Photo Finish

Work started back up last Tuesday, and quite honestly it was a welcome change. I actually started getting bored that last week off, so I wasn’t bummed out about having to go back. The first month of school is always a crazy one, so posts may be sparse for awhile, and I’ve not taken a lot of photos lately either – but I do have a few new ones to share. So let’s get to it.

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This macro is from an older set – I believe I shot these back in February, or something.Yep, I’ve been digging into the older stuff again, since new photos are scarce at the moment. Still, it’s nice to go back through older sets and find a few more gems to edit. I take thousands of photos a year, so it’s good to let some older ones get some love.

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The wig is Miranda by Amore, if you’re interested

I bought the mustache back in May, and just never got around to using it before now. I had ideas for using it that didn’t work out; so I basically just threw on different wigs and necklaces and made goony faces. It was a quick shoot – well, aside from the almost two hours it took me to apply makeup, that is. Speaking of which, I was pretty disappointed with my makeup in this shoot. For two hours of work, I sure didn’t turn out to look a lot different than I do in most of my photos. The goal is always to transform myself, but lately my makeup skills have plateaued, and no matter what I start out trying to achieve, the end result is coming out pretty much the same every time. Not that I’m displeased with how I look in general, but when I first started using drag makeup it was always thrilling to see how I turned out in the final shots. Now, not so much, because I pretty much know what I’m going to look like before I even start. If I were more skilled I could really use makeup to create completely different looks each time, but as I said, I think I’ve reached the limit of my skills in this area.

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Hair = Angelica by Noriko

I don’t really care for this one all that much; the focus wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked and I over-softened my skin so it looks a bit phony. Plus the mustache didn’t look nearly as good as I’d hoped it would; for starters I spent so long on makeup that ended up disappointing me that I just was NOT in the mood to mess with spirit gum and take the time to apply the mustache properly, so it’s just stuck on my face with double-stick tape, which means it fell off a lot and in all my re-applying it went crooked in a lot of the shots. Aside from that, it just looks more fake than I wanted it to – too dark and those weird blunt ends look really lame. This one is a little better:

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Another Angelica wig

But…it’s kinda too serious for the mustache to work. I was hoping to seriously emulate some of the lovely bearded drag queens I’ve seen, but meh. It just didn’t really work. I think if I edit any more of these, I’ll stick to the sillier ones, like the first one I shared. So far, that one’s my favorite. Oh, and I was playing around with my new pop-up backdrop I got in a few weeks ago; so now I can have a black or white background in a snap instead of having to hang something on my wall. I already had a gray one and I quite love it, so the black and white one was a good addition to my arsenal. Thinking of getting some of the mottled pop-ups, too, since they’re not terribly expensive, do not wrinkle, and are so easy to use. Not big enough to use in full-body shots, but great for portrait work!

I did go a little processing-happy with this one, but it seemed to work:

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I was thinking a bit of Terry Gilliam-esque cartoonery with this shot; not sure I achieved that but it does look more like animation than a real-life shot anyway. And yeah, there’s the crooked mustache again.

I’ve been way into portraits for quite a few months now and have not done much full-body work or movement shots, but my photography pendulum is swinging back in that direction. Spending so much time on prep work for these portraits has become tiresome, and I’m running out of stuff to do when posing again. No worries, though, it’s just may be time for me to find some other way to get inspired. I’m sure something will come to me soon enough. In fact, today I decided to head out to IAH for more planespotting, since that is always a fun photography diversion for me, but in the end it was too damn hot (we did, in fact, have a heat advisory today) so I blew it off.

The kids come back this coming Thursday, then it’s off to the races for the rest of August. I’ll get back to uploading wig reviews soon enough, though, so until then, take care everyone!

Just Shoot Me

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I have a few more new shots to share, and for some reason I’ve got a lot that have two or more different edits and I can’t decide which I like best. So I’ll use you all for that, if I can. The one above, though, just got one edit and I was done, so no choosing to do there. That top is a Free People long duster that I put on backwards,and the wig has always been a favorite. It’s by Forever Young, a company that makes pretty nice costume-type wigs that you can still get away with wearing as your real hair as long as you have the right attitude, and they don’t cost very much (they average around $40). While wearing this getup, I was shooting without the softbox, so the light was a bit softer on my face, and it was a pretty straightforward and easy photo to edit; I didn’t have to do much more than sharpen and brighten things to get it how I wanted.

Some of these photos, though – I still can’t decide which edit I like best – like these (click to view larger):

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The one in the middle is the basic edit; I’m pleased with the lighting I managed to pull off here (I moved a light stand with a fluorescent bulb attached up over my head and had the external flash on my camera set pretty low) but, because of the low light it came out pretty grainy, and in processing it to remove the grain I lost a lot of clarity. Because of that, I thought I’d add some texture or an overlay to detract and/or conceal the softness (which isn’t bad, and a lot of people like soft shots like that, it’s just not my thing). I actually like all three in their own ways, but can’t decide which is the “best,” or the final one. The one on the left just has some texture added, while I used a Pixlr overlay for the one on the right. Let me know which one you like better so it can help me decide!

I also need help deciding which of these two I like better – the difference is so subtle you might not even notice it, but I can tell:

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The only difference is the subtle texture on the right-hand edit. I thought the original (left) might need just a little something extra, but I don’t know – maybe it doesn’t. Does it matter? Does it add anything? Let me know what you think. Also, let me just add that there was about twice as much flyaway hair in my face than you see in the these shots; it was an absolute bitch to edit out and took a long time; eventually I ended up using some filters that added a ton of light to the face to also help reduce the visibility of not only the hair but some of the editing I did to get rid of it, which started getting sloppy. That’s why there’s such a green tone to it; it was a filter that really worked to reduce the appearance of the flyaway hairs for some reason so I went with it.

Here’s the one shot I got of the Thugmaste tee I talked about in my last post; it was actually difficult for me to get the entire slogan into a shot, because the words at either end of the tag line were disappearing in most of the shots. I ended up taking one of the few shots of my torso where the whole slogan showed and layering a better head over it. So there’s really TWO wigs showing in this shot because when I layered the different head into the shot I kept what hair was sticking out from the bottom one. I liked this one with the black and white treatment, too, but so far everyone I’ve shown has liked the color better. Thoughts?

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Also, although I really liked this shot when I took it, in looking over this section of my set I realize I didn’t have the right attitude for this shirt. I should have done something with more attitude and probably a bit of humor, since as has already been pointed out to me my ability to project “thug” is pretty limited. Just standing there staring at the ceiling really isn’t what this shirt called for, which is probably why when I sent a copy to the woman who made the shirt she just said ‘thanks’ and didn’t do anything with it, LOL. Oh well. You win some you lose some.

As a closer, I’ll share the other shot I had processed that didn’t have any different edits to it; it’s another one where I experimented with a harsh light above my head and off to the side, and I like the way it worked out even though I did have the same noise issue to contend with:

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I used a RadLab texture to rough up the softness a little, but other than that just some color punches and things like that to get this where I liked it. I considered using some of Pixlr’s space-y overlays on this one, but they all detracted too much from the lighting, which I really liked and wanted to keep prominent in the shot.

That’s all I have from the new shoot for this time, but I know there’s more to come – at least of the curly wig and the space dress. The t-shirt section of the shoot I’m pretty much done with, and there was a bit at the beginning of the shoot where I tried to get close-ups of my makeup, but they ended up a little boring so I may not share any of those. However, I still have a few from the edits I’ve done of old shots to share, so I’ll throw them into a little collage for you here:

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Picture Perfect

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I haven’t had much to say this week. but perhaps that’s because things are clicking along smoothly. My father-in-law has managed to stay out of the hospital for almost two months now, which is great, and work is humming along without much trouble also. I need to do exercises for my knee, but it appears there’s no serious injury there, which is good (and of course I’ve yet to start the exercises; I have read the instructions though, so that’s a start). I don’t have much to say here but I do want to share some photos I’ve worked on this week, so let’s get started and I’ll try to say a few things that are interesting.

First of all, the photo up top comes courtesy of Pixlr; they sent out a new batch of overlays to members with a lot of geometric/graphic things going on, so I took one of my makeup test shots from my last shoot and worked it over using their program. Not my usual style, but I do like the results, and I am continuing to get a feel for their layer masking so I can utilize it better.

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I’ve been quite pleased with how many good shots I got during last weekend’s shoot; I’m not sure what I did that generated so many interesting images, but there are a lot I’d like to edit eventually. Perhaps it’s just that I hadn’t done a full shoot in quite a while so it didn’t feel too repetitive, or something with the makeup or lighting that made things work.Whatever it was, I’m loving the results so far, and rather than allow myself to get bored after processing three or four I really want to commit to creating a full set of photos from this shoot. I always feel people will get bored after seeing two or three shots from the same set, but when I think about it, I know loads of people on Flickr who work on photos with the same theme for weeks at a time, and I never get bored of looking at them. In fact, I like the unity it creates, so I want to try that out for myself instead of moving on too quickly. We’ll see if I actually accomplish this or abandon it as soon as something new comes along. I still don’t have a ton of time for shoots right now, so something new might not come along in time to throw me off anyway. Moving on.

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This is one of my many “happy accident” shots. Something you may not know about me is that I am completely challenged kinesthetically; an instruction as simple as “raise your right hand” actually takes me several seconds to process (you should have seen me getting my knee x-rayed earlier this week, the poor lab tech finally just started grabbing me and placing every body part exactly where she wanted it to go, as if I were a mannequin). This is why you almost never see me in self-portraits where the camera is in any position other than dead-on; even turning the camera into vertical mode screws me up and half my shots end up cut off somehow. Well, in this shot, I’d actually raised the camera up higher than right at face-level, then aimed it down a little, just for something slightly different. And as usual when I try something like this, well, I could not get myself placed properly into the shot. It’s actually a little frustrating how difficult it is for me to figure out where to place myself (hard enough for me to do when the camera is in the usual position, believe it or not) but at this point I am used to my complete inability to navigate my body through space effectively, so I just settle for a lot of off-centered pictures and make the most of it. Even though the intention here was to get my entire face in the shot, I actually like how this turned out, so we’ll all just pretend like I intended it to be framed this way and move on.

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This was another makeup test shot; I always find a few I like to process, and I thought I looked very unlike myself in this one, which is why I decided to work with it. It was kinda boring though, so I added a wet plate filter using my Nik software and lots of light and texture to give it some interest. Looking at these shots reinforces for me, once again, how transformative false eyelashes are to a person’s face; I wish like hell they didn’t make me insane and I could wear them every day. But every time I decide to use them in photos, it’s a major ordeal. I decide to use them, open up a pair, steel myself for the application process, attempt to put one side on, screw it up, get the lashes stuck to my fingers, peel them off, re-apply glue, screw up the application again, then yank them off and throw them back into the box and stomp off angrily, refusing to ever even attempt false eyelashes again. Then 30 seconds later, come back and try the other eye, barely get it applied, spend a good minute mashing it into place and settling for however weird it looks and/or feels as long as it actually doesn’t fall off. Then do the same with the other eye. Then, realize how awesome they look and feel sad that there’s no way i could go through this hell on a daily basis (I’m lucky to make it in to work with my foundation and lipstick on; I apply a quick coat or two of mascara and some eyeliner once I get there). I do not know HOW Carol Brady wore these things every day while dealing with six kids. And I sure don’t have Alice around to help me.

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While we’re talking about the prep process for my shoots, I’ll share this part as well: without fail, every time I finally finishing applying all my makeup (false lashes or not), two things will happen almost immediately and simultaneously: my dogs will need to go outside to pee, and I will realize I am hungry. Eating is not something you want to do right after spending an hour putting on stage makeup, so I usually end up ignoring it (I don’t even like to drink anything while shooting no matter how thirsty I get, because lipstick). The dogs I can take care of, but depending on the weather standing outside in my newly-painted face isn’t all that great either. And last time, right after applying all this makeup, I took the dogs out as I always have to do and immediately stepped in a pile of Penny’s poop (she is weird, and sometimes chooses to poop in odd places we don’t expect, like the deck). So there I was all gussied up washing poo off of a shoe in the backyard…good times.

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Another thing that always, always seems to happen is whatever wig I’ve decided to wear for the shoot cannot be found, and I have to literally dump out every bucket full o’wigs I have in the house to find it – where it will always be at the very bottom of the last bin I dump on the floor. Every time this happens, I kick myself for not planning ahead and finding the wig sooner, when I am not already face-prepped for shooting, but every time I forget. It can actually turn into quite a crisis if I really start to feel like I won’t be able to find the wig and have already planned an entire shoot around it (this does happen; so many costume wigs come through my door that I often think I have wigs which I long ago sold or gave away). Bottom line is, after all my prep work and the stress that comes with it just by nature of me being, well, me, by the time I am actually fully costumed and ready to go I’ve already decided at least twice to blow the whole thing off because it’s too much trouble, and am almost ready to do so again. Plus, I’m hungry and can’t eat. In fact, I start almost every shoot from a place of frustration for all the things that have already gone wrong, and trepidation that I won’t actually get anything decent out of the set, in part because of all the things that have gone wrong. So, every shoot begins with a bad attitude and a general sense of being pissed off at the world. See, doesn’t it all sound like fun? This is why I choose to work alone.

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This picture was taken in November, but the sky is from January. There were no clouds on Airshow day, which is death to a plane photo, so I stole the sky from one of my IAH plane shots and Photoshopped it into this one. Voila! 

One other thing I’d like to mention regarding photography is this: I’ve definitely noticed a difference in how certain photos are received on different social media platforms. For example, on Flickr it’s my self portraits that get the biggest response, but when I upload that stuff to Twitter, no one much cares. However, if I post a plane photo I get a ton of love. I’ve gotten more re-tweets and new followers off one plane photo than I’ve ever gotten off any selfie over there; it does seem that loads of aviation geeks are hanging out on Twitter so perhaps it’s just a larger pool of people to access there than on Flickr. For whatever reason, it’s clear the Twitterverse prefers me to share plane photos, so I’ve been doing that and getting connected with a whole new group of people, and that’s kinda cool. I’m hoping maybe some of them can eventually give me tips on how to get shots from places other than the observation areas – something I’m not brave enough to try yet but will have to do soon; the  few observation areas I go to always create the same shots since I’m always standing in the same place (albeit with different planes). Anyway, it’s nice to know that all of my shots can get love from somewhere, even if it’s not always at the same place.

Loose Change

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I’m posting this photo again because, of all the plane shots I’ve processed and shared so far from my shoot last month, this one has gotten the most positive response anywhere I’ve shared it – Twitter mostly, where a simple hashtag (#unitedairlines, #airbusintheUS) can connect a photo to the proper audience almost immediately. United Airlines, IAH, Hobby Airport, Airbus, and Airbus US have all re-tweeted it and sent me compliments, as well as several aviation and photography lovers who have since become followers. I find that interesting because I really felt I’d over-processed this one; most of the planespotters I follow stick to accurate representations of the planes and don’t appear interested in adding effects or filters. But I really haven’t done much more than skim the surface of the entire culture, so perhaps I’m wrong about that. At any rate, I’ve been pleased with the response to this one and it encourages me to experiment more, especially since it’s the part of the photography process I enjoy most.

Most of the new experimentation comes courtesy of the Topaz photo processing software I purchased over Christmas break thanks to a review by my blogger friend Beth Byrnes; as I get to know the software better I branch out more and try new things, and it’s amazing how a simple purchase of the right product can so enhance and even alter a creative process. It’s true that even without cool tools one can create art, be it painting or photography or poetry, but man are all the cool tools helpful.

And so, as I edit the 300 or so costume portraits I took Saturday, I’ve begun to experiment with them as well. I have a pretty set style at this point when it comes to portraiture – I like clarity and realism but I also want to look as good as possible, and there are lots of tricks I’ve learned to make that happen. Controversial or no, I do use Photoshop to edit out my under-eye wrinkles and even up/smooth my skin tone; I’ve learned to use stage makeup to great effect and eliminate the need for some of that sort of processing, but at 45 years of age it’s still necessary for me to get the effect I want – I’m not pretending that this is how I really look anyway since I’m always in costume, so whatever. Moving on.

After wrinkle removing and skin smoothing, I pull up RadLab to brighten, add contrast, pop color, and add light to the subject, as well as occasionally mess with filters to change tone. I don’t like too much contrast in a portrait, but I do like clarity, and I always, always put as much light on the face as possible without blasting out the skin and losing color or facial features. All that light is great to conceal any makeup errors I might make; even though it doesn’t show in the final shots, my makeup skills are still mediocre. I can follow a YouTube tutorial and put all the colors in the right space, but my blending skills are sub-par, especially when it comes to contouring the nose and adding lip liner. I am also a disaster at applying false lashes, so whenever I do apply them they are usually done poorly and practically falling off the entire shoot. All of these things can be concealed with enough light on the face; I already aim a lot at me during the shoot because I’ve learned it’s best to get as much right in the original shot as possible, but I always end up adding more, more, more.

Some examples from my latest shoot:

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Brightening the whites of the eyes is always helpful, as well, and can be done using the dodge tool set to about 15% midtones. Really makes the eyes pop, or, if you’re into that sort of thing, it can make you look completely insane by making them too bright. Your call. My point in all of this (and I do have one) is that after processing these first two shots, I started playing around with the Topaz software more and experimenting with different approaches to editing them. This was not done intentionally, but came about as I clicked around in different filter programs just to see how each one changed the look of the photos. The first one to get a slightly different approach was this one:

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First of all, that fabric is a vintage dress I was wearing; I got the idea to yank the skirt up over my head and use it as a prop (it’s ideas like this that confirm my need to shoot only indoors and alone). And I was only using the Speedlite on my camera and no extra lighting for these shots; I’ve gotten to the point where I know how to manipulate that flash effectively enough so that the umbrella lights I used to always use are not needed as often. But, in some shots I got a bit too close to the flash and had just a bit too much light on my face; this photo was one of those. So, as I was processing I came across a filter that actually darkened my skin quite a bit and decided to go with it. I still think I came out a little orange, but it looks much better than it did when there was this bright white face staring out amidst all that vibrant fabric. It may not seem like such a big deal to anyone else, but believe me I agonized over that darkened skin tone; I knew it was the better choice but MAN it bugged the hell outta me. Moving on.

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I think the experiment here is obvious: to someone who is obsessive about clarity, working with an unfocused shot is a nightmare. But I loved the movement of the sleeves and the composition was pretty great with my face dead-on into the camera, so I decided to make a go of it and see what I could do. There are some fantastic Flickr photographers who work beautifully with blur (kokorage, who I learned of from the Pixlr blog, is probably one of the best) so I knew it could be done; I just wasn’t sure I could do it. With no real roadmap to follow, this literally took over four hours, and more filters and overlays than you could possibly imagine (I ended up using Pixlr for a lot of it, a program that hasn’t gotten a lot of love from me lately; mostly because of my fascination with Topaz, but also because my desktop  version crashes on occasion AND I still find the masking feature awkward to use). In the end I do like the result, but it was so hard to know when this one was finished, as opposed to my usual portraits where the stopping point is clear.

Now for this one, I really went to town:

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I went for something highly stylized, much like my plane photo at the top of this post. I envisioned a low-key look although I didn’t actually use any low-key filters to get that effect; I just wanted something cartoon-like to match the silliness of the expression. As I worked with it I kept thinking of print ads from the 1950’s – that overly-painted/colorized/watercolor effect they seemed to have. But it was HARD, y’all. First of all, none of my little tricks were available to me to help conceal my makeup flaws, so I had to use Photoshop to correct blending errors, something I’ve never had to do before and hope not to have to do again because it took forever. The blush on my left cheek? Totally edited; that side of my face showed very little color in comparison to the ride side which was nice and rosy, so I used a brush to add it – something that is much harder to do effectively than it sounds! And the wig had random flyaway hairs everywhere that I had to edit out; doing that was not too hard, but it left discolorations all over my skin that were enhanced once I began to add color rather than lightening it like I normally do – that took me ages to figure out how to do properly too. And then there was my nose. Remember how I said I am not the best at contouring noses? Well my contouring for this shoot was particularly bad; I had to lighten it in all my shots but it wasn’t a big deal; when making my skin darker and more colorful for this one, oh man was it hard to correct. But I eventually figured it all out, and I am pleased with the result, even though once again it was hard to know when it was finished and all the editing was done.

Since I love those comparison shots, let me show you the before of this one, so you can see how much work I had to do to get rid of all that wig hair and fix that terrible nose job (click to see it larger):

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I think you can tell in the before shot how much more blush was showing up on the right side than on the left, and in case I haven’t made the point clear enough let me repeat that getting rid of all that stray wig hair was really tricky. The editing left dark smudges on my forehead and neck, and it took some time to get the skin tone even as a result. And getting the shot to those exact colors took so many different filters I couldn’t recall them all if I tried, but I am obsessive about such details and will spend 20 minutes to choose an effect I end up reducing to 5% opacity, so that didn’t help. This is another one I spent about 4 hours getting right, so needless to say I only edited two that day.

I’ll close with the last one I’ve edited so far. I threw on a short wig and took some quick shots against a different backdrop towards the end of the shoot. I’ve taken to using up two walls in my office for backdrops instead of just one – the big blank wall holds a large, full-body backdrop, while against an adjacent wall I’ve stuck a shower curtain I bought years ago for just this purpose but that can only be used for portraits as it’s not very big. So for variety I wanted some shots against the other backdrop, but as often happens towards the end of a shoot my energy and creativity were low and I was anxious to upload the photos to my computer and start editing, so these shots weren’t all that thrilling. Still, there’s a few from this bit that I like, and this was one of them – nice close-up of the makeup I worked so hard on if nothing else (and yes, I did go through the torture of applying false lashes this time, even though they almost always make me cry and I end up with my real lashes all glued together):

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Continuing with the theme of editing photos differently, I obviously used a much softer effect here than I would normally do. The photo on its own and straight-up edited just wasn’t very interesting to me, so I played around with light leaks to give it some added appeal, even though it washed out the previously vibrant color quite a bit and the haze reduced the clarity. I still think it’s a decent shot, and the softness seemed to work OK, so I left it alone after adding the light leaks and called it a day (and in looking at this shot in particular, holy cow can I see the weight loss in my face. Losing ten pounds is no joke; even my head looks different and of course I’ve had to buy a bunch of new clothes. But I digress). Oh, and I love that wig – I believe it cost me a whopping $20 and it is awesome. Short wigs really are a great way to get short hair for a day, and overall they are much easier to deal with than long ones. But I digress again.

I’m finishing up Day 3 of my 5-day minibreak, with absolutely nothing to do on Monday, so I may take some Stitch Fix pics for my blog and some purse pics to share with friends on the Purse Forum where I am now a member (there’s no interest or hobby in which I indulge that I cannot find a message board somewhere to join. Trust me on this one). So who knows, a shopping post might be to follow, as well as loads more airplanes I have yet to edit! Suddenly I’ve gone from no photos to way too many.

Speaking of which, one of the things I’ve realized during this little break is that it’s not so much that I’ve grown tired of my portraits as it is that I’ve just not had time to do them properly. Every time I’ve had more than one day free on weekends since the start of the school year, though, I’ve gotten right back into the swing of things, so I think it’s mostly a time issue, and we can all rest easy that the selfies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – they just get put on hold until I have some breathing room. One of the nice perks about being a teacher though (especially at a private school) is that time off is always worked into the schedule somewhere (except for the start of the school year, where there’s a pretty long stretch from August to November without any decent break). When I only get one day off on a regular weekend though (if I even get that), I don’t feel free enough to do a full shoot it seems. So this may be the last one I do until Spring Break next month, but with over 300 shots in the can that shouldn’t translate into a lack of portraits.

Enjoy your President’s Day!

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It’s been a weird week; things started out slow but sped up as the days went by. By the end of the week I felt rushed and slightly behind on things. There’s strange drama going on at work that I barely understand and can’t really discuss; but a lot is unknown and many people are on edge. Not me so much, but people I know are, so I get it secondhand. Anyway.

I’ve also been up to my eyeballs with two different, but related, sets of reading material: the first one is the true-crime book “Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous 1-45/Texas Killing Fields,” by Kathryn Casey. Why would I be reading such a thing, you might ask? Because these murders all took place in the area of Houston where I grew up and lived until my late twenties. I vivdly remember some of these murders, especially the girl who went to my high school (although she was killed in the 70’s, well before I was a student there) and the murder of Shelley Sikes, whose parents kept her case in the news by embarking on a massive advertising campaign that finally brought their daughter’s killers to justice. I remember driving down to Galveston with my friends and seeing the huge billboard with her picture, and while reading the book I remember hanging out at all the same locations where the murders took place or bodies were found. These all happened on my old stomping grounds, so it’s surreal to read about them in this context all these years later.

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The picture of Shelley Sikes you saw on billboards as you drove to and from Galveston in the late 80’s

My other reading material comes courtesy of the South Belt Digital History Archive, where the owner of the blog has recently uploaded and compiled a massive amount of information about the Brio Refinery disaster that eventually resulted in the destruction of an entire neighborhood where many of my friends lived. My neighborhood was nearby, and I spent my entire childhood hanging out with friends in the area that was eventually razed due to ground contamination. This came, of course, after decades of false reports and denial by the company as well as the EPA that anything was amiss on their property – this in spite of the huge pockets of tar that would spring up on the baseball fields where my friends played as kids, and in spite of the alarmingly high rates of birth defects and cancers occurring among residents of the community.

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Yes, they built houses right next to THAT. But the government swore it was safe as, well, houses.

Reading these two collections of childhood tragedies affecting the people and places where I grew up has been fascinating, but also quite sad and disturbing. I can’t really describe how overwhelmed I get seeing the photos of what happened to the South Bend neighborhood that I remember so vivdly as a normal, supposedly safe suburban community, and well, topping that off with stories about murders that took place right up the street from places where I partied and worked as a teenager culminates in a particular sort of funk that is difficult to overcome. I keep feeling struck by how disposable we all were back then, even though we certainly didn’t know it, and how my childhood is too; it’s beyond bizarre when it really sinks in that an entire neighborhood where I spent my time back then literally no longer exists. It’s been obliterated entirely, and all that remains of it is a few creaky concrete streets and a lot of NO TRESPASSING signs tacked to chain-link fences. It represents to me, I guess, that we really were much smaller and more unimportant than we thought we were, and we were really never safe, even for an instant. And of course, we’re no safer now, none of us are – but I’m an adult now, so I expect it. It just sucks to have no place to hide my childhood memories from that ugly reality, but there it is. Moving on.

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Early protesters of the Brio refinery. Our little local newspaper, the South Belt Leader, eventually won accolades and awards for its dogged reporting of the controversy surrounding the plant, even when threatened with lawsuits (or worse) from the refinery

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What the main entrance to the once-bustling neighborhood looks like today

Needless to say by Friday night I was pretty frazzled, between weird work stresses, busy nights, and depressing stories about old neighborhoods destroyed by greedy chemical companies, but I was not quite ready to go to bed, and at some point in the evening I hit upon the idea to take some older self-portraits and use them to illustrate my inner state. Since I was feeling frazzled and sad, could I take a portrait and communicate that by messing around with the processing? Well, I’ll let the results speak for themselves:

big ugly

After editing this one, I realized it looked amazingly like how a migraine feels, which is why I titled it “Migraine City” when I uploaded it to Flickr. (Sidenote: since July, I have had three episodes of migraine aura without headache – something I used to have quite often in my late 20’s and early 30’s but went almost ten years without experiencing at all. Because there’s a slightly higher risk of stroke in women who have migraine aura, I’ll have to get in touch with my ob-gyn and change my birth control subscription to a progestogen-only pill. I’ve had to do it in the past and it’s not too much of a problem, but I still prefer the one I’m on now and am a little bummed. Oh well).

I edited the hell out of this one using Nik Lab’s photo plate filter and Topaz’s motion filter, among other things I can’t remember:

the truth

After working with that one, I decided what the hell – usually I spend my time trying to make myself look as presentable as possible in my photos; what if I tried to make myself look as terrible as I could instead? This was depressingly easy to do (prepare yourself, this one’s kinda creepy):

the joke
This reminds me of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson

I kept going with the ugly-myself-up strategy until I hit on something kind of cool: I maxed out the detail on this shot to emphasize every wrinkle and freckle and sun damage spot (why, I don’t know) and at some point in all the editing I was doing, I pulled up the Topaz star filter tool and came up with something rather cool:

don't be fooled

There was some robotic and spacey about this one that I liked, so I started incorporating the star filter into everything I did from this point forward. I never got as much of an effect from it with any other photo than this one, but I did still get some interesting results:

just what you wanted
I also used the warp tool here as I did in the creepy red one

I did all of the previous ones Friday night, then got up Saturday to work on another. Unlike the shots I played around with Friday, I was actually meticulous and careful with this one – I really threw them together without much attention to detail the night before as I was just goofing around. This one took several hours, and utilized Photoshop, Topaz and Nik software filters as well as RadLab, and a bunch of Pixlr filters for the background effects. I really liked it, but it took a hell of a long time to do:

ugly truth a

I don’t even know how many Pixlr overlays are in that background; I bet there’s over 10 going on back there. Before I wrapped things up to edit a few more plane photos (to be shared in a separate post), I decided to play around with one more doll:

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Creepy enough for ya?

So there you go – some very different self-portraits from the last ones I shared. In the end, what started out as an attempt to represent my inner distress in an outward manner turned into just more having fun with photos, so I guess that’s a good thing. And as the weekend progressed, the pictures got a bit prettier, so perhaps the process helped to lighten my mood. But – I just learned of a recently-published book titled “Friendswood,” loosely based on the Brio refinery catastrophe, so perhaps more mild depression is on my horizon…actually, it’s rather nice to see the whole thing finally generating some interest, as I remember at the time that outside our little neighborhood no one much seemed to care. So I’ll consider it a good thing and move on.

As I said, I have loads more plane photos to share, but as my week got busy I ran out of time to process them, so they’ll have to get edited later. Today of course is Super Bowl Sunday, which means nothing to me except going to the grocery store late and enjoying being the only one there, but if you’re into all that crap, enjoy it I guess.

Fab Pants

Because I take and process so many photos, I am often pressed for what to title them so that I can keep track of them on my hard drive. I have to do something with them other than just use the numbered data they are given when uploaded to my computer, so I tend to give them whatever title pops into my head first when it’s time to save an edited file. The title that popped into my head when working with the shots I took Saturday was “Fab Pants.”

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Then every shot from that set that I process I just number; so far I’ve got a “Fab Pants 1” and a “Fab Pants 2.” This is all I’ve had time to edit since I last updated, but I wanted to share it so I had to reach a bit to come up with a blog post, hence the rather lame rambling I’m doing right now. By the way, for anyone who’s curious – I actually had my leg up on a chair when taking this shot. Then I used the composite technique to remove the chair when processing. I’m getting better at this whole thing, I think. Even added some decent shadows this time using the burn tool in Photoshop CS5.

I also thought I’d share that I suffered my first optical tragedy during Saturday’s shoot: I always wear a spare pair of glasses when I’m shooting self-portraits because there’s so much putting on and whipping off of the spectacles that I worry about stretching out my real pair. I have several spares to choose from but I use the weirdest ones since I care about them the least. I will usually keep the glasses on until right before I hit the remote, then I toss them onto the floor somewhere for the photo, and sadly, on Saturday after posing for the shot above my left foot came down right smack on top of them and broke them. I knew it would happen someday, and as I said it’s fortunate that they were a pair I didn’t like very much – although they looked great in photos, they were too harsh on my face to wear them out of the house, and my husband always said they made me look angry. I don’t think he’ll be sorry to hear they had to go.

brokeglass_Snapseed

By the way, it appears that Fly Fest 2014 has finally wound down, a torturous six days from when it started, with just a few stragglers hanging about that have yet to leave the party. Here’s hoping that’s the last aspect of the cycle of life currently breaking down inside our bedroom wall that we have to deal with.

 

No-Snow Day Part 1

More sleet and snow was expected today, so school was canceled, then none came. Our city is going to have to figure out a better way to deal with this weather if it keeps happening like this, or we are all going to become terribly unproductive.

Well, not me – at least not as far as photography is concerned. Last night I came across a book about portrait photography by Natalie Dybisz, who got her start uploading photos to good old Flickr. I bought her first book, and  found it interesting even though her self-portraits and mine don’t have much in common. Hers are much more representative of real self-portraiture with her emphasis on sets, props, and location; as I’ve mentioned here many times, I’m more aligned with fashion photography than the self-portrait kind.

Dybisz actually works with models too, but her work always incorporates interesting environments and unique lighting, as well as some killer Photoshop skills I can still only dream of possessing. Her new book also highlights several other self-portrait photographers, all of whom have radically different styles and processes; I love reading about how other artists work and get inspired, as it generally makes me feel less like a freak for working the way I do. There are as many types of photographic processes as there are photographers, and every once in awhile I need to be reminded of that.

I knew since today was an off day that I wanted to do some more artistic shooting, so reading this book last night generated some good ideas for me to work with. I was determined to start early and not spend the entire day working on photos, but of course I failed at that. I finished up the shoot fairly early as I didn’t take nearly as many shots as I usually do (mostly because the shots I was going for were so specific that there wasn’t a lot more posing to do once I got what I was wanting) but then of course I spent the entire rest of the day editing obsessively. Whatever. I am happy with the results, so I’ll consider it worth it.

I took two very different types of photos today, so I want to share them in two separate posts. Problem is, I like both sets so much I can’t really decide which ones to share here first. I guess I’ll go with the straight-up self-portrait shots, then share the arty ones tomorrow, So here goes:

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Taken with my 85mm

OK, so that shot isn’t all that different from what I’ve done before,  but I did take a few snaps of the makeup before hitting the set, just because I always do. To speed things along, I kept the makeup very simple; I modeled this after a picture of January Jones at the Met Ball last year (scroll down), when the theme was punk (I think). It’s just a lot of heavy eyeliner and really not much else, so I went with that because I knew I could do it quickly and get on with the shooting. And no, I didn’t pull off her eyeliner look well at all, but I got the basic idea. The wig is a fabulous asymmetrical one called Tulip – it only cost $13.95 and it is amazing, It also went well with the punk makeup I had going.

fashion1_Snapseed
Self Portrait with Hammer Pants

So there it is – my first ‘real’ self-portrait. I wasn’t brave enough to go venturing outside or anything (plus it was cold), but I tried to squeeze into my limited space some things that represent me, at least in a humorous way. There’s no deep meaning or anything here, in fact, I centered the entire set around that fab t-shirt I got from ModCloth, then made sure to get my mirror in there as a tongue-in-cheek reference to my own vanity, and dragged a bunch of my fashion props out of the old hat box I use to store them. The clothes thrown on the chair represent, well, the fact that I am a slob who always has clothes thrown over a chair somewhere, and those Uggs are actually my house shoes. The trickiest part was getting my reflection right in the mirror so it showed up in the shot; took about eight tries to get this right, and this was the last shot of the eight.

fashion2_Snapseed

What I really like about this one is that you can see my laptop in the mirror, where I have another photo of me pulled up in Photoshop (it’s actually the portrait I shared at the beginning of this post; I was working on editing it while taking these shots). My glasses are tossed on the floor here, since I always have them thrown on the floor somewhere during a shoot. The bunny ears are fuzzy and I like them, so there you go. Also decided to hang one of my fuzzy sweaters over the chair, because I love fuzzy things. And yes, white balance was a bitch once again, and each of these shots is a slightly different tone. To hell with it, that’s something I can’t ever get consistently right.

fashion3_Snapseed

Of course I had to jump in one of the shots. I also had to crop the hell out of these; I barely had enough room in my little studio to get everything into the frame, without having to go beyond the boundaries of the white backdrop. I considered at one time just letting the edges of the backdrop show, as well as the edge of my clothes closet and the bookshelf full of old workout equipment, but in the end, that was too much reality for me even when trying to be so representative, so I cropped it all out.

fashion4_Snapseed
Finally got the white balance right with this one

All in all, I’m pleased with how these shots turned out. Nothing like what I usually do, and I expected to be completely disappointed with them, but they did what I wanted them to do, and they weren’t hard to set up or edit. So, something different, but kinda fun – tomorrow, on to the arty-ness!

Oh, and I also spent some more time on Polyvore this morning, but the looks I created were more for myself than for sharing – they weren’t all that exciting, but they did serve to compile some of the stuff in my closet into outfits I can remind myself to wear later (mostly for my two fuzzy sweaters, actually – they are fabulous to look at, but they have kind of a frumpy shape, and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to wear them). I did not make a Polyvore set for the gold hammer pants, however. Let me figure out how to wear the fuzzy sweaters before I take those suckers on.

More takes and thanks

I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who comments here, and whose blogs inspire me when I read them. I’ve come to look forward to running things by you all and getting your feedback, particularly about my career, and I really value what you have to say. Thank you!

That said, how about a few more photos from Sunday’s shoot? Oh and guess what – we get Monday off again, because the school made the State championships in football and it was determined (by whom, I do not know) that the weather was going to be too bad here Saturday to play. So the game was re-scheduled to Monday, and yes, the entire school gets the day off so they can attend. Hey, it’s football, and this is Texas. Anyway. I’m sure most of you are reading about yet another day I get off for no good reason and wondering why in the hell I would consider going back into the public schools to work my butt off again, but what can I say. I miss teaching, and there has to be more than life than keeping a boring, unsatisfying job because it’s easy, right? I know. I’m still crazy.

This next photo was me playing around with my Speedlites again, then running it through Pixlr:

December12

And up next is a re-do – I really didn’t like the tone of this photo from the last post, so I re-edited it and came up with the new one, on the right:

December-collage-tone
Much less green on the right!

And another one I Pixlr-ed. I am so thrilled with how much great movement I got out of this cheap-o Halloween costume!

December13

 

Since I have another 3-day weekend coming, I may try to put up my new white backdrop (supposedly wrinkle-free, we’ll see about that) and shoot some more. I already have such a backlog of photos I’ve yet to upload to Flickr it’s ridiculous, but I just can’t help myself!

Recent work

Here are some of my favorite shots from the last year. Some of them you may have seen before. Loads more on Flickr but I’m warning you – since their re-design of the site my page is just a mess. I hate the way they’ve organized member pages without providing the option of changing the presentation, but I love the community over there, so I stay. And yes, these are all photos of me, but I swear that is due to convenience and not vanity. Using myself as the subject matter means I can shoot exactly how want precisely when I want; besides, I am always game for a bit of dress up and costumery.

Where Have I Been?

I’ve been working with photography exclusively. Right now it’s the only thing that occupies the creative space in my mind. Since I got my Canon 7D I have been able to do so much more with my self-portraits than I ever could have imagined, and I am consistently energized and excited by the possibilities.

I’ve also accepted a job as a school counselor at a small private school, even though I don’t get my master’s degree until December. It kind of fell into my lap so I figured I couldn’t pass it up. But between a new job, grad school, and photography, there’s just no time for poetry.

Anyway, here are some of my latest photos. If anyone is still paying attention, I think you can see a pretty big departure from what I was doing before with the old camera. I’ve become fascinated by bodies in motion, and I’m starting to work more with textures and other editing techniques I’d always eschewed before. And I still intend to start up a photography website but just haven’t had the time to get that together yet.

mareymercy’s Flickr page

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