Archives for posts with tag: aerial

It’s holiday time, and that means it’s time for the shameless shilling of stuff folks can spend their hard-earned on, as part of the general giving-and-receiving frenzy driven by the awesome power of marketing and celebrating some vaguely religio-pagan festival now buried deep beneath several cubic tons of stringlights, plastic Santas, snowflakes, animatronic elves, tinsel, Internet banners, and catalogs. In the spirit of the holiday, and not being above a bit of shameless shilling myself, I’ve partnered with a website that offers my photos in the form of various-sized prints, greeting cards, phone cases (and presumably t-shits, mousepads, tea cozies, and festive personalized facial tattoos).

In my defense, at least I’m telling you right off the bat that this post is a blatantly self-promotional advertisement, so you can ignore it at your leisure.

Actually, beyond that, there’s not much else to say that wouldn’t come across as Home Shopping Network filler bloviation (“Oh I seriously can’t say enough about all the wonderful things you can do with a print of this photo of a duck: why, you can hang it on your wall–and not just one wall, mind you, but virtually, literally any wall in your house, and I don’t mean just tastefully cookie-cuttered single-family detached homes on cul-de-sacs  in the suburbs, no: you can hang this on a living room wall, or a kitchen wall, or a bathroom wall, or a hall wall in any sort of house at all, from the tiniest New York studio to the most magnificent hundred-thousand square-foot beachfront palace in Malibu, and every trailer house, walk-up, duplex, condo, rent-controlled apartment, or barracks in between; and if you don’t like ducks at all that won’t make any difference either, since we also have photographs of mountains, flowers, grasshoppers, shirtless men, and people in vaguely Victorian costume wearing goggles and looking menacing…”) so it’s best I don’t say anything at all.

Here’s the site: Fine Art America. More photos will be uploaded over time.

Here are the direct links to some of the site categories, and some samples of my photos in each category, because the holiday time is all about giving.

steampunk prints

antiqued steampunk image

aerial photos

Aerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

bird photos

blue jay on a fence rail

nature photos

Wet Water Avens

close-up photos

Close-up view of a snail

male photos / nude photos

Nude male model with black censoring bars

travel photos


<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>steampunk art</a>, <a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>male photos</a>,<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>aerial photos</a>,<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>bird photos</a>,<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nude photos</a>,<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nature photos</a>,<a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>travel art</a>, <a href=”; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>close-up photos</a>

My plan for this series in LensCaps at the start was twofold: First, to force myself to blog more regularly (I have found that like flossing and New Years’ Resolutions, it is extremely unlikely that I will commit to blog regularly after the initially burst of enthusiasm unless there’s some outside force compelling me: a pricey personal trainer makes me a much more constant gym membership user, and a public statement that I’m embarking on a numbered series of posts makes me feel guilty if I miss a day or two); and B, to feature older photographs that haven’t been featured lately (selected at random via an unscientific method of using the mouse wheel and random clicks in an index).

So what happens right after RPOTD #3? I go on a business trip to Oklahoma City, and posting to the blog becomes difficult, and it falls off the earth. Literally threes of devoted readers are if not mildly disappointed, at least somewhat aware of the break.

And then what do I do? I come back, and immediately violate the Highly Scientific Random Photo Algorithm. Today’s photos are from my recent trip, and I just thought it was cool that a couple of them were inadvertently sort of thematically linked, which is serendipitous, which is kinda like random, so I guess we’re OK.

This is the Devon Energy Center, at 52 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma City and tied for being the 39th tallest in the US. Architects were Pickard Chilton Architects Inc. The building itself is nice (if a little ridiculously out of scale with the rest of Oklahoma City (see the aerial view), but I really loved the morning sun peeking from behind it.

Devon Energy Building

The aforementioned aerial view:

Aerial view of Oklahoma City

The other “sunshine” photo is also an aerial, taken as I flew over California on my way back home (thank you, United, for the upgrade!), I was baffled by these three shiny objects on the ground below, and had to do a little webbly investigation to determine what it was that I’d been looking at. It is, in fact, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), near Nipton, southwest of Las Vegas. It’s the largest solar plant in the world, generating 377 megawatts by using mirrors to focus the sunlight on solar receivers on top of the central power towers (can we tell I think this is really cool?). The three plants together generate enough power to serve 140,000 homes during peak hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by over 400,000 tons annually. (Source: BrightSource)

Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar array

I find, much to my regret and humiliation, that I am fairly consistent in my failure to post regularly. I tell myself this is because I’m selective and perfectionistic, and only post when I have something unique and generally interesting to say. I tell myself that, but the truth is I am both lazy and highly distractable. So I’m going to try an experiment that will compel me to post regularly. I will randomly (really, randomly) select one or two orposibly three photos every day from my whole history of photographing stuff (a number of years that I would prefer not to disclose, in the interest of maintaining the bloggerly illusion that I am both young and sprightly) and say just a few pertinent (or impertinent, as the case may be) things about them: where they were taken, what the circumstances were, what–if anything–about them might be interesting to others.

We’ll see how this works. Here we go…

"Eat Cake" in pink script on the side of a white stucco building with an intense blue sky

I’m starting with a bit of a cheat, since this is a pretty recent photo. It was taken at the Sweet & Saucy Shop, a bakery in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, I was here for a cake-tasting as part of the traditional process involved in selecting a wedding cake. There is, by the way, nothing at all wrong with a cake-tasting: Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about my right to be legally married (thank you, United States Supreme Court), I think we can all agree that cake is nice (and the cake at Sweet & Saucy is particularly creative and excellent). Anyway, when we arrived the sun on the white stucco was spectacular, and the sentiment of the sign was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Nikon with me, so I took this using my phone. The result is still good, even if the photography snob in me discounts it as not a real photograph. (Photo taken with a Samsung Galaxy Siii 12 megapixel smartphone)

Macro photo of a grasshopper near North Pond in Lincoln Park, Chicago

Now this one was also taken fairly recently. It’s obviously a grasshopper, photographed in a pretty outstanding macro. It helped that the grasshopper was on a fence near Lincoln Park’s North Pond in Chicago, and the weather in early October was coolish–which makes for slightly sluggish and therefore more photogenic grasshoppers. Anyway, I’m very proud of the detail in this.  (Photo taken with a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon DX 18-105 lens)

Aerial view of a rock quarry in upstate New York

Finally, just the opposite of a macro: This aerial photo was taken from a United jet somewhere over upstate New York, en route to Boston last July. I travel a fair amount for business, and always get a window seat for just this purpose, as I believe I’ve written about before. The detail here is good, and I like (or rather, don’t like) the juxtaposition of the huge scar in the earth surrounded by dense forest. (Photo taken with a Nikon D90 and a Sigma 70-300 lens)

So there we have it. Next time I do this, I may just do a very short post with one photo, or a long and rambling post with one photo, or more pictures and fewer words, or the other way around. Sometimes I’ll stick to a specific topic,when I have something to say about it. Otherwise I’ll just put up a photo and say a little something about it. I’ll try to keep me guessing, and see where that leads me, in terms of being a better and more committed blogger.

For a wider selection of randomness, visit my online gallery: EButterfield Photography.

It recently occurred to me in a rare moment of clarity that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. I know that both my readers were despondent about this, and after initially assuring themselves that I was enjoying a fabulous eco-tour of some exotic location, undoubtedly fell into the inescapable conclusion that I’d been abducted by bug-eyed and throbbing-brained alien invaders with a proclivity for probing; or been dragged off by gaily-clad gypsies and forced to participate in traditional woodland dances and fits of fortune-telling; or perhaps I had fallen into a deep, deep hole. Rest easy, gentle readers, for none of these terrible things befell me. Nope, I’m just Lazy. And don’t think for a moment that I haven’t been thinking about you all this time, and scolding myself for being a Bad Blogger.

I can only offer the following series of excuses:

1. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the London Olympics, and then sat glued to NBC’s selective coverage, utterly enthralled by all the leaping, bounding, diving, and whatnot; and/or

2. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) landing on Mars, and became so obsessed that I forgot to eat, and then sat riveted to NASA-TV’s livefeed from Mission Control, becoming alternatively misty-eyed and hysterical as Curiosity survived the Seven Minutes of Terror; and/or

3. I spent a great deal of time in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel conference rooms being all Serious and Business-y; and/or

3. I spent several weeks mesmerized by the civil, adult, substantive and insightful policy debates engaged in by the various candidates for US President, and had to take many days just to parse the intricacies of the detailed and thoughtful plans they’ve laid out for the nation’s future.

(OK, that last one’s just silly.)

Whatever the reason for my Bad Bloggerishness (Bad Bloggeritude? Bad Bloggery?) there has nonetheless been time to do some photography, which is what I write about here. And since I continue to bask in my delusional, narcissitic, and potentially psychotic fantasy that anyone in the world cares about what I’ve been doing, I shall then proceed as per usual to revel in the minutiae of the minorest of my daily activities.

Southern California Blues. The biggest benefit of having to travel quite a bit for work, aside from the whole meeting-new-people and broadening-one’s-horizons thing, is the opportunity for more (I think) interesting aerial photography. I try to make it a point to sit by a window (this is a wise move for three reasons: 1) for photographic purposes; 2) because no one climbs over you to get to the lavatory;  and 3) because the bulkhead is nice to lean against, and adds an inch or two more personal space—you’re welcome for that little Travel Tip.) Anyway here’s the coastline of Southern California shortly after takeoff from John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana:

Southern California coastline

Tentpole. I like architecture, and this photo from Denver International Airport is a good demonstration of why: Not only is it functional (the pylon is holding up the tent-like roof of the terminal) but it’s attractive. And what’s more, given the right angle of approach, it becomes a nice display of abstract geometry, divorced from its actual purpose. As a photographer, that’s one of my favorite things to do: get so close up to something (in the case of macros), or so far away (in the case of aerial views of the desert Southwest) or so particularly angled (like here) that the thing being photographed loses its “thingness” and becomes something new: a collection of lines and angles and colors, for instance. But enough about that. Here’s a picture from DIA:

Support pylon at Denver International Airport

Please Come to Boston. I took a little business trip to Boston, and snuck out on a rainy morning to see what was up in the Public Garden. This swan boat seemed a lovely thing, and the water droplets are, to me, quite nice.

 Swan Boat iin Boston's Public Garden

OK, possibly Shocking Displays of Skin below (probably safe for work, unless you work in a church).

You’ve been Warned.






Tough Guy. I continue my efforts to pursue portrait photography using the nice little home studio equipment I acquired not all that long ago. James wanted a series of photos taken that looked “model-y” and showed off his physical assets, so that was a fun project for a summer afternoon. (More of these here)

Shirtless male model with sunglasses

Daddy Bear. One thing seems to lead to another in this interwoven, interconnected, interdependent world we wander through, and shortly after James I found myself photographing Andre for what were to be some more…personal photos. This is one of the tamer ones. Interestingly (although not surprisingly to anyone who’s been to an International Mister Leather event and heard the big scary-looking S&M guys chatting about recipes and window treatments) Andre is not nearly as intimidating as he looks: he’s actually quite sweet and funny (I think this actually captures that a little bit), and the shoot was a lot of fun. (More of these here)

Male model in leather vest and codpiece

So that was what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I shall endeavor to be a more courteous and consistent correspondent in the future. With upcoming business trips to Beijing, Florida, New Jersey, and Belgium, plus whatever photogenic models wander my way, there will no doubt be much more to write about. And anyway there’s always Gimli The Cat:

Cat staring, reflected in tabletop

I am very bad person. I am a scofflaw, and a delinquent, and a wicked villain if ever there was one.  I am a troublemaker, a scoundrel, a reprobate, and a miscreant. I am the lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile, the most evil-doing of the evildoers. I am, in short, very bad indeed.

For while I am an otherwise obedient and dutiful citizen, and follow all the flight attendant’s instructions with regard to how to fasten my seatbelt, and keeping my seat in the upright position and my tray table latched away; while I am scrupulous in taking my laptop out of its bag and removing all metallic devices when going through security; while I am occasionally observant of the request not to take up valuable overhead compartment space with items that could,  conceivably fit under the seat in front of me; while I am in all these ways and more a most dutiful and obedient frequent flyer, I do fall short in one area:

I am frequently in flagrant and willful violation of both 14 C.F.R. § 91.21 and the flight attendant’s clear and meticulous instructions regarding the acceptable use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you: I often do not turn off my Nikon when told to do so on an airplane.

And not only do I blatantly violate federal and airline rules and regulations, I do so with malice aforethought: I frequently specifically request a window seat so I can engage freely in my perfidy.

The aforementioned regulation empowers the airlines to establish their own policies regarding electronic equipment. Most airlines adhere to policies like United’s :

Devices that may be used only when announced by the flight attendants and the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude:

       electronic games

       personal computers

       entertainment players

       recorders (audio and/or video, such as tape/CD/MiniDisc/MP3 players and camcorders)



       CAMERAS (emph. mine)

       aircraft power ports for laptops.

(Shavers? Really? I have felt many things on airplanes over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt an urgent need to shave, even during a long international flight. There’s usually plenty of time for self-grooming activities once I’m no longer hurtling through the air at 36,000 feet.)

Let’s be clear: There is No Evidence that any electronic device, much less a digital camera, poses any threat to airline systems. Neither the FAA nor the FCC has any sound basis for the prohibition, and neither seems able to point to any solid evidence whatsoever. The FCC states:

The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. Therefore, it decided at this time to make no changes in the rules prohibiting in-flight use of such devices.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. For this same reason the FAA also regulates the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as iPods and portable DVD players, during flight.

Now, I am second to none in my appreciation of everyone’s need to err on the side of keeping my butt from falling out of the sky. But until someone demonstrates that turning on a digital camera will cause a 767 to plummet from the sky, I’m likely to accept the risk on behalf of my fellow passengers and crew and, more importantly to me, myself. What studies there are (and there are few) have found no more than indistinguishable background radiation being emitted by digital cameras, with a barely-detectable electromagnetic transient when the shutter is activated. I do not have a GPS attachment for my D90, so it’s not talking to any satellites. I know that in addition to risking a violent and flaming demise, I am also risking hefty fines and even imprisonment for my felonious photography; but in this life risks must be taken, right? Plus, the likelihood of discovery is slim, since during the commission of my crimes the flight attendants are all snugly buckled in somewhere aft. And because my seatmates have also been, shall we say, liberal in their interpretations of when to boot up, turn on, lean back, or plug in, they are unlikely to narc on me. I’m not alone in my badness.

However, my surreptitious activities do not go unrewarded. Full compliance would have made the following images impossible, and that would be, in my view, something of a shame:

Rosemont, Illinois, on approach to Chicago O’Hare International Airport

LAX viewed during takeoff of a flight from Orange County Airport (SNA) to Seattle

Washington, DC on takeoff from National Airport

Red Bull Stadium and Newark, New Jersey, on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport

University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s football stadium, on approach to McCarran International Airport

Las Vegas Strip shortly after taking off from McCarran International Airport

Flying over the Space Needle on approach to Seattle-Tacoma

Boston skyline across Massachusetts Bay, immediately upon takeoff from Logan International Airport

Massachusetts Bay and the city of Boston, a few minutes after takeoff from Logan International Airport

Please visit EButterfield Photography and browse the galleries. Thanks!

The event that spurred this post happened more than eight months ago, which I realize makes it positively Pleistocene in Internet time, but I think it’s important to keep poking at it anyway, because the real risk is posed when we forget. It also happened to someone else, not to me—or more specifically now to several someone elses, and the number is growing. But it happened to take place where I live, and happened to someone doing something I very much like to do (“like” may not even be the right word here; it’s something I sort of think I have to do, in some way). In any event, the basis for that long-ago incident remains very much alive and well, and deserves to have the light shone on it, frequently and repeatedly.

An article in the July 12, 2011 issue of the Long Beach Post, described an incident that had occurred for the second time in less than a month: Police officers in Long Beach, California, detained a photographer who was, knowingly and with malice aforethought, taking pictures of things.

It wasn’t a case of a photographer trespassing to get just the right angle, or knocking over a little old lady who’d wandered into an otherwise perfectly-framed shot—neither of which would, in my mind, merit arrest anyway (little old ladies, beware!). No, it was simply this: The photographer, Sander Roscoe Wolff, was taking pictures of the interesting lines and shadows and rusty colors and geometry of an oil refinery. Here’s the photo, which is clearly filled with criminal intent and oozing probable cause:

The photo that got Long Beach police all upset

Let’s be crystal clear here: The photographer was not trespassing on private property, and was not invading anyone’s privacy. Officer Asif Kahn acted—and this is the truly scary part—because he’d determined that the photographer was taking pictures of something that lacked “apparent aesthetic value.”

Let’s say that again, slowly: The police officer acted because he felt that the photographer was not taking a pretty picture.

In their eagerness to protect citizens against terrorists, Long Beach police are acting under a precedent set by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order No. 11, which established a “policy … to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism.” Such activity or intention includes, among a wide variety of other things, the use of binoculars or a camera to take photos of a building’s entrance; asking about an establishment’s hours of operation; and taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value.”  (The LAPD policy has been held up by the Department of Homeland Security  as a model for other police departments nationwide. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) takes a somewhat differing view, and has sued on behalf of several detained (or harassed) photographers.)

“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” said Long Beach Police Chief McDonnell, “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” While there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent aesthetic value,” McDonnell says officers should make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

For once I can be concise: Yikes!

So if I’m not taking a picture of a pretty sunset over the beach, or palm tree-lined streets, or surfers, I’m apparently engaging in suspicious, terrorist-like activity and should be picked up by the gendarmes, clapped in irons, and thrown in the deepest dungeon—or at least questioned and have a background check run. If a recent graduate of the police academy  doesn’t see the “apparent aesthetic value” inherent in the thing I’m pointing my Nikon at, then she’s empowered to stop and question my intentions.  (With all due respect to graduates of our nation’s many fine police academies, I can’t help but wonder whether or not the standard curriculum includes Art Appreciation courses.) This is a disturbing expansion of police power, a scary permission for armed, uniformed government agents to act based not on what they know about criminal activity, but on their subjective opinion about what’s an aesthetically appropriate subject for a photograph. Such an authorized intrusion of personal opinion into the exercise of police authority begins a slippery slope that should give everyone pause—possibly even especially, to be blunt, a police officer named Asif Kahn.

The Following Photograph is Aesthetically Approved by the Long Beach Police Department

(Oh I know what the criminologists will say—and some of my best friends are criminologists: “The police have experience with criminal behavior, and are trained to cooly identify the tell-tale signs that someone’s acting suspiciously. Rest assured, little frightened photographer citizen; policie officers must be trusted to exercise discretion, but only the evil-doers will be detained.” And apologists on the political right will tut-tut at me that innocent photographers have nothing to fear from answering a question or two posed by a police officer/art critic, and isn’t that just a wee tiny small price to pay for greater security from the bad guys? And to both of those I say: No. The mere act of taking a photograph of something that, in the police officer’s opinion, is not something that’s usually photographed by millions of tourists or otherwise lacks visual appeal most certainly does not constitute probable cause for a police officer to stop and detain the photographer. One hesitates to get all slippery-slopey here, but what comes next: police officers may detain someone for reading a book that has never appeared on the New York Times Best-Seller List? Patrons of art-house movies can be stopped and questioned because they saw a film that wasn’t directed by James Cameron? If popularity is the test, nothing new will be created, and artists will be stifled and silenced and lens-capped.)

Thing is, I don’t always take pictures of stuff others might consider conventionally Pretty. Sometimes I take pictures of big, ugly, rusty things.

I have ventured into San Pedro to take pictures of container ships in the Port of Los Angeles (and the occasional pelican).

I have focused my lens on peeling paint, and oil drills.

I have taken pictures out of airplane windows of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

I’ve taken pictures of airport runways, and LAX from the air.

And at no point was I plotting a terrorist attack (although in the case of the aerial photos I was absolutely in violation of the “all electronic devices must be turned off” announcement, and plead utterly guilty). But in the narrow minds of the local Long Beach constabulary, my aesthetic may sometimes be somehow akin to Al Qaeda’s.

Beauty, it has been said far too often, is in the eye of the beholder. Except in Southern California, where beauty is in the eye the police department. That badge symbolizes not only police officers’ role in defending the community against miscreants and evil-doers (a role which I am unequaled in my admiration and appreciation), but also apparently their empowerment to act as art critics as well; “to serve, protect, and pass aesthetic judgment.

That’s the part I don’t like at all, and that’s the thing that must be watched.

Photo of a guard at the Forbidden City in Beijing, just before he told me "No photos." I was not detained.

This photo of a guard at the Forbidden City in Beijing, just before he told me "No photos." I was not detained.

Well, at least in the world I live in, they aren’t. The title comes from Gilbert and Sullivan (specifically HMS Pinafore, and a generally nonsensical duet between Buttercup and the Captain, for those of you who are counting), but the sentiment comes from me, and specifically my Nikon, and even more exactly from, well, snails again.

[To interrupt myself for a moment, it’s been a while since I encouraged my reader to visit my photography website, so consider yourself Officially Encouraged. Also, there are in fact photos in this blog entry, there are just a lot of words before you get there. Thanks.]

In the past, I’ve blogged about my obsession with snails and the tiny universe they live in, pretty much oblivious to how very, very important I am (“Up Close and Escargotal“). That led me to wax poetic (putting my random bloviations in the kindest possible light) about humanity’s place in the universe, which is really quite a leap.

Not surprisingly, snails pop up again here, and for that I apologize. Well, I actually don’t apologize, and for two reasons: Reason One, I like snails and this is my blog and so there. Reason Two (and more loftily), just as snails make a remarkably excellent vehicle for the ingestion of yummy garlic butter (partly because eating spoonfuls of garlic butter is generally discouraged, and partly because if you’re going to eat what amounts to spoonfuls of garlic butter, then you should have to at least pay some moral price to offset your wallow in self-indulgent gluttony, and that price is you have to have a mollusk floating in your butter), so too they make—at least in my fevered mind—a remarkably excellent vehicle for making broader generalizations about other things.

(By the way, if you successfully navigated that last sentence then you are a truly unique person of admirable reading skills. Congratulations. On the other hand, if we lost you somewhere in the parenthetical prior to the em-dashed digressive clause, I promise that it gets easier from here on.)

This blog entry is really expanding on the subject of close-ups, and what isolating bits of a subject can do to the nature of the subject, and the viewer’s experience of something completely other than what it is he or she is looking at. It’s not unlike what I’ve observed about taking pictures of the landscape from high in the air (“Abstracted at 30,000 Feet“): At a certain point, whether you’re really up close or really far away, the thing-ness of a thing can disappear altogether into something much more than the limited subject itself. Because I like to make up names for things, we’ll call that phenomenon, that approach, “isolative photography,” because it sounds kinda smart very Serious.

Perhaps I shall write a wordy treatise on it one of these days, making copious use of parentheticals and em dashes and semicolons. And that’ll be way different from what’s been going on here so far.

Anyway, snails don’t entirely fit in to this, because my macro work with the aquarium is really pretty traditional macro work: Thanks to a 105mm 1:2.8 Sigma DG Macro lens, we can now demonstrate conclusively, for anyone who was wondering, that Yes, snails do have teeth:

 Close-up view of a snail

But what that does illustrate is the importance, or at least the coolness, of getting really close to a subject, and finding—as I did here—something not really expected. What I’d expected was a cool close-up of a snail’s face, with all those little tentacles waving around. And what I got, when I looked at the photos, was a big toothy snail-smile. (If you click on the photo, it will loom large, and you can examine the dental characteristics of the common bivalve to your heart’s content.)

More to the point, though, is this:

 close-up view of a recessed weapon on a fighter jet fuselage

What appears at first glance to be a steampunky robotic eye is in fact one of the recessed weapons on the fuselage of an F-86 Sabre jet fighter. But in isolation, only the most nitpicky of aircraft enthusiasts would know that.

When he heard that I’d been to an airplane museum, my father—who is quite the aircraft aficionado—pleaded with me not to send him any pictures of airplanes. (“I really don’t want to see another three-quarters view of a P-51,” he said—because he talks that way—as if I would ever send him such a thing. Others do, though, knowing his interests, so I sympathize.) Of course, it’s highly unlikely that I would take such a picture. Whether or not he wants extreme close-up views of a recessed gun or a propeller on a pretty red airplane or the turbofan on a jet engine or  is another question, but that’s what he gets from me.

Like life, isolative photography is not just about airplanes and snails. Here’s an interesting (well, at least to me) juxtaposition of an aerial “abstract” of the Western United States, and a close up of a similarly-colored rock near Palm Springs, California.

And here are close-up views of carnival glass and a Prius headlight, both of which become much more interesting abstracts in isolation from the rest of the object. A picture of a vase, and a picture of a car, are (at least to me) not very interesting. But in getting close, in isolating parts from the whole, they take on a more uniquely evocative character.

It’s interesting how the view through the viewfinder can show the photographer how the isolated image flattens compared with the dimensional reality of the subject. This photo is a perspective shot of a canvass awning-covered walkway on the campus of the California State University in Long Beach.

At the end of the walkway is an enormous blue corrugated aluminum pyramid (don’t ask) that houses a basketball stadium. Here, though, the image is forcibly flattened in the frame, and becomes more interesting (again, to me at least) than a pleasant location shot showing off a Southern California college campus.

The main thing I’m going on about here, I guess, is that it’s often pieces of things that are more compelling than the things themselves. The fact is that anyone can, these Webbish days, see all the pictures they want of airplanes and cars and vases and landscapes. The whole world seems to be equipped with perfectly functional cameras built into their phones, and millions of people every day blithely take snapshots that do the trick if you’re wondering what something looks like.

The trick is to go beyond the “looks like” and, to go back to the snails again, briefly, find the teeth. Look for the interesting details, the pieces in your viewfinder that become more than a vintage jet fighter and take on an independent character all their own. Get up close to your subjects, and then get closer, and you’ll find new and unexpected—and sometimes better—subjects right in front of you.

One of the few joys I find in my frequent business travel is that I get to look out the window. OK, let me be more Serious: I enjoy taking aerial photos of the landscape. Whatever. Now that, of course, requires that I actively seek out window seats (on long flights, this has the downside of requiring me to climb over two fellow passengers to reach the aisle, but that’s really their problem more than mine).

What I’ve found over the years, using a Nikon D80 and D90, with telephoto and DX 18-105 lenses, is that the landscape, particularly of the southwestern United States, takes on a wildly abstract and interestingly non-geological appearance when viewed from the air. It’s likely a combination of the nature of the landscape itself, coupled with distortions resulting from the extreme angle at which “down” pictures must be taken through a tiny airliner window when the photographer is strapped in inches away from the plexiglass, along with the modest processing the images go through in PhotoShop. But whatever the reason, the results can look more like Jackson Pollock than Google Earth, and I love that.

Aerial view of Green River, Canyonlands NP, UtahAerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

I’m not sure what to call this. “Aerial photography” always sounds to me like someone with too many pockets on his shirt rented time on a Piper and flew around taking fabulous pictures leaning precariously out an open doorway. Snapping photos while twisted around in a 17-inch wide coach seat, lens pressed against a scratched 16×11 plexiglass window, holding the camera at a wrist-aching angle, doesn’t really qualify, at least in my mind, as something as exotic and professional-sounding as “aerial photography.”

Nomenclature aside, though, it’s something that I like to do, and that makes the frequent business trips I take much more creatively stimulating. I don’t mind that I make something of a spectacle of myself–a bald, middle-aged guy contorting himself and clicking his camera rapidly out the window like a nine year old on his first flight. I may not be leaning precariously out an open airplane window, but from time to time I brazenly defy the order to “turn off all electronic devices” and take photos with my digital camera during final approach and landing. I am terribly sneaky about this, waiting for the flight attendants to go to their seats before surreptitiously pulling the camera back out and shocking my row-mates with my flagrant scoff-lawery. My Nikon has yet to interfere with Boeing’s complex electronics, however (to the best of my knowledge) and does not seem to have brought down any planes. I do apologize for putting my fellow passengers at risk, but sacrifices must be made for art.

Aerial View of Seattle, with Space NeedleAerial view of UNLV's football stadium, Las Vegas NV

The biggest challenge I’ve found to this sort of aerial photography is picture quality. There is simply no way these puppies are going straight from the camera onto the web. At thirty thousand feet, even on a clear day, there is haze and glare that simply must be Photoshopped away. The image below shows the before (on the left) and after versions of an aerial view of southern Arizona. As you can see, there’s a lot of nasty haze and glare that the camera picks up that my eye, at least, doesn’t really register. The “after” image looks pretty much like what I recall seeing.

Comparison of original v Photoshopped aerial image of AZ desert

Here’s how I do it. There may be better ways, different adjustments to make, but I’ve found through a lot of trial and error that the most natural-looking and final image, the one most faithful to the actual appearance of the landscape, is achieved through two steps. First, a basic manipulation of RGB layers. Then some tweaking with contrast and desaturization (to eliminate the over-coloring that can result from the contrast change).

In manipulating an aerial photo to eliminate haze, the first step in Photoshop is to go to Layers and select “New Adjustment Layer” and “Levels.” That will pop up a window asking you to name your new layer. The default is fine, so click OK. That will open the RGB adjustment window. Simply drag the black pointer that’s on the left side of the display slowly toward the right, until it is directly beneath wherever the graph begins (usually with a simple horizontal line), and click OK. Here’s how that should look:

RGB adjustment

Now you’ll need to save the image as a JPG, since all this diddling with levels will have autosaved it as a Photoshop file. Once that’s done, open your new image and make any necessary adjustments to contrast, spot fixes, etc. You’ll likely need to adjust saturation down; these adjustments often result in colors that are a bit too vivid. Remember how that landscape looked while you were peering at it through your camera? Try for that. The goal (well, at least my goal; others may have different goals of course) is to illustrate how the natural landscape resembles abstract art, as accurately as possible.

Aerial view of AZ desert from 38,000 feet

Of course, as I said earlier, sacrifices must be made for art. I have, I must confess, occasionally wiped out entire small towns, farmsteads, and roads that interfered with the abstract image I was trying so hard to recreate naturally. I justify such artifice by telling myself that the goal is to show the abstract landscape, and the manmade objects mess that up. In any case, don’t be afraid to carefully spot-heal away villages or random buildings that distract the eye and give away the game.

There’s something else I love about my obsession with window seats, and that is this: It makes me look out the window. On long business trips I could, of course, pop open my laptop and peer obsessively at Excel spreadsheets. I could (and do, of course) turn on the Kindle and read, or plug my ears into my iPod and bounce in my seat while Lady Gaga tells me to “Show Me Your Teeth,” immediately followed by somebody singing about being the very model of a modern major general (I’m eclectic in my music). I could (and sometimes do) take a nap. But mostly I can look out the window, at the surprisingly consistent beauty and interest of the landscape below. Sometimes, there are even surprises:

Aerial view of natural geological formation somewhere in southwestern Colorado, due east of Egnar and south of Naturita. Coordinates 37.91219123585559,-108.597316688116.

The desert southwest is particularly photogenic, I’ve found, but there’s a majesty in the irrigation circles that dot the flat land like checkers on a board across the midwest. There’s the mystery of small cities drifting beneath the plane’s wing, filled with thousands of people who have no idea who I am or that I’m staring down at them. The old and rippling landscape on the eastern side of the country is beautiful, and the oceans, while a little monotonous, occasionally spring a surprising reef or island or some enormous ship going from someplace to somewhere. It’s all out there, a fabulous world beyond my window. Oh sure, I whine and complain about having to travel to cold and boring cities to sit in endless meetings in anonymous hotel ballrooms, but really in this case, as in so much else in life, the treasure is in the getting there. Right outside my window, as long as I keep looking.

shadow of jet on clouds, with rainbows circling

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