Friday, July 13, 2012

Bigger and Better

I'm making a short post, after all this time, to let anyone who might still be reading this or waiting for a new post that I've changed blogs. The new one is called "Polaroids On Fire," which you can view by clicking here.

As for why I've been absent and why I moved onto something new when I had a perfectly good blog right here, that's all explained in my first post over at PoF. I'm very excited for the new change, and I hope anyone who was a reader of Track In Focus will enjoy it. There's more focus and drive with the new blog, something that I think I lacked when I started this one.

It's an interesting and exciting time for me. Let's see if it keeps rolling.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Willy Wonka's Turf Wars

So there are these two houses in downtown Lapeer that are probably the most interesting landmarks in my little town. Each one is gaudily painted in the most cartoonish and eye-catching way, one of them numerous shades of violet, the other a combination of reds and greens along with little shapes and designs painted here and there on the siding. The red-and-green house reminds me a bit of those old Dutch dollhouses that would come with tiny figurines wearing lederhosen. (By the way, "lederhosen" isn't a word recognized by spell-check. How weird is that?)

And it's not like these houses are owned by a couple of rednecks who just love to paint their double-wides pretty colors, either. These are nice-sized, luxurious homes Honestly, I don't know if they were always like that, because I don't remember noticing them until I was in my teens.

The best thing about them, though, is that they're literally right across the street from each other. One can only assume the owners are having some sort of face-off to see which house gets more attention. So I'm going to help them end this debate once and for all.

Bring out the challengers!

Okay, if we're judging by pure gaudiness, I vote for the bottom house (henceforth called House #2). The combination of colors, the diamond designs on the upper siding, and hell, the little details on the guardrails, all come together to create an eye-catching masterpiece of the flamboyant. But wait, what is bricks?

Oh dear, that is a problem. House #1, besides its roof, is thuroughly painted down to the last windowpane. It may not be as bright and extravagant, but that works in its favor, the many shades of purple blending together to make a house that is both different, but very pleasing to look at. Honestly, while I'm not a fan of purple myself, I'm very intrigued by the paint-job itself.

However, this isn't a contest for the best house, it's a contest for the most eye-catching house, and how can you compete with a house that has Christmas wreaths and candy canes out all year-round? Short answer; you can't.

Track declares the winner to be House #2!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Hope Still Left

I've creatively sucked my town dry.

Or maybe it's the other way around, I'm not really sure. Any number of my friends can tell you that my hometown of Lapeer, Michigan and I haven't exactly gotten along over the past few years (or decade). I suppose that's not too surprising; after all, almost everyone everywhere has wanted to get out of the place they were born at one point. It gets boring, and we want to go out and experience life in other places. That's part of the process of growing older, it seems.

Hell, to an outsider, Lapeer would seem like your average small-town area. We have a quaint downtown strip full of buildings that have been around (and connected) to one-another for generations, not to mention acres and acres of farmland. The corn during the summer and autumn...shit, people keep saying that Nebraska has a lot of corn? There's not a town in Nebraska that has shit on Lapeer, Michigan.

Some would complain at the lack of a shopping mall (which they're currently building one, I believe) or any kind of major hang-out spot, but honestly, I have no qualms about that. Most of my free-time for the last 10 years has been spent at the movies, at my friends' houses, or exploring old abandoned buildings and train-tracks. Besides that, as much as I like buying things, I was never a mall brat, and I'd like to keep it that way.

So what gives? Why do I feel so much loathing towards this town? That's actually a fairly simple answer.

This place tries too hard to be something it's not.

That downtown section I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? Walk down it and you'll see a multitude of what used to be stores, now vacant and empty lots, large "FOR LEASE" signs plastered against the windows. In a few months, or maybe a year, one of those stores will be leased out to someone who thinks they have a great idea for a local store, and no matter how great their products are or attentive their customer service, ultimately it will be beat out and shut down by one of the multitude of convenience stores lining our major business routes.

That's the shame about the town. It's lost its identity as a small town, a large area now dedicated to the highway off-ramp and the plethora of fast-food joints and gas stations from one end of town to the next. Most of our local spots have been shoved into the background into places where they're hardly noticeable unless you're already aware of its existence. Which is a damn shame, because we've had some awesome local businesses go down because of shitty location.

Or worse, a local place went down because a chain moved in. Many people heard my ranting when Cup Of Joe's coffee shop went down after Starbucks moved in.

Therein lies my major problem. For me, the only pictures I feel majorly proud of are ones that I needed to take. Something that I see and think I would like to share with others. Where can I find that in Lapeer?

Near the McDonald's?

Now, I've seen some amazing pictures come out of Lapeer, either from friends of mine or other local photographers. And that's great, really. But personally, I feel nothing when I try to capture moments around this town. The sidewalks are mostly empty during the winter, and even in the summer time, there's almost no spots where people just sit and relax out in the open outside of the parks. Everyone's going somewhere, at all times, and usually, where they're going is related to errands.

In essence, it feels to me like Lapeer is one big pit-stop. It has what you need as you pass through, but nothing interesting enough to make you stay. And judging by how M-24 looks, it seems to me like that's exactly what the town wants to be.

It's a bit different, photography-wise, if you have a model in you picture, but I'll get into that some other time.

However, despite that little rant of mine, the town is not completely lost just yet. New local businesses have spread out here-and-there trying to stand out from the monotony (here's a small shout-out to River Street Music Cafe'), and if you know where to look, there's still an interesting picture to take. Unsurprisingly, it's usually tied to some of the old infrastructure.

I'm actually quite proud of this picture.

And if you'll allow me to promote the hell out of myself, this picture can be purchased at my AWESOME ETSY PAGE! There's not a large amount up just yet, but more will come. I'm planning on a new addition every week, maybe more if I get popular enough/have a creativity streak.

I'm think this Friday I'm going on a big adventure. Maybe I'll discover some new place in this town that I've never seen before.

Chances are, it's going to have to be out in the woods somewhere.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Shape of Things to Come

Let me start off with an apology for missing last week's posts. I could go into detail, but there's a reason for every day, and I don't think anyone reading this really cares all that much about what ELSE I was doing last Tuesday, so suffice it to say I missed and I have a lot to make up for this week.

Anyways, the blog is going to take a slightly different direction from here on. It's going to be the same basic formula - show picture, explain story behind or connected to picture, repeat - but after the response from some friends on my last post regarding DJ Erika, I think I'll stick to anecdotes about the images I post, and only go into the more philosophical aspects of a photo when I deem it necessary.

The story was pretty long, but at the same time I had a lot of fun writing it, and quite a few people had a lot of fun reading it. While I have some pretty strong ideas about what makes a good image, or what a bad picture is, I'm still young, and I'm still an amateur. Honestly, I have no more to teach on the subject than some kid that just got his/her first point-and-shoot Nikon for Christmas.

Rest assured, you'll still hear my opinions on my shots and others. Just try and stop me. But from here-on-out, unless I deem it a major necessity, my overall philosophy will be a side-point, not the epicenter of the article. I just meshes better that way, I think.

On that note, there's another change happening, but not specifically blog-related. Last week - I believe on Tuesday - I was taking a long walk through the woods near my house to find something cool to take pictures of, when I stumbled upon a large trail that looks like it had been weathered down by a truck. I decided to follow it, and I walked and walked down this trail in the dead woods for about 45 minutes, hoping that at the end of the trail would be photographic gold. Instead, what I found was a family friends' house (to whom the trail belongs for hunting, I later found out) and a lake I didn't know was out there, which was frozen and very boring to look at.

It's a photography thing, I've come to find, that you can walk around for hours and hours and still find nothing you NEED to take a picture of. It's part of the hunt, and in a way it makes finding one of those shots all the more magical. But I live in an area where there is nothing but hunting-trails and farmland in all directions for miles, and rarely does anything interesting to photograph pop up (unless it's an abandoned place, and while I enjoy that, I don't want to beat a dead horse). So, my girlfriend and my mother gave me a challenge.

We put a bunch of random words and phrases that they wrote onto strips of paper into a bucket, and every few weeks I'll pull out a word and set up a photo that I feel represents the word I pick. Simple, but it could have awesome results.

The word for now is "Flying," and I think I may have a clue of what I'm going to do already. Stay tuned, folks, things are about to get interesting.


P.S. While you're reading, visit my Etsy page and check out the photos I currectly have for sale. I'm going to try to add a new piece every two weeks or so. Stick around and I'll start putting up coupon codes for anyone who reads the blog to get discounts.

Example pic of the week:

I need a cooler watermark. All in due time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Picture With No Critique

Today is a bit of an off-day. It's very, VERY cold outside, so I don't have the energy or willpower to walk very far in search of a cool photo. Call me lazy, call me weak, whatever, I'm not doing it. You can't make me.
So, I'm going to share an older picture I've done before, but instead of any kind of critique or observation on my work, I'm going to relay the story around this photo. It's gonna be long, but trust me, it's a good one.

This is DJ Erika, who you can listen to at her website. This picture was taken last spring in Ann Arbor, at a small show in the basement of the incredibly popular comic book and nerd store, Vault of Midnight. We were promised a huge show, one that used "interactive media and music" to create some sort of play. My close friend Cado (his website here) sent me the brochure and I was pumped. I was imagining giant Plasma screens showing incredible images that the musicians would interact with, there was supposed to be awesome it would have been. We loaded up into the car and headed to Ann Arbor, excited for what magical, musical wonders we'd see.

That...isn't quite what we got, but more on that in a moment.

The show opened at around 9 pm, the only way to access it in the back-alley behind VofM. We had some good fun chatting with the folks in the alleyway, actually, sharing stories and discussing nerdy subjects like Doctor Who and model-making, and musical interests like what we'd do if the other three Ramones came back to life and started touring. Then the doors opened.

The basement for VofM is awesome. So many vinyl figures and posters line the walls and ceiling that any geek would go down there and grin to himself (or squeal, if s/he was THAT kind of geek). Erika was setting up, and in about 10 minutes she started her magic. Honestly, Cado and I thought this WAS the show, and were a little disappointed that there was no Plasma screen, belly-dancers, or hell, any kind of "interactive media" besides some pretty lights that she had set up behind her.

But DAMN, her beats were good. Honestly, after a few minutes of listening, we took our spot on a couch and just let the trance-techno she was bringing forth whisk us away to dreamland. The stage-lights definitely added to the trance as well, the colors on the buffed floor acting like some sort of LSD light show. Naturally, having brought my camera, I started taking a few pictures, but kept my spot on the couch so as not to get in anyone's way. I was just starting out last year, and didn't exactly have the willpower to push my way through a crowd just yet.

Then the music stopped, the fluorescent lights went back on, and we snapped out of our haze. Erika was packing up, and some other guy was pulling out an electric guitar while they set up drums in the background. "Oh, she was a pre-show. THIS is the show we came to see!" I exclaimed to Cado, sitting back up in excitement. "If she was that fun to listen to, these guys must rule!"

My optimism diminished somewhat when I saw them pull out not a series of monitors, but an old-as-shit looking projector and a white sheet that was to be our screen, which they dangled loosely from the pipes in the ceiling.

I tried not to judge, it was possible that they had a kick-ass show but little money to spend on the extravagances. My optimism returned when the man who appeared to be the main singer stepped forward, with a device on his hand that was similar to the old Nintendo Powerglove (it's so bad). He explained that he used to develop this device, which connected to computers through USB, to allow people to manipulate their computer programs. I thought that sounded groovy.

Then the first song started, "The Glory of the Sing" or something new-agey sounding like that. He used a voice modifier on himself to make him sound not unlike Daft Punk, but if they were trying to sing over a Speak-and-Spell at the same time, and we got a taste of what our "interactive media and dancing" would be for the night. He brought up a program on his Mac that was projected onto the sheet, which was nothing more than a photo-stitching program that lets you form a 3D image with a series of pictures from the same place, and was trying to spin around an image of some woods as he sang about...something.

I said "trying," mind you. That glove didn't work very well, apparently, because instead of a smooth-pan through a spherical image, the program bounced and snapped all around, looking like someone was having a seizure in the middle of the woods. I looked at Cado with a worried expression, and he returned it right-the-hell back. Luckily, we weren't alone; no one seemed to be enjoying the show.

The next song was worse. He put away the damn Power Glove (halleluiah), but then then the dancer stepped forward. Mind you, she wasn't ugly or anything, but she was wearing a black turtleneck and pants, black ear-muffs (it was April, so that was odd), and her dancing seemed to consist of staying in one spot and performing interpretations (badly) of whatever he was singing about. It was more embarrassing to watch than entertaining, mostly because I got the sense that she didn't want to be there.

And this song consisted of admittedly jumpy beats while commands about what to do came up on the screen. Mind you, I'm in a room full of people in their late teens to early twenties, a number of which had alcohol in their hands. I'll leave it to your imagination what it was like when "FREAK OUT" popped up on the screen and he was encouraging everyone in the room to jump up-and-down and wave their arms around.

To quote Cado later that night about it: "It was like one of those Christian-school shows I went to when I was 8 that had some overly-cheery performer would bounce around the room with the kids and tell them to 'jump for Jesus!'" If you've ever been in an elementary-school assembly, you know what that's like as well.

So that song ended, and the next song had a slight delay as he clicked around his desktop looking for the file. The dancer stood their, staring at him awkwardly, as he brought up a video made with Bryce 5.5. Oh boy.

For those of you who don't know, Bryce is a program (sharing my real name) that is used to make 3D environments, sometimes for video games, mostly just for images. I actually knew the program very well at this point, having worked on it for years as a hobby. I was able to whip up a large, snowy landscape in an hour once back in high school, and was commended for it.

So, I was a bit unnerved to see what he was displaying on the screen. It was a tiny, poorly-made island with a shitty palm-tree in the middle of some sort of ocean. I didn't realize that at first, because the "ocean" was flat-grey with no texture of waves or ripples or anything, and the island was reddish in color and just odd to look at. The song he sang was about isolation or something, I think, since he talked about a "panoramic view" somewhere in there, but the only panorama in the image was a huge grey sea under a crappy pre-rendered sunset sky.

In my experience with the program, my guess is he whipped that up in 5 minutes and called it good. The dancer went from a strange moon-walk to some sort of modern-day twist when the chorus hit about 5 seconds late, obviously never hearing the songs before and trying to adapt to the terrible tune on the fly. Awkward doesn't describe her performance adequately.

Suddenly, a beat I recognized started playing. "Walking on the Moon?" Hey, I knew this song! It's not the greatest song, but surely with a cover-version of an older song, it can't suck that bad, right?

Wrong. Sooo wrong.

First of all, you'd think that the moonwalk would be kind of obvious for this song, right? So did the dancer, apparently, because she instead opted to do an "interpretive" version of what walking on the moon would be. Tell a 10-year-old to pretend to walk on the moon, and you'll see the "dance" she was demonstrating to us. Good lord, if I was with my girlfriend at the time, who dances professionally, that girl would have been chewed out and we'd be asked to leave. Not that we stayed much longer, though.

The song was going...okay, though the singer could NOT hit the high-notes properly, but then he busted out his electric guitar for the solo. He had played it earlier, and while not terrible, he wasn't amazing, but I figured he'd do about the same level of performance this time. I don't know what happened, maybe he just lost his bearings for a second, but the sounds coming out of this guitar were like a giraffe being strangled with piano-wire; high-pitched, pitiful, loud, and just painful to listen to if you can't save the poor creature.

Slowly I turned to Cado, who was looking at the performance with an emotion that could only be described as "shocked and appalled," and suggested that we go down the street for Fleetwood's for a burger. He just nodded, unable to speak about what was going on in front of us. We quietly made our way out, closed the door behind us, and stepped onto the chilly alleyway's pavement.

And we laughed. Friends, you have no idea how hard we laughed. I don't know why we didn't downstairs, but once we got outside, we just couldn't help ourselves. I'm sure people passing by the alley were a bit concerned, seeing two men in their 20s laughing so hard together.

"Come on," I said, wiping the tears from my eyes as short gasps of laughter escaped under my breath, "I need something with bacon on it." We walked the rest of the way to the diner, laughing and mocking the show, and knew without question that this was our favorite place to live.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Down the Tracks and Away

Train tracks. The most lovable cliche of photography. I don't think I'm exaggerating, either, just run a Google search for "train tracks" and you'll see basically the same image over and over again; low-angle, peering down the tracks until they converge on the horizon or turn around a corner.

Usually this would be a good time for some corny Inspirational Poster line about life or following your own path. Something groan-inducing to anyone that's not a middle-aged woman or an easily inspired pre-teen.

But let's get something straight, I LOVE this type of shot. Something about train tracks draws teenagers in (I blame the film "Stand By Me,") and I spent a lot of time over the last decade walking up and down the tracks in my hometown, dreaming of adventure or just goofing off with friends. Subconsciously, that's what train tracks mean to me; adventure, pioneering, travel. For someone stuck in a small town with big-city ambitions, it's definitely a symbol I relate to.

As for the cliched angle I described above...well, how else do you take a picture of the tracks? From the side or overhead, all it will be is a picture of two bars parallel to each other with some wooden beams in-between the space. Unless you see where they're going, and get the feel of just how endless the track is, they just lose their imagery and become steal and wood.

So, the shot may be cliche, but I think it's a shot every photographer either has done, or should do, without worry of how many people have done it before you. Just try to put some of your own unique style into it.

My style happens to be Photoshopping the absolute shit out of it until it looks prettier. Behold!

Funny enough, this was actually one of those pictures that came out very well from the beginning. Hell, with the original, it already looked like I had applied a filter to bring out the color a bit. (This doesn't count as my second pic of the day):

Honestly, the only thing I set out to change at first was the sky. It's a bit bland and boring, and would be pretty simple to replace and enhance. Admittedly, I got a bit carried away at that point. Then again, the point of this was to add a unique spin to it. I took a good picture, if I may say so myself, and the setting of this track and how old it is (it's currently out of use, hence the state it's in) speaks for itself. But there's nothing about it that really felt like it was MY perspective, so I added a bit of flare.

If I share some of my older Mad-Max style photos I did with an old friend, you'll understand how I can go overboard with the above color-scheme. I love it a bit too much.

This picture also taught me something about cliches. While they may be overdone, and there may be a hundred pictures of the same thing at the same angle as yours, you can always makes yours unique in a way that revives the cliche, if not for others, than at least to yourself. This is a lesson I'll have to take to heart, as I've avoided certain pictures in the past for fear of blending in with the rest of the photography crowd.

For the TL:DR version: today I learned to strive to be unique, but not to automatically shun a certain shot because it's been done before. You'll never get any pictures, or practice, that way.


Oh, before I forget; bonus picture!

I found this little guy scooting around the road a few months ago, and forgot all about this picture until I found it last night. He was sprightly for a caterpillar, too. Usually the monarchs roll into a ball when you pick them up and play dead, but this one kept wriggling around and shuffling along my hand as I tried to get a close-up.

This is actually the second pic I took of him, the other one was a better close-up of his head. Then I realized just how terrifying caterpillar faces look when up-close.

Just be thankful I posted this one. Trust me, it's the shit of nightmares and you'll never think of these spiny bastards is cute ever again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Obligatory talk about SOPA

You knew it was coming.

You had to, if you knew anything about the Stop Online Piracy Act. I'm a guy who's trying to establish himself as a payed photographer, after all, which means sharing an ass-load of images around the web for public view as to promote myself and the purchase of those pictures, or my personal services and skills behind a camera. Something like SOPA completely destroys the online careers for people like myself.

Look, if you're any kind of internet lurker, you know very well what SOPA is, and if you're any kind of decent person, you're against it completely. I'm not going to add much fuel to that fire, so I'll let other and better-informed people do this rant for me. Just go to Google and click on the logo tonight, you'll get all the info you need.

As for the folks who aren't in the know, watch this video, do some research, and discern for yourself. I'm not going to put the blog down for tonight since I'm posting too late, but this will be a no-picture post.

Don't be afraid to act and stand up for your rights. Now is not the time to be complacent and uninformed, folks.

Tomorrow will be a dual-picture post to make up for today. I'll try to get something really interesting to discuss.