This Thanksgiving, it seemed like every time I turned around, I saw Jason putting on the clown nose his aunt gave him. He just loved it. If I make my guess, he's going to flip out at the chance to play a red-nosed reindeer in the family performance of "The Night Before Christmas."

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 1600. Post-processing in Aperture 3: white balance correction; curve to increase exposure; slightly desaturated yellows and greens.

Thoughts for improvement: This is obviously a grab shot and I put little to no thought into the composition. So from a purely visually aesthetic perspective, it's not a great image. As a capture of a moment, though, I love it. I love the excitement and furtiveness about his body language, and the way he's kind of tucked in between the shoes and handbags. About the only thing I wish I'd done differently is that I wish I'd thought to put the flash on my camera, as that would have let me shoot at a lower ISO, producing less "grain."



This year we had Thanksgiving at Juliette's brother's house in Massachusetts, and among the many things that delighted Jason during his week-long trip to the East Coast were his aunt and uncle's napkin rings. There was a pig, a giraffe, a lioness, several kinds of insect, and--as you can see--a zebra. Juliette asked me if I staged this shot, but as far as I remember this is how I found it.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: white balance temperature 2500K, tint -3; curve for highlight recovery and contrast.

Thoughts for improvement: It was a little difficult to balance the light color properly--aside from the candlelight, there was also an incandescent overhead light and a compact flourescent floor lamp in the room. In a more controlled environment I'd have made sure that all the lighting had the same color. I like the candles and highlights in the bokeh, but the background does feel a little cluttered--possibly it might have been better to move the rear plate out of the shot and put some more candles in its place. It also might have been good to stop down a bit in order to get some of the salad on the foreground plate more in focus, but given how poorly the D40 does at ISO 1600, I was a bit constrained in terms of exposure.

The Liveship Traders

If you're anything like me, you have at least a few books lying around the house that you bought a long time ago but never got around to actually reading. For me, up until last month, that book was Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic.

I picked it up when it first came out in paperback on the strength of Hobb's earlier series, The Farseer Trilogy, which I had liked quite a bit even though the ending had left me a bit cold. Nevertheless, my aversion to starting an unfinished series was strong enough that I ended up sticking Ship of Magic on the shelf and ignoring it for almost eleven years. Last month, I finally got to the point where I'd read every piece of fiction left in the house, and decided to finally give it a go.

Before I did that, though, I went back and re-read The Farseer Trilogy, figuring that since this new series was a follow-on set in the same world, I should re-familiarize myself with the background. In some ways, that turned out to be a help, because I would otherwise have missed a number of references in the new series to events in the old one, references that weren't exactly necessary to understand the new series, but which added significant depth to the world and some of the characters.

On the other hand, plowing through all six books in rapid succession, it was impossible not to compare the two series, and I found The Liveship Traders somewhat lacking in comparison to its predecessor.

As I mentioned, The Liveship Traders is set in the same world as The Farseer Trilogy, starting ten years or so after the events of the first series. Rather than continuing the story of the original characters, though, the new series moves to a different part of the world and tells a story that is only tangentially related to the first.

As the series opens, we are introduced to the Vestrits, a trading family from the port city of Bingtown. The Vestrits are the owners of a liveship--a ship carved from magic wood that imbues the vessel with a life of its own, most noticeable in the ship's animate figurehead. The protagonist, Althea Vestrit, returns home from a voyage on her family ship, only to have her father die and her inheritance--ownership and captaincy of the ship--taken from her. Althea leaves, determined to regain her ship and make a name for herself. From there, we're brought along on a tale of full of nautical adventure, pirate battles, and even war, beneath the surface of which lurk secrets from ages past.

Now, you'd think this sort of thing would be right up my alley, and in a lot of ways you'd be right. I'm a huge sucker for Age of Sail maritime adventures, as evidenced by my love of C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. Combine that with the fantastic setting, epic plot, and excellent action scenes, and it should be perfect for me.

The problem was that too much of the characterization felt forced or flat to me. Part of that came from the more distributed focus--unlike The Farseer Trilogy, which featured only one point-of-view character--The Liveship Traders bounces back and forth between half a dozen or more perspectives, including all of the main antagonists. There's a lot of potential with a structure like that because it gives us a chance to sympathize or at least understand everyone, even the "bad guys." Unfortunately, nearly all of the antagonists seemed almost cartoonishly unreasonable, making it next to impossible for me to connect with them.

Things did eventually turn around with most of the important characters, but it took so long for that to happen--well into the second book--that I would never have gotten to it if not for my inability to walk away from a story I haven't finished.

Still, I don't want to sound too down on the series, because as difficult as I found the first volume, so much is paid off--both plot-wise and character-wise--by the end, that it was ultimately a very satisfying experience. It's of particular note how skillfully Hobb works the plot, starting with a relatively small-scale story of family drama and nautical adventure and building it into an epic, world-changing saga. As long as you're the kind of person who can commit to a series for the long haul, who doesn't need resolutions early and often, I'd say this one is definitely worth your time.

Ship of Magic

Started: 10/6/2010 | Finished: 10/13/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver

Mad Ship

Started: 10/19/2010 | Finished: 10/26/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver

Ship of Destiny

Started: 10/27/2010 | Finished: 11/1/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver

Beach Date

Beach Date

On Saturday I went on my first real portrait shoot. Some friends agreed to help me practice my technique by letting me do some family portraits of them. Juliette and Jason came along as well, since we figured we could get in our Christmas card shots in at the same time.

Leading up to the shoot I was a nervous wreck, even though I was working with friends in a very low-pressure situation. Once we actually got there, though, and started shooting, it was actually kind of fun. I think I learned a lot, too. For example, the next time I do a beach shoot, I'll either do it in the morning or bring a fill light. I also won't try to cram in two shoots into the same session.

Anyway, the kids had fun, as you can see. And hopefully my friends will find a few keepers out of the set.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/4000, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: yellow filter BW preset; curve for contrast; burned the highlights in both kids' faces; added edge sharpening.

Thoughts for improvement: A fill light on the left would have been a good idea, although the shadows in the current version do look kind of dramatic. I also wish I had framed the shot just a little bit lower, to add a sliver more space below Jason's foot.

Lavese Las Manos

Lavese Las Manos

One of the things I'm enjoying most about photography is how easy it's become for me to find beauty in the ordinary. Just walking down the street, seeing the sunlight, plants, even the sound of traffic, it makes me happy to be alive and able to experience it. You wouldn't think that the bathroom of an AM/PM would be a very apt place to be looking for beauty. Maybe it's not; maybe I'm just strange. This photo makes me happy, though.

Technical info: Shot with an iPhone 3G. Post-processing in Photoshop CS5: automatic lens correction; curve for tone and contrast; burned over the highlight on the top right of the dispenser; increased red and yellow saturation.

Thoughts for improvement: The lines on the wall aren't very straight, which is partially due to them actually not being straight and partially due to the fact that I was holding the camera slightly askew from the plane of the wall. It's very difficult to gauge that when you're hand-holding the camera, though, especially with one as flat as an iPhone.



As I mentioned yesterday, I spent some time this weekend working on an idea for a contest. Afterwards, having cleaned up my lighting setup and put the dining table back in order, I decided to play around a bit with the cranes I had made. This is one of the results.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: tungsten WB preset; curve for contrast and tone; decreased overall color saturation.

Thoughts for improvement: This was a pretty off-the-cuff shot, so clearly it's not perfect. The main thing is that there is too much in the frame. The table surface is kind of pleasant, but it doesn't really add to the shot, and the runner on the table and the wall you can see in the background also detract. I'd like to see what it would look like if I took the persimmons and cranes and put them against a flat white background.



I did this one for the "Complementary Colors V" contest at you might imagine, the theme for that contest was to use two complementary colors. Unfortunately, I missed the submission deadline by about fifteen minutes.

I feel like every time I set out to make a pre-planned, studio-type shot, I end up frustrated. I'm used to heading out the door with a location and a vague concept, and just seeing what I can find. I like opening myself up to possibilities and seeing what I can find. But when I start with a clear vision for an image and actually move the furniture in my kitchen around to make some studio space, things just never work out the way I planned. Moreover, I'm just never all that happy with the end result. This shot isn't bad, I don't think, but there's something about the textures and the lighting that just feel amateurish to me.

Still, I guess the only way to improve is to keep at it.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, and Nikon SB-400 flash. Manual exposure mode and manual flash mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/500 sec, ISO 400. Flash is set to (I think) 1/64 power, and positioned at camera left, just below the level of the table. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Hold Highlights preset; curve to increase contrast; added edge sharpening.

Thoughts for improvement: I don't really know what this shot needs. Something different with the lighting, but I don't know what. Maybe multiple lights, with a hard key and some diffuse fill, maybe a snooted light to make a really hard shadow. Anyone with suggestions, I'd love to hear them.



With both our Christmas card shoot and a family trip coming soon, Juliette and I decided it was time to get Jason's hair cut. Last month I took him to the stylist on my own and he ended up with such a slight trim that you couldn't even tell he got it cut. This month, Juliette was there and so he got a real haircut. I think it makes him look older. I swear, sometimes I can hardly believe that less than two years ago he couldn't even stand up.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/800, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve for highlight recovery; separate curve for slight contrast increase; dodged over the shadowy side of his face and a bit down his left sleeve; burned over the bright side of his face; burned the background.

Thoughts for improvement: The tree trunk to the left and behind him is a little distracting; ideally, it wouldn't be there. A 4x5 crop might also look good, excluding much of the space above his head. Not sure about that one--on my laptop monitor the leaves add some nice texture, but on my desktop monitor they're just a dark smear and could be excluded. I think some fill light on the left side (his left) of his face would also be good, though it's hard to get a two-year-old to sit still while you get a reflector in place.



Yesterday the family accompanied me on a jaunt around San Diego's coastal areas as I did some location scouting for our family holiday photo shoot next weekend. We stopped in La Jolla for a short walk by the cove, and I grabbed a few pictures of the sea lions. Jason particularly liked their barking--all the way back to the car he shouted "Ar! Ar! I'm a sea lion!"

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/250 sec, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: orange filter BW preset; curve for highlight recovery and black point; second curve for tone and contrast; slight dodge in the lower right corner; burned over the highlights in the rock and sea lion; intensify contrast adjustment brushed in over the water.

Thoughts for improvement: I would have liked to see this one at f/8-1/125-400 or maybe f/11-1/125-800. I had a fair amount of trouble nailing the focus and in any case I'd prefer more depth of field. As far as timing, I'm a bit torn. I really like the texture of the water above the spray, but it might have been a bit more dramatic if I could have waited for a bigger wave.

There's a New Sheriff In Town

There's a New Sheriff In Town

Are you eyeballing him? Believe me, this is one hombre you do not want to mess with.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 1600. Post-processing in Aperture 3: auto WB, picked from the white on his vest; curve to bring up exposure, dodged over his face; burned the background; desaturated yellows; added heavy vignetting.

Thoughts for improvement: I tried to get rid of the heavy shadow that runs across his nose and cheek, but couldn't do it in a way that looked natural. That's one thing I'd change. I ultimately opted to keep this one in color, but there were a few B&W versions I tried that weren't bad, so that is another option. And, of course, I wish the picture had a bit less digital noise--I kind of like the texture, but would prefer a bit less.

1 2 next last