February 27, 2010    Working With Limitations

Mallorie Salazar, Raton

This was a tough shot. I profiled first-time stage manager Mallorie Salazar for a feature that'll run next week in The Chronicle-News. She was busy running a rehearsal from Row 3 when I arrived so I climbed two flights of stairs to the light and sound booth to see whether I'd be able to get the shot I'd conceived. It looked doable.

When Mallorie broke away and climbed upstairs for my picture, at the station from which she'll run the show (she's wearing a headset), I had only a couple minutes. The light gels were purple, the light dark -- especially compared to the much brighter light on the stage. In hindsight, I see that I should have used a little flash. Oh well.

We pulled one light gel to get some uncolored flourescent light, and now I wish we'd pulled the other, too. The booth is tiny but I was able to drag a stool to the back wall and stand atop it, giving me the shot I'd imagined. (Click photo to enlarge.) Using aperture priority, I set the aperture to f/4.5 and shot. The shutter speed is 1/8 second (call me Slowhand!), the ISO 3200 (there's some graininess, which photographers call "noise"). I'm at the wide end of Nikon's versatile 18-200mm lens, on the Nikon D300.

If I could do it again, with more time? I'd ask Mallorie to dim the stagelights way down, to work better with the dim booth light. (I had her put actors on stage for my shot, but we can't even see them in the bright glare!) I'd remove both light gels and add one or two off-camera flash units, set to low power. I'd use the Sigma 10-20mm lens. I'd love to use a tripod, but I doubt it would fit into this tiny space. Maybe a monopod. I'd use the camera's manual setting, bring the ISO down to 800, the shutter speed up to 1/30s, and dial the flash up just enough to get sufficient low light on Mallorie's face. I'd see what I got and have Mallorie adjust the stagelight again to optimize the light on the actors. Another shot and voila!

In my dreams. But this is how we learn. It's good.




February 21, 2010    The Fastest Photo Shoot in the West

Des Moines Rodeo Club, 2010

5 horses, 7 humans plus 2 off-camera humans to point 2 flash units, 2 1/2 set-ups, 32 shots, 6 minutes. I've never seen anything like it.

Because I've done so well with photos and articles on these kids, I was happy to say yes when the Des Moines Rodeo Club asked if I'd donate a picture for their use this year.

We took it right here in Des Moines, beside the Martin's place, on Saturday afternoon. They wanted Sierra Grande behind them. With the sun over the mountain's right shoulder, I told them that they and the mountain would probably be silhouettes, but that I'd give it my best. I set up a pair of Nikon SB-600 speedlights to get some light on the faces of riders and horses. Christina came with me to hold one -- she's just out of the frame on the right. I recruited Bobby Martin to hold the other on the left. I told them that they'd have to point accurately at the riders' faces and that the flashes would be too fast for them to tell how well they were doing. They did great.

The temperature was in the mid-30s with a strong south wind taking the windchill into the teens. No problem for those of us dressed for it, but some of the kids wore just a western shirt for the photo and they were cold. Some also had to get to the school by 5:00 to play in basketball games.

Des Moines Rodeo Club, 2010

Looking back through the data, I see that I took the first of several shots at 3:55. Then, in case I failed in the Sierra Grande shot, we switched places and I shot a series facing north, which put the sunlight on their faces. I didn't need flash. The first shot facing north was triggered at 3:59. I fired off a few of those, then extended the tripod as high as it goes and I climbed a ladder I'd brought, taking a few frames from the higher point of view. (Yes, the tripod was absolutely necessary in the strong wind; in fact, I raised the ISO to 400 in order to get faster shutter speeds against the wind.)

I took the last shot at 4:01. Six minutes, 32 shots, 9 people and 5 horses. As everyone scattered, I wondered, "How the hell did we manage to do that?!"

Back home, I took a good long time processing the Sierra Grande image, using tricks in Capture NX2 to bring out as much definition as I could in the blown sky and the mountain, which of course didn't get any flash on it and was silhouetted. Then I wrote an article to accompany the picture in The Chronicle-News this week. Check it out.

I'm happy with the pictures. Thanks, rodeo club: it was fun. And fast!




February 20, 2010    Stock Photography


Many professional photographers throw a lot of energy into developing sales through what is known as stock photography. Look through school textbooks, ads, magazines, TV commercials -- everywhere -- and you'll see stock photographs.

The editor needs a photo and searches for just the right fit. Nowadays this is done increasingly through websites devoted to stock photography. There are agencies set up to do nothing more than license stock photographs. Many photographers also set up their personal websites to expedite these purchases. The editor licenses the use of the image, and pays for that.

I haven't gone that far with my site -- licensing here requires some e-mail negotiations -- but I just licensed my second image. The first was for the cover of the 2009 Beefspotter Atlas and was very lucrative. The new one, above, is for New Mexico Magazine. They have standard stock photo rates which are much lower, but it looks like they're planning to continue checking with me for more images in the future. I'm thrilled.

They're publishing a feature on northeastern New Mexico by another writer -- I don't even know who -- and they liked my "Trail's End" photo from my Cattle Drive gallery. Because that shot had already appeared in Western Horseman, they asked if I had an alternate shot of the same guys. They liked the one above. It'll be a quarter page in the May issue, I think, sneaking in ahead of the three featurettes with photos which I sent the magazine earlier in the week. Those should run over the summer.

They were looking for some other shots, too -- fishermen at Lake Maloya, men out hunting -- which I didn't have. I've made a mental note to add stock photography to my bag of tricks, keeping in mind editors' needs and shooting some subjects I might not otherwise have shot. It's one more challenge, and every challenge adds to the fun.




February 15, 2010    Trading Photographs for Room and Board

Heart's Desire Inn, Raton

New Mexico Magazine has given me permission to post photos on my blogs which I've taken for them. We agree that it's more likely to draw viewers to the magazine than keep them away because they've already seen some pictures here.

I'm glad because the whole point of this blog is to share what I'm doing each week...and because I want to share these pictures from inside Heart's Desire Inn, a B&B in an 1885 Victorian house in historic downtown Raton, New Mexico. It's owned and run by Barbara Riley, a Des Moines gal who is my friend and colleague in the Raton High School English Department.

The images demonstrate two things photographically. One is the wonderful usefulness of a wide-angle lens. Here I'm using the Sigma 10-20mm zoom at the wide end. It not only gets the entire width of a room: it also gives extraordinary depth to any picture. Look how far away that back wall is! These will look great in Barbara's promo materials and on her website. (More on that in a moment.)

Secondly, the photos demonstrate the value of using available light, rather than flash. Flash continues to bedevil me, suggesting that it's unnatural for me. I use it as needed and try to improve. Meantime, I'm increasingly drawn to long exposures on the tripod. I set the timer for a 2-second delay so I'm not touching the camera when the shutter releases. As long as there's nothing moving -- usually a person -- then it works perfectly and I like the resulting natural light better than flash.

Christina and I so enjoyed our stay, when I was reporting it for New Mexico Magazine, that I've offered Barbara 18 photographs, in both web-friendly jpegs and high-resolution TIFF files for print use, in exchange for a two-night stay during Spring Break. She's agreed and we're excited to anticipate another little mini-vacation in April. Not long after that, some of the photos will show up in the magazine. It's a win-win-win situation.




February 13, 2010    Making Photography My Work

Soft Yellow - Photo by Tim Keller

This new photo, "Soft Yellow", shot on the way home from work Wednesday, wasn't work at all: who could resist pulling the car off the highway for this! But, thanks mostly to New Mexico Magazine, I've been immersed in photography as work (the best kind) for the past few weeks. And, great news, the magazine has given me permission to post on my blogs the photos I'm taking for them. Normally, any magazine is skittish about "pre-publication" of work they're buying, but here art director Fabian West agreed that a photo's presence in my blog is more likely to bring people to the magazine than divert them. Thanks, Fabian.

My three featurettes are finished, text and photography. This morning I have to take each photo through Photoshop to add photographer identification, copyright, keywords, and captions. New Mexico Magazine uses so many photographs, and they keep them all on file, so these IDs can be important in the future. They often go through back files looking for just the right shot for a certain spot in the magazine. When they choose one of mine, it's important that the data I'm adding in Photoshop be attached; this is the magazine's standard protocol, as is providing a printed proof sheet of the submitted images.

Next, I'll burn the articles and hi-res images to discs, a separate disc for each featurette. I'll put the discs, proof sheets, and hard copies of the manuscripts into a big envelope and get them out Tuesday; they'll arrive exactly one week ahead of my contract deadline. (This is the only magazine I work with so far that issues advance contracts like this. The others agree informally, usually through e-mail correspondence, then issue a contract after they accept the finished work.)

Meantime, Fabian has asked for some of my older shots to illustrate someone else's article. For that, I've had to download Apple software to my Mac and learn how to send a photo via File Transfer Protocol. FTP allows me to send one of my hi-res (70MB TIFF) photos directly to Fabian's computer from mine. The upload takes a long time -- about 20 minutes -- but that's a lot faster than the US mail! It enables Fabian to seek photos from me (through my website or quick jpegs), then choose and get one without waiting 2 or more days for it to arrive.

Some of the shots she was looking for were subjects I've never thought of shooting -- fishermen at Lake Maloya, men out hunting -- so now I'll be adding these kinds of "stock photos" to my repertoire, just to be prepared when New Mexico Magazine or others come looking.

Over on my TKA arts blog this morning, I posted a pair of the photos I'm submitting -- horizontal and vertical images of the Shuler Theater on a recent show night. It was a toss-up whether to post that on the arts blog or here on the photography blog, since a lot of the content would interest photographers. Check it out. And hey, thanks for stopping by!


P.S. 2/14 - I've just posted my pair of features from the February issue of Western Horseman. Now that it's off the newstand, I'm allowed to share it here on the website. You can see the features here.





January 31, 2010    A Man's Best Friend

Coltrane - border collie

When we moved here more than ten years ago, a state policeman named Jason was our neighbor. After tramping around town, his red heeler became pregnant -- by three different fathers, it turned out. He let us have our pick of the litter.

Christina chose Erin, a gorgeous redhead border collie mix who ran in front of a truck the next year and was replaced by Pearl. I chose Coltrane, a beautiful black border collie (whose mom was a red heeler!) with her breed's inherent melancholia tempered with pure joy when engaged in work or play.

Coltrane looked like a panther when she flew off ledges in pursuit of herds of pronghorn antelope; when she was young, she would chase them a full mile, and she was fast enough to force them into that rocket-thruster gear they use when something gets close. It was great sport for all, and it made both me and Coltrane smile.

Bale & Coltrane

She got plenty of exercise on our half-acre town lot covering most of our block, allowing her to follow all the neighborhood action -- usually at high speed. But she lived for the country. An inveterate hiker, I don't think I've had a single hike in the past ten years without her. Our last big one was the day before Thanksgiving when we hiked from town to the top of Sierra Grande, a rigorous 10-mile round trip on steep hills. We hadn't planned to go that far but we got carried away, barely making it back before the early dark.

Coltrane Majestic - border collie

The next week we learned that Coltrane had cancer. After surgery, the doc gave her a few months.

She lasted a few weeks.

The vet put her down for us Monday and we brought her home to bury her in the south yard outside our bedroom window, beside Erin and our previous beloved border collie Serafina...and our duck Lucky.


Thank you, Coltrane
2000-2010, R.I.P.
You had a great run.




January 24, 2010    Of Mice and Men

Capulin Volcano

Looking at this photograph on page 59 of the 2010 New Mexico Vacation Guide, it occurred to me that I've never posted it anywhere in the website -- not in the galleries, not in a blog. In fact, I had to search through my files to find it.

This was taken in October, 2007, with an Olympus point-and-shoot handed down from my mother-in-law: she didn't like her foray into digital. I was all fired up for the new camera I'd ordered -- the Nikon D300 -- but it wouldn't be released for another month so I was crawling the backroads in our F-250 looking for landscapes to shoot with the little Olympus.

Of course this is Capulin Volcano, looming large over the little village of Capulin. I shot it from King's pens over at the bend on Larga Road, a site rich with photo possibilities: I've shot there many times, at all times of year.

Now that I'm developing features for New Mexico Magazine, I'm going to be limited in what I can post here: their contract is very specific about my not sharing anything they might use until after it's had its run with them.

An issue that may temporarily limit me here is my Apple PowerMac G5 computer: it's literally on the blink -- blinking out and not starting back up unless I hold my tongue just right -- so it may be in the shop soon. If I don't blog next weekend, that'll be the reason. I have my own in-house computer tech (Mrs. Keller) working on the problem in the meantime, and she may well be able to solve the problem right here. We'll see.

It may be as simple as the small gray mouse that's living behind all the cords. He doesn't like the cheese or peanut butter I've put on the trap, and our two cats are too complacent and well-fed, apparently, to be interested in him. Oh the challenges of technology.




January 16, 2010    Transitions

Taos Mountain Cloudscape

Here's the last of the Taos landscapes I'll be posting as I move on to new projects. The February 2010 Western Horseman has two of my features, with five photographs; they have another of my features in the works for a spring issue.

Now I'm moving on to four featurettes for New Mexico Magazine. Each will run one page, with 1-4 photographs each. These will be in their new Going Places section and feature local destinations here in northeastern New Mexico. I'm starting on that project today, always a good feeling.




January 10, 2010    Capturing the Flicker in the Flame


Late one night in our upstairs B&B room north of Taos, I spotted a wonderful abstract image in the dark purple glow of the kiva fireplace. It needed a long exposure, but my tripod was in the car trunk, far across the ice and snow. I let the image go; it would have been gone before I could have captured it, anyway.

The next night I tried to recreate it, or something like it, and failed. Still, I played around with shooting the flames at various exposure lengths. Then I took the camera off the tripod and tried adding camera motion. I didn't get anything exciting, but this one pleases me well enough. In the future, I'll stay prepared and bring the tripod into the room. Of course, that wonderful image I saw originally: maybe it was just the red wine?

Cimarron Palisades

On the way home through Cimarron Canyon, Christina and I made several stops to take photographs, including one shot of the frozen creek that I posted January 3 on the TKA Blog. Here's the best I was able to do with the iconic Cimarron Palisades. Like the flame image, it's nice enough without being exciting.

What was wrong? We were shooting in bright midday light, with its lack of shadows, rather than early morning or late afternoon. Also, we were just passing through, not taking enough time to explore more possibilities. The people that get great landscape photographs often spend more hours -- or days -- than you can imagine, getting to the right place at the right time, often waiting for the light to turn just right. And there's no guarantee it will turn just right anytime soon.

Or, they got lucky. You can wait for luck, but you won't get as many great shots.

I did get a shot Friday afternoon that I'm excited about. I wrote about it yesterday on the TKA Blog. Steven Havill is a veteran and prolific writer of New Mexico mysteries. My portrait suggests his characters, lurking behind the bookshelves. Compare that to what Steven's publisher has been using for his promo shot. Give ten artists the same scene and you'll get ten very different images. The exciting part is trying to be the artist who gets the one image that "pops", that draws the eye, that pleases the viewer. And the first viewer is the artist himself.




January 7, 2010    Aiming High

Ranchos de Taos church, night

I had two intentions, photographically, for our Taos trip. One was simply to enjoy taking photos, especially landscapes, for their own sake, not part of any story I was developing. This would be the first time I'd done that in months. The second was to try for new images that I could use for large framed prints -- for sales, for entry in the 2010 NMA Art in Public Places Program, and for entries in 2010 shows. With this image, I got one.

Christina and I first shot the Ranchos de Taos church as the sun prepared to set. Because it's the most photographed church in the world, we tried to find a fresh take on it, an original viewpoint. We were alone when we started, but as the sun set lower, photographers magically appeared. There were a dozen.

As the sky grew dark we drove south to dinner at The Stakeout (fabulous). On the way back through Ranchos de Taos later, I looked down the path toward the church with interest. I've never seen a nighttime photo of the church. It was gorgeous. We turned around at the next intersection and went back.

Ranchos de Taos church, night

Setting up the tripod, I wanted to incorporate the full moon and the Christmas star, while trying for an original composition. Using the 18-200mm zoom lens, I shot wide at 18mm at f/8 for 13 seconds, in manual mode. I used the camera's 2-second delay to avoid hand motion.

Christina had talked about wanting to shoot the north side of the church, but that's a challenge because it never gets sunlight on it. It occurred to me that I might get something good using the church's night lighting. Those cone-shaped supports are amazing, and not often seen in photographs. Here I shot at 20mm, f/8 again but only 2.5 seconds with all that light. (As always, click the photo to enlarge. See a daylight shot at my TKA blog.)

What a remarkable building: it's easy to see why it has drawn photographers every day for a century. My hope was to get something original and effective: I feel good about what I got!




January 6, 2010      Seeing the World Through Rose Glasses

Taos Gorge Bridge

Last week I shot two of the most photographed landmarks in New Mexico: the Taos Gorge Bridge and the Saint Francis de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos. The challenge was to find an original take, something that didn't repeat what another had already done. It also had to grab the eye and say "great photograph".

With the two images here, I didn't reach my goal. I've seen better takes on each landmark. Because the raw camera images didn't reach the standard I set, I played around with them in processing, adding filters to create a painterly effect. The best images don't need such help. These needed it...but I like the results. (Click image to enlarge.)

Ranchos de Taos churchOne of my goals is to get new images to submit for consideration for the 2011 New Mexico Vacation Guide. (Seven of my photos were selected for the 2010 Guide, available free here and viewable online here.) Another is to get new images I can frame and sell, as well as enter in shows this year. I had one big success, I think, in a night shot of the Ranchos de Taos church -- I'll share that here tomorrow.

Thanks for visiting -- I'll be back with more soon.




January 3, 2010    Living in a Land of Landscapes

Taos Mountain moonrise

After shooting 10,000 frames in my first year with the D300, I began to feel that I had exhausted my own area for landscape photography. I'd traveled countless miles in my '95 Ford F-250 4wd pickup, often down long dirt roads before dawn or after dark, and there just wasn't much left that I hadn't seen and shot. Barring dramatic weather, I could drive and drive but find fewer and fewer new images to shoot.

That led me, initially, to focus more on portrait photography. Then I started thinking in terms of story: I began looking for stories to photograph, without yet considering any potential need for written stories to accompany them. The cattle drive was the first to come along; when Western Horseman liked the photographs, I suddenly found myself needing to write an article.

That, of course, changed all equations. I shot another 10,000 frames in my second year, but most of those were for storytelling. It turns out that I love telling a story in photographs, and I equally love telling a story in writing. To combine the two is pure joy, and it's turned out to be a successful avenue for me.

Between producing stories for magazines and a newspaper, and teaching an exciting but demanding school year, most of my time has been spent working in one form or another. Christina has been the same with Studio C. We booked four nights in a B&B north of Taos last week just to escape "working" and get some slow time together. Reading books was allowed; so was photography -- she often went out with me, carrying her Canon G10.

Horses at Arroyo Seco

If I'd spent longer at Taos, I would have gotten around to asking strangers for quick portrait sittings downtown. As it was, I focused on the abundant landscape shots available. Winter is arguably the best time for landscape photography, with its great light, and Taos County is rich with possibilities. As always, I'm posting new shots here and on the TKA blog, the best of which will later get into the photo galleries -- a much more time-consuming process. (All my photos are available in prints, even before they make it into the galleries.)

It's felt good to be back in the land of landscapes.




January 1, 2010    A Ghostly Time Release

Taos Plaza

In honor of the steady progression of time that has brought us to the year 2010, I offer a time release photograph taken this week on the Taos Plaza. It's a 25-second exposure at f/18, using the wide end of the Sigma 10-20mm lens. I tried a few shots; I like my level of ghostliness in this one. (As always, click the photo to enlarge.) I waited a bit before stepping into the frame, then stood still.

After three days on the Turquoise Trail south of Santa Fe over the Christmas holiday, Christina and I spent four days at The Cottonwood Inn B&B north of Taos. I ventured out with my camera each day, including productive ventures at dawn, sundown, and night. I'll post some of the others here, and at my TimKellerArts blog, over the coming days.

I post my favorite new photos here, on the two blogs, long before I get the time to update the photo galleries, and before any of the images are published in magazines. Some of the blog photos will make it into the galleries later; all my shots, whether in my galleries, blogs, or magazine articles, are available to purchase in prints.

With the festive (if ghostly) photo above, I wish you a great new beginning in a happy new year. Thanks for visiting.



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