshow includes every image I took, without modification, just as they were downloaded. Obviously there are some things that need some work, such as holding the camera level, but what struck me most is how they harken back to pictures I took with my first 35mm SLR about forty years ago.

Continuing west, we turned onto Frenchman Hill Road, enjoying the bird sightings along there to the days birding high point just west of Dodson Road. That location is considered one of the best birding locations in the state, but I first stumbled on it by accident on a daytrip with Jo way back when. We returned there a couple of times with the girls when they were young. Just about every visit has been good, with my favorites there usually being Avocets and Stilts.

No Avocets today, but twenty or so Stilts, and numerous other birds that I will let Chris list in her own blog.

Back to I-90, back across the Columbia, and soon, back across the Pass in driving snow and marginal conditions. We thought that was pretty weird, until after parting with Chris in North Bend, I returned home to find North Seattle in driving snow - enlivened by flashing lightning and pounding thunder. The last few slideshow pictures document that, ending with Violas in the snow.

Long day, but a very very good day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Subduing shadows

An old bromide speaks of peacetime armies and navies preparing to fight the last war instead of the next one.

As I consider what I want from a new camera, I need to remind myself that I will be using the camera in the future, not to rectify missed photo opportunities of the past.

Not an easy task.

Since I posted about the new Olympus SP-570UZ Digital Camera couple of days ago, I've been reading & thinking and getting myself confused and maybe sometimes a little unconfused.

As usual, "mental disablity" isn't meaning "can't" -- it is meaning "harder" and "can't do for very long without a break" and "easily confused or upset."

Things are complicated by PTSD "calendar triggers" that are surely compounding some photography-related triggers, but at the same time may also be providing a distraction that is letting me do this. Asperger's syndrome is also a complicating factor, adding both difficulty and motivation.

Things are complicated by the fact that until I got my first digital camera in 1998, I mostly shot slides, and when I shot print film, I mostly had basic processing. That meant that you used the viewfinder for cropping, it wasn't something you could adjust after you got home.

Even with my digital cameras, the resolution has been so low that one wanted to use as much of the frame as you could. Most of my digital cropping has been to change form factor and trim a bit off the edges, especially in my Blockplay blog.

But with an image sensor with a high enough resolution, more options present themselves. The "digital zoom" that camera makers love to tout is one example. Whether done in camera or later in the computer, it is simply reaching beyond the limits of the optical zoom of the lens to pick out just the center of the image. Turning a 110mm-equivalent lensed 640x480 camera into a 440mm 160x120 is of limited pleasure, but a chunk out of a 3648 x 2736 image from a 520mm equivalent zoom could be very satisfying. Bring home some fun bird pictures.

At the wide angle end of the zoom, you can get more perspective control. In Blockplay, many times I've had to accept images where vertical lines on a building converge towards the top or bottom of a structure -- sometimes both. The solution to that is to keep the image plane (sensor or film) vertical. Which usually means chopping off part of the structure, if not omitting the structure from the image entirely.

To maintain resolution, one must shift the lens, which requires either a view camera or a very expensive lens for an interchangeable lens camera. But for blog use, I will be happy to take the low-to-medium resolution image I need out of when edge of a much larger image.

If you don't think the Blockplay examples have been terribly egregious, that is because I have had the luxury of being able to back up and use moderate telephoto, which makes the effect less noticable. In most cases the depth perspective effects of doing so, including nudging me towards using solid-colored backdrops, have done more good than harm. In the real world, those options are typically either not available or more troublesome.

Enough ramblings, especially with no pictures.

More anon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Catching light

I have been using cameras since about 1960, with various degrees of seriousness about my photography, and with cameras of a wide range of sophistication and features. It seems like over the years I tended to go back & forth between simple snapshot cameras with convenience features and more advanced cameras with more options and accessories.

Often I had more than one camera at once, trying to fit my various needs.

In retrospect, I now better understand how my then undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder was manifesting itself in my contradictory needs, but also in my abilities.

My earliest "serious" camera was an old folding Zeiss of my dad's. Taking a picture was an interesting process:

  • Open the hatch on the front of the camera
  • Extend the lens on its leather bellows
  • Set the aperature (f-stop) on the lens
  • Set the shutter speed (fraction of a second) on the lens
  • Set the focus on the lens
  • Cock the lens
  • Frame the shot
  • Release the shutter
  • Open a little shutter covering a pair of small red windows on the back of the camera
  • Turn a knob on the top of the camera to either move the frame number to the next window or move the next frame number to the first window
  • Close the back shutter to reduce the risk of light leak fogging the film
  • Recock for next picture, having made necessary adjustments to any settings
  • Or, collapse bellows and close hatch and put camera back in pocket
Over the years that followed, the succession of cameras generally sought to automate at least some of those tasks while not compromising too much on image quality or size of camera.

Sometimes I was happy to just have a compact convenient camera. Other times I wanted to be able to reach out with telephoto or spread my grasp for wide angle.

For a while in the late 1960s, I had an Instamatic with crude autoexposure and a spring-wound film-advance drive. Other times I had SLRs with various lens -- my favorite was an Olympus OM-2 with motor drive and a compact zoom (the camera body in one jacket pocket & lens in another) -- it broke my heart when that camera was stolen, and I haven't owned a feature-rich camera since.

For several years, my camera has been a 1.3 Megapixel Olympus D-450 with 3x zoom. It did what I wanted, it still does most of what I need, and I have enjoyed it.

As camera technology has moved on, I have occasionally admired and coveted newer cameras. But the truth is, these have been rough years, and I have probably been better off with something familiar and more tilted toward convenience than flexibility or features.

The cameras I've looked at might have done much more of what I wanted to do (or have wanted to do at various times), but it was still true that no one camera did it all - there was still a requirement to choose between feature trade-offs.

But lately the 450 has been hinting that it is getting tired. And then the other day I ran across a blurb for the new Olympus SP-570UZ.

At first glance, it seemed to have all the features I had been looking for, all wrapped up in one.

At second glance it still did:
  • Long zoom range with true & significant wide angle, through substantial telephoto
  • Image stabilization, to maximize usefulness of telephoto and for low-light conditions
  • Reasonably high resolution
  • Good macro (closeup/small object) capability
  • Extended ISO range for low light photography
  • Reasonably fast lens apertures
  • Good range of shutter speeds
  • Useful video capture modes, with sound
  • Both built-in flash & hotshoe for accessory flash
  • More modern sensor & image capture technology
[There are more features and functions than these, but that is not necessarily an advantage for me. :)]

Which is not to say that their weren't trade-offs or compromises. The image quality, even it 10 Megapixels, isn't comparable to a good digital SLR with comparable Megapixel count. The viewfinder won't compare to an optical viewfinder, and there may be some performance issues.

But the sample images I've seen, even in extended telephoto, as well as lowlight and macro, look quite satisfactory to me (yes, those web pages are in German, but scroll down to "Download der Bilder in Originalgröße" and there are a group of links to download batches of original-size image files.

So I have downloaded the instruction manual from the Olympus web site, and will be studying it to see how manageable the actual operation seems.

If all looks good, and goes well, I hope to be able to get one soon.

In the meantime, I will probably come back to this blog and look at specific features and what they mean to my photography -- for example, how wide angle plus extended resolution stand in for a shifting lens. Writing helps me think & organize my thoughts.