Monday, April 30, 2012

My Day in Paris

Paris, Tennessee Eiffel Tower
What drew me to Paris, Tennessee, a town of 10,000 people near the Kentucky border? Paris is only about forty five minutes away from our Tennessee River haven, and my husband was fishing with a friend for the day. The nesting herons could wait. But why Paris? Because this is a photography blog, I can show you rather than tell you. For one thing, Paris has its own Eiffel Tower.

I wanted to go to Paris for the Eiffel Tower alone. You see, the last time I saw this tower it was in Memphis, in 1991. Memphis in May was honoring France, and to help celebrate the occasion, some engineers at Christian Brothers University got the idea to create a scale model of the Eiffel Tower, sixty feet tall. This was quite an endeavor, involving a lot of time from both professors and students.  Christian Brothers had no use for this impressive tower after the festivities were over, and offered it to Paris, Tennessee.  

The refurbished Eiffel Tower now sits on a rise among the tennis courts, the playground, the walking trail, and the municipal pool in Paris. Luckily it was a good day for photography, partly cloudy and a pleasant temperature. I had two shots of the tower that I liked, and finally decided on this one for my post because the clouds were the most interesting, and because the tower is framed by the leaves of a tree. The background in a photo is important.  In this case the tower was far enough away from me that I was able to point my camera at the sky, depress the shutter half way, and then quickly move the camera back to the subject without releasing the shutter before clicking. The result of that is that the blue sky and clouds show up much better than if I focused directly on the tower. If I had not done that the sky would have been washed out. Of course I could have fooled around with the exposure settings on the camera instead, but this was just easier.  If you use this shortcut make sure it will not interfere with your automatic focus. You could not do this if you are close to your subject.  

I learned from my visit to Paris that since 1991, the pride and marketing focus of the town are dominated by the tower. What a wonderful thing the CBU engineers had done for this place!! I started taking photos of everything with the tower in a sign, but I quickly gave up. I felt surrounded by tower signage. It was on the water tower. It was embedded in a fountain.  
From the downtown fountain in Paris, Tennessee
The shops in town use the motif. It was on an Elementary School sign. It was the name of a street. This was one of my favorite uses of the tower by a private business.  

Shop, Eat, Live

World's Largest Catfish Fry Activities

Although I love the tower, and heartily approve of the use of the tower as a symbol for the town, I decided that there must be some other similarities to all things Parisian, and I began to search them out!   Fortunately, the downtown streets were bustling on Saturday.  I had happened upon the last day of the World’s Largest Catfish Fry.   If there is anything that is more important to Paris, Tennessee citizens than the Eiffel Tower, it is this week long celebration. Everywhere there were signs saying that official business stopped on Friday because of the catfish fry. 
Unfortunately, I only got to see the catfish race. I’m taking a slight detour here to prove that I am not making this up!   I saw a catfish race!   It was a no brainer to make this photo black and white. Who wants to see a catfish in color? This is not a fishing blog!   
Catfish Race in Paris, Tennessee

Despite this large event, which attracted a few hundred people in front of the courthouse (Paris is the county seat of Henry county), I found a place to park, and immediately discovered more connections between Paris, Tennessee and its larger namesake. This looks a bit like a Paris street scene, complete with an artist painting portraits.   

Parisian sidewalk artist at work

I could not resist this shot of a traditional Parisian sidewalk café. 
Parisian Sidewalk Cafe

Now I was on a roll, and I hadn’t even left Court Square! I found the Arc de Triomphe, with the Champs-Élysées in the background.


From the sculpture garden at the Louvre:

And, from the countryside outside Paris: 

The Seine River, left and right banks, aka Big Sandy

Naturally Paris has a winery, which provided many comparisons to the larger Paris—the one in France.     But I bet even France doesn’t have bottles of wine in the shape of an Eiffel Tower.     Henry County, Tennessee, unlike Benton County,  doesn’t seem to have many issues with spirits.   Venus de Milo (complete with arms!) was found at the winery. 
Venus de Milo

With the winery came my favorite Eiffel Tower signage 

As you can tell, I had fun with this blog.  You don't have to take photography seriously.  And it can take you exciting places like Paris, without the expense and time necessary for a plane ticket.   I think I had a better time in Paris, Tennessee taking photos than I would have trying to speak French in the other Paris.  Many of my best shots from the day didn't fit the theme, and I am embedding a slideshow for these, which include traditional street photography, more Eiffel Tower signage, and scenes from the surrounding countryside.  I even include my best attempt at Versailles! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who doesn't love black labs?

Here’s the dog:

Every time I think I am going to run out of material for this blog, something a tiny bit quirky seems to happen.   I don’t know if it will continue, but I can’t help but post this clip from the infamous Audubon Park.   This clip perfectly illustrates the value of becoming familiar with the video settings on your camera.  I have never owned a labrador retriever, but have always really appreciated the breed and their owners.   Labs generally have owners that are serious lovers of dogs (and that particular breed of dog).  

And, I can see why.   Labs have many more important things to do than obey the authority figures in their lives if there is some serious action going on. It was hard for me to hold my laughter as I was trying to hold my camera straight for this video clip.    I don’t have a tripod, remember?
If you don’t know how to operate your camera’s video, get out your instruction booklet, and follow the steps.    It is usually as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Oh, and this is an election year! If you watch television of any kind, you will probably be angry.   Turn the television off, head out to the park, and see what is going on.   In addition to this lab clip, we saw a very serious hula hoop person doing all kinds of crazy stuff, a throwback to the late 50s.  I would have loved a video clip of that but did not want to invade her privacy.   I’m not sure if she was practicing a routine or what?  In any case, you can expect that sort of eclectic activity on a weekend afternoon in the park.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Goforth, Wildlife!

Sometimes a sign says it all, and sometimes it just says a little.  As I have mentioned quite a few times, photographers are forced to pay attention to their surroundings, and in particular I have been paying attention to graffiti and signs lately.  Even though the Tennessee River abounds with wildlife, I did pay a bit of attention to a few signs the last couple of weekends we were there.  I loved catching the spider’s web over the Wild in Wildlife in this street sign.

Plus, Goforth Wildlife is exactly what they do.  Mostly creatures scurry away from me, but the occasional one shows an interest, like this squirrel.  I added a bit of vignette (darkening around the edges)  to bring the viewer’s eye onto the squirrel.  

Here a bluebird actually pays me no attention, and allows me to get a few close-ups.    

Lo and behold, I get a sign AND a bluebird all in one in this one. 

There are a whole group of herons nesting in one tree on the island where the creek meets the river.  Since half of the tree is dead, one of the nests is in clear view.  This is the first time I have  seen a heron on a nest, because usually they are in leafy areas.  This one is entirely exposed.  Speaking of exposed, I should have turned down the exposure in this one.  I guess I forgot.    I also sometimes add just a tiny bit of vignette effect in my bird photos, and I especially needed it in this one because the picture was just overall too light.  
The heron looked really bored on that nest, and kept scratching itself and looking around.  I love the pose on this one.   The heron did not feel threatened because I was in a boat about twenty feet below her nest.  Believe me, you do not want to just happen upon a heron's nest while in the wild.
My attempts to do real street photography at the Tennessee River were somewhat thwarted by lack of subject matter.  I will keep trying to meet this challenge, however, and perhaps a cumulative total will eventually lead to a blog post at some point. 
There is sometimes value in getting up at dawn. Here is another in my series of Duck River Overlook photographs. I chose this one to illustrate “the rule of thirds.” Some people advocate using the rule of thirds in cropping photos, and landscapes in particular generally go well with this rule. In this case there is a lot going on in the foreground, so the horizon demarcates the top third of the photo, which is "clouds at dawn".. The bottom two thirds of the photo is the river, and this portion of the photo is split in two right where the boat’s wake makes the curve. In my opinion, it is the curve of the boat wake that makes this photo the most interesting Duck River Overlook photo of the two weekends.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Everyone Has a Story--What is Yours?

Everyone has a story.  What is yours?  How you can you rediscover your story through photography?

You may not think you have a story, but you do.  Can you recapture the essence of your story by becoming a photographer?  You bet!  The process is very simple.  Psychologists tell us that most of our personality traits are in place by age five (or six, or seven, or eight).  I am not sure what the exact age is, but you get the drift.  Think back to what you enjoyed doing at that age.  You may have had a particularly blessed childhood, or it may have been difficult. But even the most difficult childhood has peak moments.  What type of activities did you enjoy, left to your own devices?  How can you incorporate those things into your life now, and how does photography both inform and enhance that experience?

I can tell you my story, and like many people’s stories, it starts with my mother.  I always felt loved by my parents, but, because I was the youngest child, I felt a bit of disengagement on the part of my mother when I was growing up.  Part of it  had to do with my particular generation, part of it had to do with her parenting style, and part of it was her not wanting to be all that bothered, beyond carpools, birthday parties, making sure I knew how to swim, teaching me to brush my teeth and say bedtime prayers.  Her favorite book in those days was “Where did you go? Out.  What did you do? Nothing.”  She devoured that book and after reading it she became even more adamant about this parenting style, and laughed every time she said the title of the book.

Because I always felt I could go to her with any issues, or problems, without judgment on her part, I did that a few times.  She would listen, and then give me this advice, “Why don’t you go outside and play?”   I took this advice to heart.  Going outside to play meant that I was to fend for myself and not bother her any more for the rest of the day, and everything would be fine.  Nobody had  fenced  yards in my neighborhood.  Nobody minded kids wandering on their property.  I kept myself entertained various ways-- by playing with our outdoor, unfenced dog, wandering over to my cousins’ house for various sports activities and other mischief, feeding the horses across the street, and watching tadpoles turn into frogs in the pond next door.  

 And then there were trees!  I convinced my parents to place the jungle gym under the pecan tree so I could reach the branches and climb that one particular tree.  I spent several  hours per week in that tree.  But I didn’t limit myself.  Apparently one time my uncle, who lived next door, called my mom and told her he was looking out of his second story bedroom window and he saw me so high in a tree that he feared for me.  He wanted to call out to me to get down from the tree, but worried about startling me.  If my uncle meant for my mother to warn me about my tree climbing, he failed.  She loved telling that story and laughed.  

That is my story.  But more important, what is yours?  Rediscovering my story through photography helped reconnect me with my past, and with provided me both with a stronger sense of self and a stronger connection to the world around me.  You can guess what kinds of photos I take!   If you can’t guess, then take a look.

If you loved sports, you could go to some sporting events and trying to get action shots.  If you loved arranging furniture in a dollhouse you would love still life photography.  Did you play with your Barbie dolls and collect all the clothes?  You could buy and sell stuff on Ebay, and put up enticing looking photos.  I am convinced that the best photographs produce the highest bids!  You may have had a chemistry set and a microscope.  Ah, macro photography is for you.  If you liked looking through a  telescope there is always astrophotography.  If you are an artist, you would probably love a lot of different kinds of photography, including portrait photography.  If your mom baked cookies with you instead of telling you go outside and play, you might want to get into food photography!  Photos can really make food look delicious.   If you grew up in the ‘hood, please look into street photography, which is one of my favorite genres to peruse.  And if you were a member of the Audio Visual Club in high school, you can learn cameras and their functions and run circles around me.  Then you definitely need your own blog!

Rediscover your story through photography, and your life will be enhanced.  I promise!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

East Memphis Silos--New Desktop Wallpaper

Once a person that I had just met asked me what I did with the photos I took.  I have so many answers for that that it would take up an entire blog post, and then some.  But one of the things I do with photos is a very simple answer--I use them as desktop wallpaper.  I can't imagine having desktop wallpaper that is not personal. 

Generally I change wallpaper every few months, and it kind of gives me a jolt for the first few times I turn on the computer, because the desktop wallpaper I select gives the screen a certain familiar energy.   

Over the years I have used landscapes from various vacations, but lately I have used photos I take closer to home.  My old wallpaper was a scene from Patriot Lake in Shelby Farms in Memphis, taken in the morning just after the fog lifted.   Most people don't really notice this particular scene, because you have to hike about a fourth of a mile from the parking lot, and look toward what I call the skyline of the park, and then either zoom the camera lens to the max (in my case, 24x), or get out the binoculars.  I happened to capture the three herons in the foreground on the islands in Patriot Lake.

This wallpaper served me well for many months, but I recently replaced it with another Memphis photograph, this time of one of my favorite sites in the city, although it also is relatively unknown by people who don't happen to  know the neighborhood.

Many Memphians don't even know that the hottest office real estate market in town, right off the Poplar Corridor, is home to two brick silos that come to life with wisteria in the spring.   I love taking photos on partly cloudy afternoons, and when we had one recently,  I got some wonderful silo photos.  One has replaced the Shelby Farms landscape as my new desktop wallpaper.
I had to process this photograph with my photo processing software (PhotoDirector) using a technique called "masking".  This highlights a certain portion of the photo to make changes on just that portion of the photo.  Without the masking technique, the photograph foreground was too dark.  I had changed the automatic settings in the camera to make the photo dark, because I did not want the clouds to disappear into the sky.  Using the masking technique, I was able to have the best of both worlds--clouds that look like clouds, and enough light to clearly see the wisteria and the brick silos.  Another way to accomplish this is to use one of the various filters available for camera lenses that are meant to be used with clouds.    Before any processing, my photo looked like this: 

If I had lightened the entire photograph, rather than just the silos and wisteria, the photo would look like this--notice the clouds don't show well in this photo: 

The hint for the week, is that it is a lot better to start with the photograph dark, and to lighten it with post processing than it is to start with it light, and try to darken it.  But you can take photos various ways, and experiment.