Peak Performance

Lori on top of Mount Marcy

Lori takes in the views from the top of Mount Marcy, highest peak in New York State, after a long hike and before an even longer trek back.

Lori and I visited the Adirondacks for a few days, primarily to give Lori an opportunity to hike Mount Marcy, highest mountain in New York State.  We did our 16-mile loop on a miserably hot and humid day. Our descent included a stop at lovely Lake Tear of the Clouds with Mount Marcy looming over it. Our 60+ year old bodies complained a bit on the long trudge back but we done good. Lori is a real trouper–what a woman!

There were other highlights during our visit up north. We had a really wonderful dinner at The Deer’s Head Inn in Elizabethtown. Our meals were superb, wonderfully prepared, and we were well taken care of by a hard-working and friendly wait staff.

We brought our canoes intending to paddle the Essex Chain Lakes near Newcomb but unfortunately a bridge repair project thwarted our plans. We headed back to Newcomb and stopped at Cloud-Splitter Outfitters to ask for suggested alternatives. Ruth was very generous with her time and knowledge as she pointed out several options in the area.  We intend to head back in the future to check them out.

We spent the good part of the day canoeing on Henderson Lake near the Upper Works at Tahawus, one of Ruth’s recommendations. Loons were our only companions on the lake during most of our exploring (with a kayaking couple appearing as we returned to the launch site). The 3/10 mile portage required to get to the lake is enough to prevent 9/10 of the people who might otherwise considerate it. It’s a beautiful lake with spectacular high peaks views. We managed the portage easily with our Hornbeck light-weight canoes but started mulling options for making it even easier for future longer portages.

On our way home we stopped at Hornbeck Boats in Olmstedville to get our canoes outfitted with yokes for easier portaging. While waiting for the guys in the shop to do the job, we had a fun visit with Pete Hornbeck and his son-in-law Josh. Pete also gave us a poster personalized with his drawing (something he does for most clients), our first addition to our Hornbeck Collection. We couldn’t be happier with our canoes and the pleasure of doing business with these guys.

After getting our canoe yokes, we did the 15-minute drive to North Creek to grab a quick lunch at Cafe Sarah which we’ve come to consider a standard stop on our way through the area. Always good!

So, in short, no fatalities, no lasting injuries: another successful adventure in the Adirondacks.

Courtship

Somehow in the somnolent enjoyment of my retirement, I abruptly found myself working as a court clerk. Now at it for more than six months (part-time), it’s taken over a big swath of the days as I struggled to learn the ropes and simultaneously help streamline and modernize processes and procedures.

Recruited by neighbor, friend, and local town justice Bill Chernish, I started out inauspiciously with a letter from Tompkins County informing me that I was unqualified for the job.  In fairness, they were right–nothing in my background translated directly to the justice business.  Bill overrode the rejection and my next opportunity to get out of this was a fingerprint FBI background check.  Oh well, I got past that too.

It’s been fascinating being on the front lines of the justice system, however modest our little town endeavor is.  We have sufficiently “interesting” cases to belie Newfield’s sleepy-little-town characterization. But the bulk of our business is the routine processing of traffic tickets, dog licensing issues, etc.  The court clerk’s job throughout is to support the town justice to give prompt, fair, and correct processing through the judicial system for all who visit our court.

It’s humbling for me as I learn a daunting mound of procedures, tools, and forms. Most of what we do is watched over by state authorities to make sure we manage money, reporting, and administration within strict guidelines.

We’re just one of over 1200 town and village courts in New York State, each staffed with devoted court clerks making the jurisprudence machinery work smoothly.  My guess, based on observation at training sessions, is that at least 95% of clerks are women.  And most are impressively skilled and professional.  And they’re not earning what they’re worth.  (I’m not personally complaining because I’m doing it for entertainment and as a way to help our town.)

Adirondack Vacation Video

Yikes!  A vacation video: with a post title like that, I wouldn’t blame you if you ran in the opposite direction. If you suffer through it however, you’ll see my first attempt at video production using footage from the Sony DSC-RX10 iii camera. I’m impressed.  Some clips are shot at ISO 1600 and you can’t really tell easily from the results. I obviously have to work on technique and get a bit better at editing but not too bad.

Hornbeck Canoes in the Adirondacks

There are three things in common with the group of images below:

  1. All were shot in the Adirondacks of upstate New York State.
  2. All were shot of or from Hornbeck ultralight New Tricks double-paddle canoes. (On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HornbeckBoats/.)
  3. All are cropped frame grabs from video clips.

While on vacation we paddled a total of about 20 miles on 9 ponds and 2 rivers and thoroughly enjoyed our canoes.  They’re easy to manage, very maneuverable, a pleasure to portage, and just right for the mix of ponds, lakes, and waterways in the Adirondack mountain area.  We don’t miss our big heavy touring kayaks (although they handled camping and nasty weather beautifully).

I was a bit surprised how nicely the video frame grabs came out.  You wouldn’t print large from the size but it has plenty of resolution for Web use. Video clips were shot from a Sony RX 10 III working out of a Pelican case sitting in my canoe. It worked out rather well although there are tweaks I’ll be trying in later efforts.

How Not To Die

Woman reading "How Not To Die"This is an unplanned shot of Lori, comfortably lounging in a bed, reading “How Not To Die”.  I like it because of the dynamic light, the muted hues, but mostly because it’s so Lori-esque: even relaxing she’s ferociously focused.

The topic of the book is how diet and nutrition affects our health and the title is a bit sensational given that current expert opinion is that we are biologically engineered to live 115 years at the most.  I’m betting that Lori lives to at least 150 years if for no other reason than to be stubbornly contrary.  Any winnings I make on that bet will, of course, be post mortem–I won’t have the patience to hang around that long.

Sixty Shmixty

Lori relaxing with cigar and bourbon

Lori’s 60th birthday celebration picture with bourbon and cigar.

Lori has been a bit distressed about marking her 60th birthday: she’s reached middle age.  (She plans to live at least until 120.)  I wanted to commemorate it with a photo that emphasizes the spirit of how I would like her to approach it: with equanimity or indifference.  She’s too busy enjoying life to pay much attention to arbitrary chronological milestones.

I was a bit surprised when she agreed to the concept as I described it. A cigar and glass of bourbon were always part of the narrative but the venue changed from field of daisies to woods due to uncooperative weather.

A moderately wide aperture reduced depth of focus. A low ISO and 1/250th shutter speed enabled darker tones in the woods so that some lighting would help bring the subject out a bit more.

Lighting was via two studio strobes.  One was camera left in a pan reflector for a slightly diffused overall subject lighting.  Another strobe in a grid high camera right behind Lori brought up a little separation on her shadow side. Both were at very low power because of the wider aperture.

We are pleased with the results.  At least photographically.  We got many good poses to pick from.  Unfortunately the cheap cigar made Lori ill and it took her the rest of the day to recover from all the puffing to bring the shot to life.

So, aside from poisoning my wife on her birthday, I would say things went pretty well.  Lori may differ.

 

Divestiture

I’m consolidating and getting rid of decades worth of photographic gear, partly to simplify, partly to raise some cash to cover the cost of my new system.  (More on that later.) My best option is to sell on eBay but it requires a bit of homework to make it worthwhile.  I have to do the research to find the value of each item and then prepare photos and descriptions of each one for sale.

Preparing the photos for sales is relatively easy and a little care makes the results more appealing than most other eBay posts.  It seems a bit odd when people put fine photographic equipment up for sale with crappy pictures–it affects credibility.

After a little tinkering, I settled on a lighting setup I can use for a variety of product-style shots that look good for the eBay listings.

Lighting setup diagram

Lighting for product photos of items being placed for sale on eBay.

I use two LED light sources.  Key light is through a diffusion panel camera left and a background light below the table is reflected off a white fabric panel behind the table with the subject.  Items are placed on a piece of white tile board allowing for a plain background letting the eye concentrate on the actual items for sale.  An aluminum foil reflector, camera right is used for fill.

The setup is in a corner of our basement and allows for the tedious but efficient processing of the photos required for the listings.

Two lights (LED at left and one below table reflected off white panel behind) is used to light items to be sold online.

Two lights (LED at left and one below table reflected off white panel behind) is used to light items to be sold online.

The results from this particular setup shows how the items for sale are featured without any other distractions and the lighting shows off the items in enough detail to illustrate the condition.

The image shows the effect of the simple 2-light setup to light photography equipment for sale.

The image shows the effect of the simple 2-light setup to light photography equipment for sale.

Here’s a sample of some of the images made with this simple but versatile setup:

In addition to shooting some decent quality images for the sales, I had a few other things going for me:

  • Most of the items are higher quality and performance with well-known specifications and track records.
  • I’ve taken very good care of all of them; they’re in uniformly excellent condition.
  • I’ve researched selling prices for each one and assigned reasonable prices near the upper end of used market selling prices.
  • I include bonus items when it makes sense (e.g. lens plates, memory cards) and I offer free shipping to keep the transactions simple. (I build average shipping cost into the asking price.)
  • I strive for accuracy on the descriptions including being meticulous about any flaws like scuff marks, missing peripheral pieces, etc.

So, how is it going so far?  I posted the first 5 items (4 lenses and a camera body from the sample images above) and sold 4 out of 5 within 24 hours and the fifth in less than a week.  I’m maxed out on my eBay selling limit for a month but have the next batch queued for listing in the next cycle.  I’m divesting my unused equipment and buyers are picking up some excellent quality items at reasonable prices. So far so good.

Controlled Focus Stacking

Alstroemeria blossom

Twelve focus stacked wide aperture images create an in-focus blossom with an out-of-focus background.

Combining focus-stacking with wide-aperture (shallow depth-of-focus) images can create some nice effects.  I wanted this alstroemeria blossom to be completely in focus but the background blurred.  By using a wide aperture (f/2.8) and 12 images varying the focal point, the stacking operation enabled nice crisp focus on the entire blossom but the out-of-focus background remained soft, almost watercolor-like.  It’s a combo you won’t be able to get with a single image.

Rechargeable Hand Warmer

MJ Gear Rechargeable Hand WarmerOutdoor photography on a cold winter day can be challenging trying to balance keeping hands warm but allowing the dexterity to work the seemingly-ever-shrinking controls on cameras and lenses. I picked up a couple rechargeable hand warmers to try and they’re working out great.  I keep a warmer in a coat pocket along with a spare camera battery.  Wearing light polypropylene glove liners, I can work the camera with little trouble and then just slip my hand in the coat pocket and grasp the warmer to get the fingers toasty in no time. Keeping the spare battery warm in the pocket keeps the camera battery viable when it needs to be switched into duty.

The MJ Gear warmers I picked up are rechargeable via USB.  They have some extra features that are handy as well.  You can use one as a source of power to recharge your cell phone or other USB-rechargeable device, it has two power settings for the warmer (I’ve found the low setting is all that’s needed most of the time), and it has a powerful little LED light that could come in handy.  This combination of features makes these hand warmers more appealing than the chemical pack or lighter-fluid powered alternatives.

Frostbite and photography don’t work well together–hand warmers keep things comfortable on those cold outings.