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Paternal Photographic Influences?

Mackinac Bridge Mackinac City, MI Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac City, MI
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Since it is Father’s day, I thought some reflections on my father might be appropriate. My dad was not a “photographer.” At least not the way I think of myself as a “photographer.” He shot pictures, and owned cameras, but for him it was more for shooting images of his travels, and documenting things (I remember seeing photos – cannot remember whether he took them or just had them – of the Mackinac Bridge being built) families, etc. So, other than very indirectly, how do I tie in those paternal influences to my photography today? The nice thing about a blog is that it does not have to have scholarly, essay-quality content. So today’s blog will be more of an extemporaneous reflection-generated piece.  Often, as I photograph something, thoughts of dad come to mind.  For many years, he served as the Engineer for Mackinaw County.  I remember going there with him sometimes as a young boy.  The bridge “connects” that memory up.

I cannot help but think that some of his “process” rubbed off on me

There is no doubt that the people we grow up around influence who we are and how we think as adults. And there is perhaps nobody more influential than parents. I had the great misfortune of not having my own mother for most of my life, as she sadly died when her children were quite young (OTOH, I had the good fortune to have my second mother – for most of my life – still living today and still influencing all of us). But my dad was always there, and always influential, up until the end of his life in 2008.  Thanks, dad, for that.

Dad was an engineer, with an engineer’s mind. I am not

Dad was an engineer, with an engineer’s mind. I am not. But I cannot help but think that some of his “process” rubbed off on me. He loved tools of every kind and nature, and had a keen appreciation for finely crafted tools. And one of the things he drummed into me was that when someone takes the time and effort to create a finely made item, it is a matter of husbandry to care for it properly. I know photographers for whom it is almost a point of pride to reflect on their beat-up equipment.  Not me.  I am equally proud that I have been able to maintain the like new condition of my equipment.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get used (and therefore owns some wear and tear from that use).  Almost every item of photographic gear of my own still looks the way it did when I bought it. I baby it. I take special care of it. Maybe to a fault.  I think the equipment deserves that.  Maybe more important than the care, was inheriting a small portion of his “mechanical” abilities.  Because of that legacy, I have been able to do a lot of my own work, framing, matting and mounting my own images.  Thanks, dad for that.

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

When we were kids, dad had an 8mm wind-up movie camera. Sometimes, he used to set it up on Christmas morning. As adults, we have had some fun watching those movies (now repurposed for digital viewing). He also made a few hundred 35mm slides during his military days in Korea and Okinawa. They are mostly memory snapshots (unfortunately, today – mostly his memories, which sadly left him in his early 70’s), but still fun to look at and see where he was and what he was doing. And maybe, as a young person, seeing those images influenced something subconsciously, to stimulate the inner drive to shoot that was to surface years later. So, again, thanks for that, dad.

Dad’s Asahiflex 35mm SLR was my first “serious” camera

If you have ventured into the tabs at the top of the blog, and slogged your way through “My Story” (the “about me” section of the blog), you will have read about perhaps my dad’s only direct influence on my photographic journey. When he was stationed in Okinawa back in the early 1950’s, he became acquainted with a local resident who owned and ran a department store (for those who even remember what those are). His friend was able to assist him in purchasing a 35mm film-based camera. The 35mm format Single Lens Reflex camera (SLR) – which would soon become the most popular media for shooters in history, was fairly new phenomena at that time. The Japanese, Asahi Optical Company (pre-cursor of the Pentax branded SLR), manufactured a small, 35mm SLR. Dad bought a kit with 55mm and 235mm, screw-mount interchangeable lenses. The were finely manufactured, solid, quality metal (probably stainless steel), with clear, crisp optics. When I shared a sudden and newfound interest in photography, my dad gave me the outfit (which he had not used in years). I made some nice images with that camera, but in some idiotic manner, no longer have them. But that camera was my first “serious” piece of photographic gear. And so began my own personal photographic development (pun intended, of course). So, really thanks dad, for that!

Of all of the things I remember about dad, his sense of humor was perhaps the most vivid and meaningful.  He had a dry, occasionally playful, and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.  I think I may have inherited most, if not all of that, and whenever possible, try to incorporate it into life — and into some of my imagery.  Dad was also a deeply religious man.  I like to think he would have enjoyed the sign pictured here.  Thanks, Dad.

Sometimes signs can just be funny Knock, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sometimes signs can just be funny
Knock, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Dad wasn’t ever a vociferous political person (grandpa was, and dad was an only child, and they saw “eye-to-eye” on most everything, so I could extrapolate his views). But his native conservatism made it likely that he would influence his children’s political views. 6 of 7 of his children are moderate to conservative. One is liberal (which shows that “influence” doesn’t necessarily result in parallel views). But I became politically interested in my college years, spent some time in Washington, D.C., and made some memoreable (though not so artful) images while I was there. I’m pretty sure he approved of Ronald Reagan. More indirect influence? Thanks, dad.

Reagan Bush Campaign 1982 Copyright Andy Richards 1982

Reagan Bush Campaign 1982
Copyright Andy Richards 1982

Where am I going with all this? Not sure. It’s a blog, which means its o.k. to ramble. And even if its not o.k. to ramble, its my blog, so I can. :-)

I guess I am just saying, “Thanks Dad.”

Book Revew: “The Digital Print,” by Jeff Schewe

index

Recommended

This book is the companion to Jeff’s “The Digital Negative” (see my review). I view this 2- volume series as the modern day (“digital”) equivalent of the Ansel Adams 3-volume series, “The Camera,” “The Negative,” and “The Print.” Since these reviews come quite far apart, I recommend a quick read of my review of “The Digital Negative,” which was done way back in 2012.  There are a couple reasons for the long gap.  First, when I read the first book, the second was not out.  Second, though I finished it many month ago, I am just now getting my thoughts together.  :-)

This 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for capturing, processing and printing for the digital photographer

While I am not by any means comparing Mr. Schewe, the photographer, with Ansel Adams, the photographer, I can say with some confidence that he, along with the late, great, Bruce Fraser, were two of the foremost pioneers of digital processing of images. I have read a number of other, fairly technical books written by them, this 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for a digital photographer, of capturing the best quality image, and printing it.  Like anything in life, some of us will relate to the writing style of certain authors.  This book is far from a “for dummies” style book.  Yet it is not a mind-boggling technical tome, either.  I appreciate Jeff’s conversational style of writing, with some dry humor interjected here and there.  Others like the more entertaining style of a — say Scott Kelby.  To each his own.  If you think you will never have an image printed on paper (or other substrate), read the first book and skip the second.  Most of will want to read them both.

I have previously noted that I am a “get under the hood,” type. For those who just want to get on to printing, today’s printers, with their built-in drivers, will probably produce a satisfying result for you, “out of the box.”  Or perhaps even easier, upload your images to one of the many, very good, commercial printers out there. But if you like to see how to optimize the pixels you have captured on your “mega-pixel” camera, then these two books are a “must read,” in my view – and will probably mean you don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing.

I am a “get under the hood,” type

Before executing the “send to print” command, there are a number of (some of them very technical) steps that must occur to get the image ready for printing.  If you are interested in getting the most out of your digital image, this book gives you all the information you need, in a manner that — to my mind — has just the right mix of technical and down to earth.  The companion (first in the series), “The Digital Negative,” covers both the Adobe Photoshop (ACR) engine and the Adobe LightRoom engine thoroughly.  As one might expect from a continuation series, “The Digital Print” does likewise.  But in this book, Schewe goes into a bit more detail about the two.  Toward the end of the book, in the section on actual printing, he opines that Lightroom (generally) is a better place to print from.   But first, he gives us a brief, but interesting history of the development of digital printing technology.  I have become set in my ways.  I need to spend some time in Lightroom.  I have never printed an image from Lightroom, but I will be trying that in the very near future.

You don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing

He next gives some insight into choosing a printer and the different “flavors” available today. Printer and ink technology continues to evolve favorably, so look for updates to these texts in time. The book spends a fair amount of time discussing use of printers and drivers on different platforms, and printing from two software sources: LightRoom and Photoshop. He also covers printer-specific settings, and when and how to choose between printer and software drivers. There is also some coverage of B&W printing. Different printer technology creates the print differently and Schewe explains how to “purpose” your digital file for the particular output method.

There is a chapter on color management.  There are a number of great books available on the subject of color management.  Though the term, itself sounds intimidating,  the concept is simple enough.  When we go from one display medium to another we need to have a way to “communicate” the information so the viewable result is consistent.  Because of the different technologies employed in capture, post-processing, and displaying, that is much more easily understood in concept than in actual practice, however.  When you do “look under the hood” of your Photoshop or Lightroom (or any other) printer driver, you see lots of scary words and checkboxes like “color space,” “rendering intent,” “profiles,” etc.).  So most of us need some “plain-English” interpretation.  This book does that.  Schewe does a good, and succinct job of making this very complex subject understandable to us laypersons.

The Digital Print completes the journey following capture and post-processing, to final output

The Digital Print spends some time covering important aspect of post-processing for preparation of a file to print.  For those who did read “The Digital Negative,” there will be some repetition here.  I have two observations about that.  First, a little repetition/review will do most of good.  Second, and more practically, the author had to consider the at least a percentage of his reading audience would not have read the first book.  So he includes the essentials again. :-).  It then moves on to an oft misunderstood topic:  resolution.  Schewe gives us an understandable explanation of image resolution vs. printer resolution and why the really aren’t identical concepts.  Most importantly, he explains how it relates to the final print and how to choose resolution, re-size images for print, etc.

There is coverage at the end for purposing your digital file for a third party printing company.  If there is a weak area in the book, this is it.  I am not sure it matters, given what I percieve to be the intended audience:  those of us serious (geeky :-) ) enough to want to do our own printing and own our own printers.  For those who spend significant time and effort getting images ready for the third-party printer, perhaps an entire short text could address the more aptly.  In my case, for the few times I have engaged a third party printer, I have worked closely with them, obtaining specs they want, giving them proofs, and discussing my vision of the final image.  That has worked well for me.  The book concludes with a discussion of inks, papers and other media, viewing distances and environments, longevity, and workflow.

A little repetition/review will do most of good

The Digital Print completes the technical journey following capture and post-processing, to output.  In my view the books are a great companion series, but are not necessarily equally weighted. If I only had the interest, patience, or budget for one of the two books, I would recommend the first book, “The Digital Negative.” But for those who like closure and the whole picture (pun intended), I can wholeheartedly recommend both books in the series.
Recommended

Do your Images make the “Cliche” List?

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This past week, I saw a link on Facebook to a personal blog site with a reference to “cliché photos.” Naturally, a photo oriented post catches my interest. I clicked on it and the link was to a request to post your idea of what is the “most cliché” photographic subject (it was actually couched in terms of a list of the “worst subject-matter clichés in photography).  I guess, according to the list, my Lombard Street image is a twofer.  Certainly Lombard Street has to make the list of “cliche” photographs.  And oh, those flowers. :-)

The whole idea of creating such a list strikes me as a rather worthless exercise. But to my own surprise, I felt mildly offended. As I thought more about it, I wondered about the idea that was being posited, and it just doesn’t hit home. I will be the first to acknowledge that I have created my share of images that could be characterized as “clichéd,” and perhaps I am just being hyper-sensitive, but I have also made my share of images of the subjects on this so-called “cliché” list.

With perhaps a few exceptions, a photographic subject cannot be cliche’

The word, interestingly (or not, depending on what may or may not interest you :-) ) comes from the French word for a type of printing (or printing press – also interestingly called a “stereotype”). In modern usage, it is defined in the dictionary as a noun, which is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” The word has also become acceptable to use as either a noun or an adjective. Wikipedia defines the word in the following way: “A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.” (emphasis mine).  Waterfalls are on the list, too.  Don’t you just hate this one?

Elliot Falls

Elliot Falls

Pretty clearly pejorative in usage, and perhaps why it struck that proverbial raw nerve. The list includes such ubiquitous photo subjects (and real-world objects and natural ocurrences) as sunsets, flowers, waterfalls, old barns, reflections, lighthouses, and on and on (one poster even says any photograph of an entire country is cliché!). The list is 36 items long and counting. I reject the premise, as such a “list” implies that these subjects should be avoided.

My first objective is to make an image that I like

With perhaps a few exceptions, a photographic subject cannot be cliché. The way the photographer depicts it most certainly can. And, in my view, all of this is very subjective and completely dependent on the perspective of the viewer. When I make an image, my first objective is to make an image of the subject that I like. Somebody else may have already made that identical image. (see are there any unique images?).  I once made an image of an “iconic” scene in Vemont that was all my own vision (of a scene that had been shot thousands of times of course).  Months later a reader pointed out that the WalMart brand tissue box had my image on it and he hoped I was being well paid for it.  When I looked at the box my heart skipped a beat.  That was my image!  But it really wasn’t on closer study, it was a different shot (but the shooter could well have stood in my footprints, or me his on the very same day).  Was my image cliche’, or was it his that was cliche’ (thats rhetorical – no need to answer :-) )?

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We all have a mental “bank” of images and particularly of images that have become so well-known that I have come to identify them as “iconic.” When I travel to a new place and know about an iconic subject, I still want to photograph it. Again, I will first make some images that I personally like. Then, aware that it is iconic, and therefore already been done, I start looking for unique shots and perspectives, using my own – possibly unique – vision. I have stood side by side with fellow shooters and framed up the same subject and been surprised at how different the “takes” we come away with are. There is simply nothing with making an image that has been done before (as long as you don’t pretend it is some unique new thing).  According to the list, “flowers” are a top 3 cliche’.  Of the millions of potential flower shot opportunities, there are apparently no unique perspectives that have any photographic worth.  Guess I need to remove this framed print from my office.

I reject the premise, as such a “list” implies, that these subjects should be avoided

There is much to be said for making unique and creative photographic images. And that is a large part of what photography is all about. I think all of us who shoot seriously try to bring unique and creative vision to our imagery. Sometimes we are successful. But it certainly can be done with virtually any subject. So, I struggle with the concept of “cliché” in art – and even more, with the creation of a list of “cliché” subjects. Of all the responses, my favorite was “asking for a list is cliché.” :-)One would have to guess that images of the Blue Angels would be near the top of the “cliche'” list.

Blue Angels; Fleet Week Airshow; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2011  Andy Richards

Blue Angels; Fleet Week Airshow; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

I don’t do much rah rah. And I try (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully :-) ), to give unsolicited advice. But, I’ll give some gratuitously here. Go out and find a subject that interests, intrigues, or even excites you. Don’t worry whether it is on a list, is trite, overshot, or whatever. Work with the subject and my your image of it. If you truly apply your own vision, it won’t be cliché.

“Playing” with Photographic Imagery

Daffodil Closeup Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Daffodil Closeup
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

As I have said here before, I started seriously shooting in 1977, using mostly color transparency film as a medium. After a hiatus in the 1980’s (some casual shooting only), I rekindled and embraced the new equipment then available, eventually moving on to digital in the early 1990’s. As I got back into the swing of things later in the 1980’s, I developed a fascination with close up flower imagery – not necessarily true “macro,” but close up.

One of the cool things about digital is the freedom to “play”

Maybe it was because it was an easy subject. Close up on the frame, flowers are colorful and there is much less work trying to isolate the subject, place it properly in the frame, and eliminate distracting or detracting elements. And, it was a great way to “study” all of the foregoing. As you examine a close up shot, you begin to see details (many of them unwanted in the image) that your eyes may not have seen. Because of the close proximity, you quickly learn about depth of field. At the same time, you see the beauty and advantage of a lens that renders nice bokeh. In the early years, I used to keep a notebook on conditions and go back to the same place and subject and re-shoot. I still use them as a primary “test” subject when trying out new lenses, and cameras. Flower close ups are a great learning tool, and sometimes make great art.

But after a while, it seemed like it was time to move on to “bigger and better” things. When I cannot get out to somewhere photogenic, but get the “itch” to shoot, I still seek the backyard flowers that are ubiquitous. But I don’t shoot them with the “innocent” joy I once did. I find that these days I discard many more than I used to. Sometimes the images I retain are marginal.

One of the cool things about digital is the freedom to “play.” I mostly don’t, because I mostly prefer more traditional photographic presentation. But the image here, seemed draw me to want to “play.”

Cropped Daffodil Closeup Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Cropped Daffodil Closeup
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

A few years back, I grew lazy (for good reason, I think). I had worked to learn selection, blending, masking, and other Adobe Photoshop skills to work with my imagery. Then along comes a company called NIK Software, and takes all that work and does it for me, with a simple, easy-to-use, interface that works 96.49% (I measured it) of the time. I still need to resort to PS for some things, but less and less. Again, I use my NIK (now Google-owned) package primarily to make traditional photographic adjustments to images. But there is plenty of room inside the software bundle to “play” (it is worth noting that there are a number of other “plug-in” software programs out there today that do similar, or complimentary things. Most of them are made to work with Photoshop, LightRoom, or both).

One of the NIK programs that I use occasionally is ColorEfex. It has functions, like one called “detail extractor” which allows you to make images appear similar to oil paintings. Of course the capability already exists in PS, but again, the NIK program makes it very easy to use and “play” with. I have an image of a Venice canal that looks like a blend between an oil painting and a photograph. It hangs in my office as a 24 x 36 framed and matted print, and it came out pretty nice.

Daffodil Close Up - ColorEfex Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Daffodil Close Up – ColorEfex
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

The first image here, is the uncropped, image, originally capture as a raw image, and post-processed to look as good photographically as I could make it. It has some issues, including composition and critical sharpness. I have learned that yellow flowers (and white is a close second) are very difficult to expose and get sharp looking, particularly in contrasty or bright light conditions.

Canal, Venice Copyright  Andy Richards  2013

Canal, Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

So, I cropped it, which is the second image. I like the composition better here (one thing that I dislike about he image as a whole, is that the flower just seems to “float” in mid air. I wish I had done a better job of portraying the stem to anchor the flower to something). To me, it was still kind of “eh.” Certainly, it was not going to make it to my wall or to my website.

San Francisco Fishing Harbor Copyright  Andyr Richards  2011

San Francisco Fishing Harbor
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Time to play. For the third image, I took the cropped image and used the NIK ColorEfex “detail extractor” tool and began to play. The result looks something like a chalk sketch. I would like to have the petals a bit whiter, but that was more work than I wanted to do for this exercise. I rarely like these “play” results. But this one, I kind of do like. I can only think of two other ones that I have felt were successful – the Venice image, and an image of fishing boats in the SF commercial fishing harbor. Both made successful prints.

Another Caribbean Vacation

Every Cruise has landed us at St. Thomas.  We wanted to get off the beaten Path, so we took a boat to St. John's and spent a few hours here at Caneel Bay Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Every Cruise has landed us at St. Thomas. We wanted to get off the beaten Path, so we took a boat to St. John’s and spent a few hours here at Caneel Bay
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

In February, we took our 4th mid-winter Caribbean Cruise. The funny thing is, when my wife persuaded me to do my first cruise, I was pretty insistent on it being somewhere we could spend a lot of land-based time. Not that I have any aversion to ships and the sea. I have spent most of my life on small sailboats and watercraft on the Great Lakes and Michigan inland lakes. I have been out in all kinds of weather. No, the ship and the sea was not (and has not been) the issue.

Other than Canada, I spent my first 50+ years in the continental U.S.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone here that I like to make photographs. Other than a few shots on and around the cruise ship, there is just not much to photograph when you are cruising at open sea. And after a while, shooting the harbors as we approach and depart, acquires a kind of “sameness.” Cruising has given us a pretty neat way to see new places. And I wanted to make sure we had the chance to photograph some of those places.

This was our third time in San Juan.  I worked to try to find something new and interesting.  Not sure I was successful Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

This was our third time in San Juan. I worked to try to find something new and interesting. Not sure I was successful
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Other than Canada, I spent my first 50+ years without ever leaving the continental U.S. I have had the good fortune to do a fair amount of traveling, including parts of both coasts and some of the middle of our great country. But there is much I still have the urge to see. So – I have had a “bucket list” of travel destinations. I got to pick the first cruise and I chose Alaska. Lots of shore excursions. Busy days. Lots to see and shoot.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone here that I like to make photographs

So, when my wife chose the next cruise, her brother had been telling us how much we would love the Caribbean. I was skeptical. Neither of us are really “sun-worshipers.” So, like our prior experience, we went ashore and explored in every port. Because of some personal family circumstances, the first Caribbean Cruise was not well planned and we didn’t do “organized” excursions. We made up for that the second year. I did end up thoroughly enjoying the Caribbean. It is hard not to like sunny skies, warm temperatures, good food and drink, and that laid back atmosphere. But by the third year, we were back to unplanned.

In all of our cruises, this was the first time I saw a refueling operaton.  It was an hour-long production Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

In all of our cruises, this was the first time I saw a refueling operaton. It was an hour-long production
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

You see, although there are nuanced differences, for the most part, once you get past the cruise shops, each of the islands is pretty much more of the same. We still get off and explore. And we still take the occasional excursion. But we tend to be much more unplanned, sitting on the beach, or a restaurant or bar, or just on the ship.  This has become an annual thing for us.  Its February and its warm.  :-)

All of this creates some photographic challenges for me. The Caribbean cruises are more about family and friends and less about photography these day. I carry less equipment and tend to shoot more casually – mostly hand held and mostly on the move. Finding subjects and “working” them is more difficult. I have grown to really respect good travel shooters. They work hard and often long hours to get shots that they make look “easy.” They are not easy.

Caneel Bay, St. John's; USVI Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Caneel Bay, St. John’s; USVI
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Lately, I have hit a bit of a wall for this blog. You may have noticed that I have been MIA a couple of different weeks over the winter. Hopefully, that will ramp up again, as I find (and photograph) subjects of interest to me. The photos here are kind of “random.” I have a number of others, but they have my friends and travel companions in them and out of respect for their privacy, they won’t appear here. I do have some pretty aggressive travel scheduled later this year. Maybe some fodder from that. Until then, I’ll just keep plodding along as and when the spirit moves me.

Thanks for reading

The Signs are Everywere

The "iconic" Guinness sign Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The “iconic” Guinness sign
Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Signs may seem like an odd subject to photograph. Yet signs are certainly a ubiquitous object. Some years back, I started photographing signs as a kind of cataloging technique. The intent was to use them as place-holder images in my image catalog that would show where I had taken a series of images. In the back of my mind, I may have thought they might be useful in a future photo essay (these thoughts happened long before the word “blog” had any meaning).

Though a standard traffic sign, I thought the context here spoke "Wyoming" Jackson Hole, Wyoming Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Though a standard traffic sign, I thought the context here spoke “Wyoming”
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

The problem was (and is), it didn’t really work well for a number of reasons. Primarily, I just wasn’t very good or consistent about doing it.  :-)   But it is also pretty much the case that not everywhere I photograph has “descriptive” signs. And some places have many signs – so which one should I use?

Lighted for Christmas Frankenmuth, MI Copyright Andy Richards  2009

Lighted for Christmas
Frankenmuth, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Occasionally, a sign would catch my interest, and I would photographic for its own sake. Over time, I began to pay more attention to signs; especially when I was traveling to new places. These days, I actually seek them out as matter of subject.

This historical sign speaks volumes about our history and culture Alcatraz; San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2015

This historical sign speaks volumes about our history and culture
Alcatraz; San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

What is a sign? Like essentially everything else on earth, the apparently simple answer is really more involved. At first blush, one would say the function of a sign is to direct us somewhere, or tell us where they are. At the lowest common denominator, I think that’s a pretty good “definition” of signs. Of course, we can use the word in other contexts.

Sometimes signs can just be funny Knock, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sometimes signs can just be funny
Knock, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The word, “sign” can be used as a noun or a verb. Here I am obviously referring to the physical structure type of sign, with a graphic of some type. Dictionary.com defines “sign,” in the context used here, as “a notice bearing a name, direction, warning or advertisement, that is displayed or posted for public view.”

These days, I actually seek them out

Sign on the Turquoise Trail Madrid, NM Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Sign on the Turquoise Trail
Madrid, NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

So what? For a photographer, it seems to me that a sign can be so much more. Signs can be art. They can be whimsical. They can be humorous and unique. They can depict history and culture. Some signs are (or have become) iconic. And sometimes . . . . they are just a sign. :-)

A "whimsical" sign Chicago, IL Copyright Andy Richards 2005

A “whimsical” sign
Chicago, IL
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Signs can be affixed to a structure, a vehicle, or can stand alone. Sometimes they can be on very unique media.

Signs can be art. They can be whimsical. They can be humorous and unique

A moving, iconic sign Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta; Albuquerque NM Copyright Andy Richards 2008

A moving, iconic sign
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta;
Albuquerque NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Looking at my LR catalog for the topic of “signs,” I was surprised to see that I have cataloged more than 200 images of signs (some of them admittedly duplicates). I am sure I have others that I have “missed” because they are part of another image and my feeble mind has not “seen” the sign in there. SMILE

Jameson Distiillery Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Jameson Distiillery
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I will bet that a number of my readers would count many times the number I have cataloged.

Sometimes its just a sign Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Sometimes its just a sign
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I would be interested to hear about – and see – your signs.

Covered Bridges

Dummerston Covered Bridge; Dummerston, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Dummerston Covered Bridge;
Dummerston, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I don’t know how many bridges there are in the world. Thousands, is probably a pretty safe statement. Most of my own bridge photography has been in the states. I have had some very limited opportunities traveling outside the U.S. – most notably in Venice, Italy. In many of these cases, bridges were only an element of the overall image.

Holtz Bridge Frankenmuth, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Holtz Bridge
Frankenmuth, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Bridges come in all sizes, shapes, designs and uses, from foot traffic, to vehicular traffic (trains and motor vehicles, and historically – animal-drawn vehicles. There are some very modern and spectacular designs, and some more “pedestrian” (no pun intended) designs. They range from 100’s of years old, to spans recently built.

Nearly all of my own covered bridge images were made in New England

One bridge design that always appeals to the outdoor and nature photographer is the Covered Bridge. The design of these bridges, probably brought over from Europe when settlers first came to the Northeastern U.S., was intended to increase the life of the bridges. This was particularly true in times when the primary building materials for structures, including bridges, was wood. It was soon learned that bridges that were not covered had a relatively short life span, with weather being the primary culprit. Covered bridges lasted longer, and had the added advantage in cold weather climates, of shielding the bridge surface from snow accumulations.

Comstock Covered Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Comstock Covered Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Nearly all of my covered bridge images were made in New England. New England – and especially Vermont – is known for its many picturesque covered bridges. Indeed, I believed Vermont probably had the largest number of covered bridges in the U.S. by a wide margin. On a per square mile basis, and probably on a per capita basis, that is absolutely true. Vermont has around 110 true, traditional covered bridges – most of them well maintained, and many of them very photogenic (particularly in the fall season).  For readers who have visited here for a long time and perhaps have been to my LightCentric Photography Website, there is an “Easter Egg” of sorts, here in one of the images :-).

The highest number of covered bridges appears to be in the state of Ohio

My assumption (and remember the old saying about those of us who ASSUME) was that the largest major concentration of covered bridges would be the New England States and most particularly, Vermont and New Hampshire. And they do have a lot of bridges between them. Vermont has around 110. New Hampshire has around 54. Maine and Massachusetts, to my surprise, only have around a dozen combined.

Longley Covered Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards  2005

Longley Covered Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

To my great surprise, I found – with a little research – that the highest number of bridges in any state appears to be in Ohio! Ohio boasts at least 125 covered bridges. And the largest concentration of covered bridges? Right here in my own “backyard.” Ohio has 125. Indiana has 98. Wisconsin has 35-45 (I am being ambiguous here, because the data isn’t as clear and it appears that many of them are not true road-based, working bridges). Illinois has many, but I wasn’t able to find an accurate count. My “front yard,” by the way (Michigan) has but 8. I have photographed only one of them, the Holtz Bridge in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Montgomery Covered Bridge Waterville, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Montgomery Covered Bridge
Waterville, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

West of the Mississippi, with the notable exception of the state of Colorado, covered bridges are not remarkable. Most states have an average of 3 – 6 of them.

Bridge-in-a-Bridge Northfield, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Bridge-in-a-Bridge
Northfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have my work cut out for me

There is a lot of information to be learned about covered bridges on the internet. I am not going to get into what is authentic and what isn’t. Although great for architectural and historical purposes, I am interested in their photogenics only. I did note, for example, that many of the bridges in other states (especially states where you would expect there to be covered bridges) are not “working” bridges, or are ornate foot bridges, parts of resorts, golf courses, etc. But if it has photographic possibilities, I am willing to attempt to shoot it. With literally hundreds of covered bridges just in the U.S., I have my work cut out for me :-) .

Hutchins Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Hutchins Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

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