Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Take a Really Memorable Photo.

Bill Owens (Dolly Parton's Uncle) at the American Chestnut Foundation's 25th Anniversary Celebration in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Bill Owens is Dolly Parton's uncle. He is a songwriter who performs in the shows at Dollywood*. He is a supporter of the American Chestnut Foundation and provided the entertainment at the ACF's 25th anniversary celebration.

I bought my Sigma f/1.4 30mm lens for my Nikon D40 with events like this in mind. The ballroom in the Reed House Hotel in downtown Chattanooga seemed well enough lighted to my eyes but the light was quite dim for most cameras. Hotels are a horror show for existing light photographers. Lights are dim and oddly-colored and reflective surfaces are everywhere.


The Sigma was doing more or less what I had bought it for. I was shooting full auto and the D40 was doing 1/25 of a second at about f/2.8 -- an acceptable compromise for depth of field, hand-holdability and subject motion blur.


Mr. Owens was moving around a bit and the camera really liked that couple on the right side as the subject. I had a bit of a struggle getting it to ignore them and focus on Bill.


Add to that the facts that he had set up on the far side of the stage, I wasn't sitting that close to the stage and a 30mm lens is pretty wide at that distance and I was starting to get a bit frustrated. It didn't help that Mr. Owens was interacting with his slide show which kept his back mostly to me.


This shot above is probably the best I was going to do with the normal lens. I had convinced the camera to focus on the subject and I got a nice profile shot. But I wasn't completely satisfied. So, as he finished his last song I put on my longer but slower zoom lens and changed the setting that was keeping the camera from using the flash. I don't usually like photos taken with an on camera flash but they do generally have the advantage of being sharp and well exposed.

When Mr. Owens stood up after his set I also stood up and snapped the photo below.

It costs me a bit to admit that this is the most memorable photo of the group. The teleospouse still remembers the cost of the Sigma lens and my argument that it was my patriotic duty to go out and spend that economic stimulus check tends to fall on deaf ears. But she does react well to existing light photos. Unfortunately, this time it was the flash photo that grabbed her attention.

Looking at the shot on the LCD screen on the camera she told me that I really ought to show it to Mr Owens who was packing up his equipment.

I should have shown it to him. I'm sure he would have enjoyed it.

The problem is that I am a bit shy.

And I was already feeling a bit embarrassed by the Teleospose's howl when I showed her the photo. People were looking at us wondering what was going on.

Here's what she was looking at.


Entire Image

*I know what you're thinking. Dollywood, huh... But you're wrong. Dollywood is a class act. It's one of the nicest non-Disney theme parks with a wonderful mix of terrifying rides for teenagers, decent shows and traditional mountain craft exhibits. I recommend it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Elephant


In the aftermath of the election, and Barack Obama's solid victory, there is a great deal of speculation about the future of the G.O.P. There is a widespread consensus that the Republicans lost the presidency, and lost seats in congress, because they deserved to lose. This comes not just from the places you'd expect -- the Democrats, the Libertarians, the Greens, the, um, whatever Naderites call themselves these days -- but also from a large number of Republicans -- perhaps a majority. So many people are saying it, indeed, that it has become quite the cliche and it is with some reluctance that I admit that I am one of them.

Conservative pundits have looked at the demographics of the recent vote and are feeling quite glum. This is not so much because they lost -- the Republicans were sailing into a sizable headwind this election and nobody was offering even money that they could win it -- but because they lost votes in all the demographic segments where they usually do well. It wasn't just the Democrats get-out-the-vote program that whelmed them, they were leaking votes in the demographic compartments that were supposed to keep them afloat.

The popular meme in the mainstream media is that there may have been a sea-change in the country, precipitated by war-weariness and the bad economy, and that the US is now a center-left country instead of a center-right one. This meme is on all the networks, presented rather gloomily on Fox News, cheerfully on CNN and CBS, and gleefully on the Beeb. There is, to be sure, some debate about it -- the talking heads on one side of the screen will point out the shift in voting patterns and assure us that the world has changed, while the heads on the other side of the screen will point to several ballot initiatives that suggest otherwise and say not so much, but the notion is never dismissed and the change in the vote is never explained away.

This leftward lurch meme is bunk, of course, and the reason is is never explained away is that the obvious explanation is something that the talking heads can't say -- a taboo subject. It is the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about.

For me, as a libertarian-leaning conservative, there is a bitter-sweet aspect to Obama winning the presidency. It is an historic event, an overdue milestone in our history, and a real accomplishment for our society. The slight bitterness arises from the fact that I had hoped -- and expected -- that the first black president would be a Republican. As an individualist, I try to resist identity politics -- to vote for the man and his policies, not for his ethnic identity -- but in resisting I can't deny that there is something to resist. History was there to be made on Tuesday and I could feel its pull. I didn't vote for Obama. I am enough of the Buckleyite to have stood athwart history on Tuesday, not so much yelling "STOP", as saying sadly "Not this time." But, since I am channeling William F. Buckley, I can't really criticize those, such as Buckley's son, Christopher, who were carried away by the flow.

My point is that having elected the first black president we all feel a sense of accomplishment -- even those of us who voted against him and fear that his policies will be a disaster -- it is a pleasing sense of something overdue which can be checked off of our lists. Vice-President elect, Joe Biden -- whose mouth is only loosely coupled to his brain -- inadvertently captured this sense during the Democratic primaries when he said "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man."

I contend that the factor that cost McCain those missing votes in the safe parts of his base is that some people saw the election not so much as a contest between Democrats and Republicans -- or a contest between Barack Obama and John McCain -- as a referendum on the question "Is America ready for its first black president?"

The elephant in the room, which everyone is studiously ignoring, is that people voted for Barack Obama because he was black. Or more precisely, people felt ready to vote for a black president and there was Obama -- "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" the first presentable major-party black candidate for president. Biden was exactly right, it was a storybook moment.

The good news for the G.O.P. is that it is a one-off deal. In four years this historic moment will be merely history. The short attention-span media will have lost some of its infatuation, and Obama and the Democrats will need to run on their accomplishments. During their well-deserved time in the time-out corner, the strategists for the Republicans should ignore the illusory leftward movement of the voting public and focus instead on the basics -- having a message that makes sense, having candidates who can present the message, and generally generally acting like they have part of a clue about running a political campaign.

Photo Credit: The photo of an elephant in the rear view mirror is a creative-commons licensed photo by a flickr user named exfordy. The original photo is here:

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Belated Halloween

Jack-o-lanterns 2008

Didn't have any time to decorate for Halloween this year. I've been busy at work and the wife has a cold. The cold may be the same one that caused the host of our pumpkin-carving party to have to cancel his party last week. The pumpkins never got carved and, when I got home from work on Halloween night there was no time.

So... Since I wanted to do something, I grabbed a desk lamp and hid it behind a potted plant to illuminate the pumpkins and then decorated them with bits of black duct tape cut out with scissors.

The nice thing about using black tape is that it leaves the pumpkins intact so you can remove the tape and use them for your non-spooky autumnal decorations and, possibly, make a pie out of them later.