Thursday, November 30, 2017

Taking a trip down memory lane
... while giving new life to old pictures

A couple months ago, I devoted a post at this blog to a project I undertook to re-process photos taken in a shoot I did 12 years ago in Morristown, Ind. The pictures were from a July 2005 soap box derby that I visited in that town, which is about 35 miles or so southeast of Indianapolis. I presented and talked about the results in a blog post earlier this year (see link above).

The upshot of the project was to explore how using today's much-improved editing technology in post-processing could improve the quality of the older photos, pictures taken a good three years before I launched this blog and four years before I began shooting everything I did in RAW format, instead of JPG.

Inspired by the success of that endeavor, this week I revisited photos taken 10 years ago in Columbus, Wis., a shoot that also occurred before Photo Potpourri ... and also before I began shooting in RAW. So why that shoot? There are several reasons.

I've been in a nostalgic mood lately, and Columbus was where I had my first print newspaper job out of college. I was news editor of the weekly Journal-Republican for a year in the 1970s, and in that position, I was responsible for news gathering, sports coverage, most of the photography and even paste-up work at the printing plant 30 miles up U.S. 151 in Beaver Dam.

While in Columbus, I rented a home in a trailer park, not thinking I would be there very long, which turned out to be true (after 12 months in Columbus, I would move to a daily newspaper in Muscatine, Iowa). Still, I grew to enjoy my time in Columbus. I was grateful for the experience, and I have nothing but fond memories of it.

The 2007 photo shoot came about because Deb Wagner, an acquaintance from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, moved to a nice spread in the country outside Columbus right around the new millennium. She had spent years overseas in Niger and Albania on various social service and community agriculture education jobs. But when she learned she had a disease related to Parkinson's -- and she had her hands full raising an adopted child born in 1996 -- she decided to return permanently to the United States, settling near Columbus, not far from her family in Madison.

In May 2007, Deb called me to see if I would help her organize a reunion of our college circle of friends at her homestead. Because of her illness and a distinct uncertainty how much longer she would have full use of her motor skills, she wanted to have the reunion right away -- that summer. I told her that I thought a month or two notice would not give many people enough time to reserve the dates and/or book vacation time, and I talked her into doing it the following summer. That would give everyone plenty of time to prepare and reserve vacation time for the date.

Three of our alumni gang held a reunion planning meeting at Deb's place one weekend in October 2007, and it was during that weekend that I pulled away for an afternoon to do the photo shoot in my old stomping grounds, including a very brief drive through the nearby town of Fall River (which was in the coverage and circulation area of the Journal-Republican). The photo leading off the post is a shot of the Columbus commercial district along West James Street, between Ludington Street and Dickason Boulevard. Like most of the improvements I made to the Columbus photos, this picture benefited from reviving detail in the dark shaded areas. The picture you see above this paragraph is the exterior of Fall River High School.

(To finish the reunion story, we gathered at Deb's place in June 2008. Twenty-five people attended, which I thought was a great turnout, even though almost half of those people were spouses/significant others. That weekend, Deb was still able to walk around -- albeit with the help of a cane -- and could do most things, but her speech was labored, and we all could see that things were not looking good for her. Right before the reunion, she had gone to the Mayo Clinic, where she had her condition properly diagnosed as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Her condition slowly deteriorated afterward -- she had a particularly nasty fall on the ice outside her home in winter 2008-09 -- and she died in late May 2012).

So the project to re-edit the Columbus pictures, in addition to being nostalgic, was another way to remember Deb and the time we spent organizing and attending the reunion.

Like the rehab of the Morristown soap derby photos, the reworking of the 2007 Columbus pictures was more successful than I had imagined, considering that I had only JPGs to work with. I couldn't believe how many photos I gave up on and accepted status quo back then. I had no tools (and perhaps no skills?) to bring them to life. And much like the Morristown project, most of the improvements I made were in restoring detail to darkly shaded areas (using the shadows slider on my Photoshop Elements 15) and to apply crops; 10 years ago, apparently, I wasn't seriously attentive to cropping waste from my photos.

As always, to view a larger and sharper version of a photo, simply click on the photo. This is particularly useful when accessing the blog while using a mobile device. To view a full gallery of images reprocessed from the 2007 shoot Columbus, click on the link in this sentence.

Photo geek stuff: In 2007, I was almost a full year into my Canon 30D camera body, and back then, my walk-around lens was a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, which I used for most of these shots. I did turn to my Canon EF 18-55mm f/3.5-6.5 kit lens for a group photo I took at the reunion (not pictured here, but you can see it at the post I did on Deb via the link provided in the opening paragraph).

Above: Among the things that changed between the time I lived in Columbus and my visit in 2007 is that the newspaper offices had moved. They used to be in this building at 146 W. Mills St., a block west of North Ludington Street, the local name for U.S. 151. In 2007, the building was a video store (left side) and hair salon (right side). In the 1970s, the Journal-Republican newspaper had the left side of the building, and Larsen's Office Supplies had the right. Ownership of the office supply store was in the name of Dean Larsen, son of then-Journal-Republican publisher emeritus Lowell Larsen. Lowell proved to be a supportive, calming voice for me in the couple of times I encountered some local officials unhappy with my candid reporting. I don't know what became of the Larsens. I do know that in the 1990s, the newspaper changed its name to Journal and moved to Ludington Street, a block south and east of this location. I also know, sadly, that at some point after I was there, the print version of the weekly ceased to exist. There is still an online presence of the Journal.

Above: One of my regular stops in downtown Columbus many mornings was the bakery on West James Street. I don't remember the name of the bakery back then, but David's Daughters rings no bells for me. That much was new to me in 2007. 

The photos above and the next three below are commercial district stalwarts in Columbus, at least through 2007. The Town Tap (above) on North Ludington Street was a half-block from the newspaper offices, but I was inside it only once or twice. Sharrow Drugs (first below) is at the southwest corner of Ludington and James streets. I recovered a lot of detail in the shaded section of the two photos (bottom half of Sharrow's storefront and long white-painted side of Town Tap) during the recent re-edit. In the same block as Sharrow Drugs was the Capri Steak House (second below), which I was inside only once, joining the newspaper's office staff for a meal one day (probably to celebrate a holiday or an important newspaper accomplishment). Our meal was paid for by the company. Being a photographer, I felt I owed Walcott Studio (third below) some props for longevity in the community. I never was inside the studio facilities, but I remember the studio's regular ads in the newspaper.

Above: This final photo of the commercial area in downtown Columbus -- which shows the Journal's 2007 offices (left door) on Ludington Street -- was my most difficult edit. It's a photo I might have best discarded altogether. While I certainly "improved" it this week, I'm not sure it is worth keeping even with the improvement. When I pulled it up in the editing software this week, there was a huge, mostly green flare ball in the middle and slightly above center. You can see some of the remnants  in the left green awning and, on the second floor, the second and third windows from the right, although the third window sustained the most flare damage. I used PE Elements' healing tool to remove/repair as much of the damage as possible, including a delicate copying of the fourth window and pasting it onto the position of the damaged third window. From the top of the photo, I also cropped off more damage in the area of the two problem windows. I wouldn't have even bothered to salvage this photo in post-processing if I had shot it today, but I sincerely hope that today, at the point of shoot, I would have looked in the LCD screen after making the picture, noticed the obvious flare ball and done a retake probably by waiting until traffic cleared the area then inching onto the street until the sun was positioned behind the building, thereby removing the flare altogether. It might have cost me the top portion of the building, but it would have been avoided the flare.
Above: When I first came to town, the Journal-Republican's publisher and his wife, Marshall and Joan Bernhagen, let me stay in their house on Church Street, a block from the offices, until I found the rental in the mobile home park. My most vivid memory of my stay there were the hot pink walls of the guest room where I bunked. When I stopped at the newspaper's new offices on Ludington Street in 2007, one of the clerks told me Bernhagen had died some years back. Marshall, a good guy and the man who hired me for the Journal-Republican, was only six years older than me, but I knew even when I lived in Columbus that he had some serious issues involving his kidneys. So he must have battled that a long time. When I got home from the 2007 trip, I did some research and learned he had died in April 1996, two months shy of his 50th birthday. 

Columbus City Hall (above) and the Police Department (below), which sit next to each other on Dickason Boulevard at West James Street.

Above: The Farmers & Merchants Union Bank building, which is catty corner from City Hall at Dickason Boulevard and West James Street, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Built in 1919, it was the last of eight "jewell box" buildings designed by American architect Louis Sullivan, and the seventh to be constructed. Another of the eight is Purdue State Bank in Lafayette, Ind., built in 1914. Sullivan was called "the father of the skyscraper" and "father of modernism" and was a mentor to renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Above: If I have any regrets about leaving Columbus, which calls itself the Red Bud City, it is that I got to see only one spring showing of the annual blossoming of red bud trees along Dickason Boulevard, the street pictured above, although these red buds are showing fall colors, not spring blooms. I had Columbus and its red buds in mind when I allowed a seed dropped from a red bud in a neighboring yard to grow in the circular garden of my backyard in Indianapolis a decade ago or so. That tree has since grown to maturity, and I enjoyed several annual red bud blossom shows before moving to North Carolina this summer. 

Above: My home in the trailer park still has the same color, but the access door has been moved further down.

Above and below: I covered and photographed Columbus High School football and baseball games on these fields at Fireman's Park. The fields haven't changed much, from what I can recall. The park is adjacent to the high school on the south side of town. 

Above: The front of the high school on Farnham Street.

Above: A house on Dickason Boulevard that caught my eye. 

Above and below are two pictures that best capture the layout of Deb Wagner's place out in the country. The shot below is what you see when you drive up to the home along the county road. Above is a view of the back of the home, including its fenced-in yard, the area where most of us college friends spent our time at the reunion. When a brief pop-up shower came through on reunion day, we ducked into the garage, where Deb had a table of finger food prepared just in case. The photo above was taken behind the house on a hill in front of a barn where Deb had stored a vast collection of Christmas nativity scenes she had collected through the years, a display she allowed us all to see and enjoy. She obtained many of the scenes at various locations in Africa and Europe while working overseas. The scenes reflect diverse cultural interests and artwork. I've wondered what became of that collection after Deb's death. I also wonder what became of her dog, which you can see in the bottom left corner of the photo above.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Yates Mill Pond: A visit proving to be serene, memorable ... and picturesque

On Oct. 25, I took a short drive from home to Yates Mill Pond, a 174-acre park in Wake County, N.C., which operates as a wildlife refuge developed around a fully restored 18th-century grist mill and -- as the park's name suggests -- a 20-acre lake.

The water-powered grist mill is the only remaining one left in the county, which is home to North Carolina's capital city, Raleigh, the state's second largest city (behind only Charlotte).

Raleigh is Wake County's only city, but the county of 857 square miles is home to several incorporated towns -- Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Zebulon, Wendell, Knightdale, Rolesville and most of Morrisville and Wake Forest.

Despite all of that urban development, there are plenty of open, rural/rustic areas -- and county parks, not to mention one state park and portions of two others (I had visited, William B. Umstead State Park -- the one wholly inside Wake County -- in December 2014 and did a post about my shoot there in this blog).

Yates is the third county park I've visited; I didn't do any photography during previous stops (both short) at Lake Wheeler and Lake Benson parks, but those are on my list. They, too, are relatively short trips from my home.

I've mentioned the grist mill and lake at Yates Mill, but not the water falls, which doesn't get a lot of mention in official writeups of the attraction. The falls, positioned alongside the mill, is the most fascinating of the park's features. One view of the falls is depicted in the photo leading off the post.

As usual, click on any photo to pull up a larger, sharper version. This is particularly helpful when accessing the blog while using a mobile device. A full gallery of images from my shoot there Oct. 25 can be found at my site at

Photo geek stuff: I shot photos during my visit with my Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens. The lens was capped with a B+W polarizing filter. I bracketed all compositions for three exposures to allow me options to use single frames or meld all three exposures into a single shot using Photomatix high-dynamic (HDR) software in post-processing. I used a mixture of single-frame and HDR photos for this post.

Above and below are a couple shots (there will be others in this post) where bracketing my exposures and processing them through Photomatix software saved the pictures because of the back-lighting I was battling. I visited the park in the early afternoon -- not ideal by any means -- for dramatic landscape images -- but on this day, it was a necessity because of time management that day. The wall you see above, which flanks a path descending to the falls area (see pictures below), came out dark in all three of the exposures, showing a hint of detail in the +2 version. That hint of detail in the +2 image (along with a little help with the shadow slider in Photoshop Elements) catapulted me to recover the detail you see above. Same situation with the "front" side of the mill below. It was almost all dark on the individual images except for a hint of detail in the +2 exposure. Again, the melding and shadow slider boost in PE enabled me to get to this. 

Above: This is a single-frame shot of a building near the mill. I was pretty pleased with it, although it helped that the sun lighting angle was ideal in this case.

The grist mill (above) from the side of the power-generating wheel and waterfall. Next three shots below are various looks and/or detail cuts of the waterfall, followed by a shot of the mill from the trail that circles the lake.

Above: On the path leading to the mill from the parking lot, you come across these antique turbines. I recalled seeing similar implements at the grist mill that is a hallmark feature at Indiana's town of Metamora.

Above: A look at the lake, or pond, from the start of the circular trail not far from the mill. On Oct. 25, you were seeing only a hint of leaves changing color at Yates Mill.  

Above: I can't say I've ever seen a waterfowl feeding station in water like this before. Could be because I haven't been to enough wildlife preserves. But I liked the reflection it gave me for this composition. 

Above: At just about the halfway point around the lake along the circular trail, one comes across this structure, identified by signage as an instruction center. I'm guessing guests (many of which might be schoolchildren) who take tours of the grounds stop here for a short spell to learn things from their tour guides. I would not have been able to pick up the detail -- and color -- in the roof that you see here without processing it in HDR software. A couple other angles of this building can be found in the full gallery. 

Above: I photographed this long pedestrian bridge -- from which visitors can start their trip around the lake (I chose the opposite the direction, ending the trip at the bridge) -- from several perspectives, all of which you can see in the full gallery. I present this one in the post, taken through brush along the lake on the circular trail opposite the bridge, because of its (attempted?) artsy effect. 

I suppose the highlights of my shoot can be found in the photos above and next two below, where having the reach of a 300mm lens enabled me to get close enough to photograph the blue heron and turtle sharing space on a branch (above), a swan (and its reflection) appearing to guard its nest (first below) and a different log on which three turtles were resting (second below). I shared info on where to find the heron and swan with two women I met on the trail right after I photographed them (but before I got to the log shown in the third photo below). In return, they told me about the turtles log ... and said the log at one point had been loaded with turtles until another individual came by, made a noise and scared them all away. By the time I got there (quietly so), three of the turtles had climbed back on.  

Above: I'm about three-quarters around the lake at this point. You can see a small bit of the mill on the far right ... and some of the tree reflections in the lake. 

This tree, which I came across while crossing the wooden pedestrian bridge, jumped out at me. 

Above: I photographed the park's modest amphitheater from several angles (all of which you can find in the gallery), including several showing the whole facility. I liked this the best because you get a neat grouping of trees in the background with a slice of amphitheater seating.

Above: If you start the trail from the start of the pedestrian bridge not far from the parking lot and amphitheater, you began with this view of the park. Again, I encircled the lake from the opposite direction, and came upon this by turning around at the end of my journey. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Autumn in North Carolina:
Finding the colors resplendent
without even leaving the yard

Since the beginning of October, I'd been looking forward to doing my first autumn colors shoot since moving to North Carolina.

I knew that the change of colors here starts later than it does north of the Mason-Dixon line. My experience in my years in Indiana was that the prime autumn colors there usually displayed themselves by mid-October.

On Oct. 25, I roamed Yates Mill Pond Park not far from my home in North Carolina, and there was only a hint of color changing going on there. (A post on that shoot is forth-coming). Then just the other day, while tackling a deck project behind the house, I stopped to catch my breath and noticed so many colored leaves right in front of me.

I figured it was time for a break anyway, so I ran into the house, grabbed my camera, put on my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens and hurried back outside to start shooting. When I started, it was heavily overcast, but I still bracketed my shots to allow for three different exposures of each composition so I'd have some options during post-processing.

For a few years now, I've reduced the number of autumn shoots I do because I got to thinking that they are all looking the same. Well, perhaps I needed to change my locale more often. On Nov. 6, on my own property, I kept finding new things to compose. I think it helps to look everywhere, including (and this might seem obvious, but I get a feeling some shooters forget) looking up and down. The collection of images below should reflect some examples of doing both.

As always, click on any image to view a larger, sharper version. This is particularly helpful when accessing the blog while using a mobile device. To view a gallery of all my shots from Nov. 6, click on the link in this sentence.

Photo geek stuff: All shots were taken with my Canon 6D camera equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. Each composition was bracketed for three exposures to allow for possible processing through Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software in post-processing. As it turned out, all images in this post reflect HDR processing.