The Look

Sean Kingston Concert - Yeah

We often do things that we regret when we’re out of our heads. Drunk, in love, low blood sugar – whatever the reason, something causes our brain to reboot, usually the day after, and look back on our behavior in horror.

Sean Kingston Concert - Smile

But at concerts, at least we’re doing things we regret with other people. It’s fine to act like a screw-loose reptile when everyone else is just as goofy as you.

Sean Kingston Concert - Sing along

Look around you. See all those people screaming their heads off? See how they’re gyrating and dancing in a sea of other lunatics? Notice how they don’t care who’s watching, because (probably) no one really is?

Sean Kingston Concert - Rapture

That’s why I go to concerts: to utterly lose myself in the songs I love. These kids, just like me, were having the time of their lives – and they didn’t care who was watching.

Sean Kingston Concert - Sing-along

The difference is that my enjoyment didn’t stem from the music on stage. No, it came from the kids losing their collective minds. This is why I want to take pictures. They mean something. I mean, look at them. They’re in ecstasy.

Sean Kingston Concert - Front row

Not on Ecstasy, mind you. No, there’s something about a collective musical experience that makes drugs or alcohol totally redundant. Who needs booze when you have grooves?

Sean Kingston Concert - Lining up

It makes my heart ache to see these pictures, the day after, and realize what fun we all had that night. They’ll remember the songs and their friends singing along.

I’ll remember that look on their face.


The Importance of Artifact

Scott at ISO50:


As I learn more about photography, I learn from and listen to and read what those who have Been There Before do.

And one of the easiest little tools I’ve found? Flickr’s exif data.

For instance, I really liked Jorge Quinteros’s coffee shop shots. Digging into the one with the guy at the table, you can see Quinteros’s exact camera settings. Here, he set the camera in aperture priority mode at f/2.8 at a 28mm focal length with the shutter slapping at 1/40 speed.

If you search through enough Flickr photos, you start to learn how great photos are made. The composition and editing are the artistic parts, where philosophy and style come into play. But in the numbers, you can learn a little bit about how to make cool pictures.


Fracking Battlestar: Galactica

Col. Saul Tigh:

Which side are we on? We’re on the side of the demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

Science fiction is the rare genre that gets to explore the big issues of our time – torture, suicide, dictatorships, infidelity – without seeming to copy the headlines of the day. It explores the touchy with the fantastic, and lets us think about what could happen as well as what is happening.

This is only one of the reasons I’m in love with Battlestar: Galactica, the four-season series on the SciFi channel. Some of the other reasons include a deep affection for the characters, an appreciation for the big decisions that take place, and the gripping story. You know – silly stuff.

The story? Tell me if you’ve heard this before: humans created androids, who gained self-awareness and overthrew their human masters. A war broke out between cylons (the androids) and humans, and then the war reached a cease-fire that lasted decades. With the new series, the cylons have returned, they’ve eradicated all but the 50,000 or so humans who escaped, and they can take human form. In Battlestar: Galactica, the humans are on the run from their cylon pursuers, trying to find Earth and restart civilization – all while getting mixed up in messy human things like politics, labor and resource shortages, and self-inflicted violence.

It’s utterly fascinating. In a way, I’m glad the series only lasted four seasons, because I’d be watching it to this day if the show were still on TV.

But thanks to Netflix, all four seasons are available, and I’ve been absorbing the episodes since Christmas. It’s one of those take-a-chance things, where I’ve heard so many good things about the show that I dove in and got hooked.

Now I’ve started the final season, where things are getting tense and a little goofy. But watching a television series like this, where it’s more like a long-form movie, gets you invested in the characters and their stories. You have Adm. Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, who plays the perfect not-so-perfect military leader; Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, the hot-shot pilot who makes her own rules; Lee Adama, the admiral’s rebelious son; Gaius Baltar, the egotistical, womanizing genius; and – dear lord – Number Six, the gorgeous cylon with the perfect mouth who falls in love with Baltar.

The ship, the Battlestar, is almost a character in itself. Here it’s this obsolete ship from the first cylon/human war that is humankind’s only defense against the horde of cylons. And Battlestar: Galactica is a decidedly military-oriented sci-fi series, so most of the action and drama happens on the ship. You see characters using phones with cords and all these ancient computers, and you can’t help but feel sorry for them: like the human race doesn’t have enough to deal with.

It’s all these little struggles, plus the big one versus the cylons, that make the show so gripping. Against these overwhelming odds, how can you not root for the plucky humans trying to find their way back home?

That’s my kind of story: overcoming adversity, getting some revenge when you can, and present it all in a fun, fantastical package with strong, vibrant characters.


‘Real artists ship’

What do you do to motivate the person who has trouble staying motivated? Or to the self-starter who can’t quite get started?

How about the person with the great idea but no self discipline to get the idea off the ground?

Seth Godin quotes the famous Steve Jobs dictum: “Real artists ship.” It means you can have all the great ideas you want, but if you don’t release them out into the world, they’re worth nothing. Godin says:

A check in your wallet does you very little good. It represents opportunity, sure, but not action.

Most of us are carrying around a check, an opportunity to make an impact, to do the work we’re capapble of, to ship the art that would make a difference.

Just last week Merlin Mann talked about New Year’s Resolutions, and what a waste they are:

My bet is that most people who are seeing the kind of change and growth and improvement that sticks tend to avoid these sorts of dramatic, geometric attempts to leap blindly toward the mountain of perfection.

…Calendars are just paper and staples. They can’t make you care.

For me, that’s tough to hear (for you too, Dear Reader, I’ll bet). I’ve long been a Project Guy – someone who sets challenges for themselves, just to see how it goes. To experiment. To learn and grow.

I’d never seen America West of the Mississippi River. So I got in my car and went there. I’d never not eaten potatoes for 90 days. So I took on a potato fast for Lent, just because. I’d never not imbibed alcohol for a whole month. So last January I did it. I’d never grown a garden before, so last year I gave it a try and it turned out great. Not perfect, mind you, but I “shipped,” to use Steve Jobs’s phrase.

It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. My problem is, it has to be perfect the first time.

Self starting and self discipline – these are my weaknesses. It’s easy for me to think of a neat idea, and at least get started on it. But seeing it through has always been tough. And lately, it’s been a drag just to even start.

Take this idea I have. It’s a clear solution to an obvious problem here in Jackson, and the more people I talk to the more I realize it’s an idea worth pursuing. Like, this could be my Big Thing.

The idea is there, fleshed out on scraps of paper and in the brain of me and Kelli, my co-partner. But I’ll be damned if I can get the thing going. From brain to paper to real life – the shipping is always the hardest part.

Now, this idea isn’t going to make itself. Someone else could come along and ship it before I do, and then I’ll be one of those people who kicks themselves over not having the guts to deliver.

I want to deliver. It’s my responsibility to deliver. Even if it’s not perfect, even if there are kinks in the beginning. The point is to make something, not think about making something.

So the wheels are in motion, and the homework has begun. I’ve set a deadline for myself, and I’d like to run the idea by a few more people to get their feedback. But man. This thing has to launch. It’ll kill me if it doesn’t.

Even failing is a better option than not shipping at all, right? I mean, it could be that my idea floats and then pops like a punctured balloon. The grim reality of Jackson could render the whole venture useless.

Thing is, Seth Godin and Merlin Mann and Ben Franklin tell me that failing is always an option, because we need to fail at least once in a while to learn some things. If, however, you don’t have the guts to ship anything, you’ll never fail because your stupid pea brain shifts from “Drive” to “Safety Mechanism” and you become some depressed mutant reptile who mutters “Shoulda Coulda” to teenagers at the coffee shop. No one wants that.

I type this after having worked out at the gym, meditated on self-evaluation, and completed a project for my freelance business. Surely I have the wherewithal to do something as simple as ship an idea I’ve been kicking around since October. I mean, really.

This story gets told a lot, but after my first job interview, on the eve of graduating college, I came up to my journalism professor and trusted mentor. After explaining my reservations about the job, Dr. Renner looked at me, and said, “Dave, I had a brother who noticed the same thing in me from time to time. And he told me, ‘Dennis, you can him and haw and wring your hands and sweat the small stuff, but sometimes you just have to buck up and DO IT.’”

At the “DO IT,” Dr. Renner really yelled at me.

While I haven’t always been the best at applying that little lesson, shouted at me from Dr. Renner’s office at the newspaper, I’ll never forget it. Because he saw what my problem was. Dr. Renner had the same problem, and someone once upon a time told him exactly what he needed to hear to get him moving.

Just do it, Dave. Just do it.


I Am Not A Filmmaker

I Am Not A Filmmaker « Photofocus


The anti Santa

Did you know there’s an evil Santa in some Germanic countries? Via Krampus.com:

Krampus is the dark counterpart of Saint Nicholas, the traditional European gift-bringer who visits on his holy day of December 6th, a few weeks earlier than his offshoot Mr. Claus. Like his American descendant, the bishop-garbed St. Nicholas rewards good kids with gifts and treats; unlike the archetypal Santa, however, St. Nicholas never punishes naughty children, parceling out this task to a ghastly helper from below.

I mean, Jesus, think about that. Santa’s tag-along buddy is a tongue-waving demon who puts kids in his basket and drags them to hell.

How cool is that?

It all makes sense, of course. It’s not enough that Santa have an anti-Santa – like some Bizzarro version of Superman – but that the anti-Santa would balance him out. Think of it more like the Batman and Joker combo: order and chaos. Reward and punishment.

No, to the Deutsch, it’s not enough that kids get a lump of coal or, worse, nothing at all for Christmas when they misbehave. No, they have to be dragged screaming to the fires of Hell, lashed at with whips, and looked after by some clawed demonic exile.

Why isn’t there a horror movie about Krampus? Or, hell, a Rammstein song?


I Bought A Fancy Camera

People that know me know I’m a bit of a shutterbug. Always have been – ever since those cheap-o disposable cameras hit the scene. As bad as those cameras were, they were inexpensive and put a camera in my hands.

They also sparked something. It’s evident in the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years – mostly hobbyist portraits and travelogue photo diaries. Taking photos has been a way for me to document life. I’m the guy with the camera at social functions and family gatherings and work events. I’ve taken this distinction with pride, and a grain of salt (because mostly people don’t like to have their picture taken, especially if they’re not looking directly at the camera, posing, and smiling).

Over the past few years, as I’ve learned more about photography, and especially since my last trip out West, I’ve wanted more. Or better. I’ve craved the top-notch (but still affordable) tools to take pictures, and develop it into something beyond a casual hobby. I’ve wanted to get beyond the advanced beginners stage and into the realm of know-how and expertise.

That takes time and practice, but even with a great point and shoot I feel like you can only get so far. The drawbacks of consumer cameras, issues like slow shutter speed and poor low-light shooting, provide a brick wall. To climb that, I need to use what the pros use. And learn what the pros know.

So I bought a nice camera – a Canon Rebel T1i. It’s not a high-end professional setup, but it’s a step just below the best hobbyists DSLR camera. In terms of price, features, and approachability, it was just what I needed.

And get this: thanks to Canon’s holiday season rebates and discounts, I ended up with $200 off a $210 telephoto zoom lense, a free memory card, and a free UV lense filter. It all came with the Rebel T1i, which was on sale too, and not with the T2i. With all that, I pulled the trigger on the T1i last Wednesday. It was too good of a deal not to.

Over the next month I’ll invest in some sort of fancy camera bag – because man, this stuff is delicate. It’s not like a simple point and shoot that I throw into my jacket pocket on the way out the door. This stuff takes preparation.

Also, a prime lense. Just a simple, affordable version, something to take great potrait-type shots with. The idea of the prime lense excites me because there’s no zoom. If you want a closer shot, you have to move closer. The thinking is it trains you to be a better photographer – to think in terms of composing the shot and developing an eye for a good photo.

There’s a lot to learn. But that’s always the exciting part, right?