Detroit’s island Getaway

Due to the growing global COVID-19 pandemic, my traveling plans are put on hold for while. And like many other travel bloggers, we are going on a virtual trip. I want to show you a place that is very near and dear to my heart, the island park of Belle Isle. If someone told me, I had to pick one place to take photos for the rest of my life, Belle Isle would be a strong contender. Even though I strongly dislike Michigan, I do have an infinity for Downtown Detroit. The best way I can express my feelings, is with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross amazing quote about beautiful people. I just substitute places for people.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

And within this beautiful city, hides a twinkling gem out shining its surroundings. The island park known as Belle isle. The always Photogenic Anna Scripps Conservatory, the soothing sounds of the James Scott Fountain along with the proud standing Nancy Brown Peace Carillon are a few of the attractions on Belle Isle. I’m not going to bore you with some long-winded narrative explaining the history of the island. But what I do want to share, is what Belle Isle means to me, a few of my projects and images that I have captured there along how I use Belle Isle as my photographic classroom.

Map of Belle Isle

Belle Isle has always been a place of peace and serenity for me. A haven where I could go and forget about all the madness and endless complications of the world. And when life shows up with a grin on its face and deals me a hand of shitty cards, I have found that going to Belle Isle offers me a form of mental sanctuary that I have not found anywhere else. Even though the island is technically connected via the MacArthur Bridge, I’ve always felt by going there I could get away from Michigan. Even during my darkest and trying times, Belle Isle has away been the needed distraction to help me cope with life on life’s terms.

Detroit’s island gateway has been home to a few of my blog projects. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 4, if you include this one.

  • Race Cars on water. A little adventure about trying to capture a shot of a racing hydroplane that I had envisioned for years, along with practicing my hand-held panning technique.
  • Knowledge or gear. My experience driven post that ask a simple question; “What’s more important, having knowledge of photography or having Professional gear?”
  • Passion. The post that started my “Exploring My Creativity” My personal journey into what makes me creative.

During my lifelong journey into photography, I’ve visited Belle Isle countless times over the pass 16 years. And has captured some of my favorite and unforgettable images. In late May, Belle Isle is transformed from my loved getaway island, to a world class race track to host the Grand Prix of Detroit. During the weekend it’s held, Friday is the day to go. It’s a day of testing and practice for all the car classes. As well as you can venture to various grandstands and the paddock for free.

The racing of the Unlimited Hydroplanes during the APBA Gold Cup is always brimming over with fast paced action. The Belle Isle side of the river offers a bunch of exclusive shooting locations to catch the intense pace of the race. From up on the MacArthur bridge to the down low perspective of the fishing pier, it’s always exhilarating to see the untamed power and speed of the hydroplane.

Many years the Gold Cup manages to get the Navy to bring one of their Super Hornet demonstration team to perform during the race weekend. It’s unique venue to see the Super Hornet get run through its paces. The is flown much close than normal due to the tight confines of the city. Where the sound of the twin General Electric F414s are noticeably much louder.

I can’t remember how I found out about Belle Isle, but I do remember my first time there. After months of saving up, I was finally able to purchase my first DSLR, Canons Digital Rebel. Those days I was so excited about photography, I try to shoot the whole 900-acre island in a half hour. As I grew as a photographer, I learn to use Belle Isle as my testing grounds for new gear. It’s a place I can go that has a consistent setting. I know what’s there and there’s no surprises. As well as going to the conservatory, I know I’m going have a ton of colorful subjects without worry of Mother Nature being nasty.

The conservatory is my classroom, it’s where I developed and continue to nurture my creative eye. It was there that I discovered my walk through then shoot technique. Were I would go through the conservatory, gear still packed up. Walk from room to room, looking at the light and how it hits things. And all the while asking myself “What is the light doing? What do I want to show?” Portrait or landscape? Once I’ve made a complete lap, I then go through again and shoot the subjects that stood out to me.

There were days that I would give myself photo assignments. For example, concentrating on color, focusing on texture & light, and playing with depth of field. There are assignments I still want to do, like portrait format only along with shoot just one color. Both should be challenging and fun. As a result of my assignments, it had taught me many things, such as to focus in and appreciate the tiniest of details, to celebrate color and to know what to emphasize.

Belle Isle, my little getaway island, my project place and my inspiring classroom. After all this is over, I can’t wait to return to see what I’ll stumble upon next.

Stay safe and busy,

Steven

The Importance of Post Process

Now that you have managed to sort through your images, it’s time to start Post Processing. This is where you can refine your images to what you envision. It has been around as long as photography itself. Getting rid of spots and blemishes, leveling the image, lighting and darkening, along with dodging and burning in details. Photographers still do it today; we just gave the steps in the process modern terms. If you are purist and don’t believe in doing any Post Process to your images, that’s 100% OK. No one can tell you how to show your work. But if you want your photography to grow stronger, try to find a post process routine that works well for you. Here are a few suggestions that was shown to me that helped me develop as a photographer.

Lightroom screen shot

Basic Post Process edits

  • Know your Post Processing software! If you’re using Photoshop, Lightroom or Elements, you have to know how to use it properly. How to import and export images, to have a basic understanding of the tools, how to adjust the exposure, and the list goes on and on. I’ve said it before, YouTube is your know it all friend. Use it and search, “How to use whatever tool or function in whatever program you are using?”
  • Removing dust spots. You got a dirty sensor and it shows. Clone out all those little distractions, they’re taking attention away from your subject.
  • Level your image. If you intended the horizon to be level and it’s not….it draws your viewers eyes away from what you are trying to show. With an unintentional tilted horizon, it can give the illusion that everything in your photo is going to slide out of the frame.
  • Adjust exposure. I can not stress how important it is to get your exposure right in the camera. When it comes to how to adjust your exposure properly, if you look online, it’s like all the members of a church choir are all singing a different songs and at different volume. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there about exposure. YOU must filter through it, find and try what works best for you.
  • Resizing and sharpening. Most likely you are not going to upload a full-size image. If it’s for Instagram, a Facebook post, or your personal website, you’re going to have to resize your images before posting them. After you have your resized images, you’ll want to do a tad bit of sharpening to them. You just want to sharpen up the details soften from resizing.

This is just a few basic items of post processing. There are far more advanced and complicated attributes to it. I’m just trying to crack open the door to the larger world of post process.

Until next post,

Steven

Bored and in Lock-down? How to keep yourself occupied

Run out of entertaining shows and movies on Netflix and Hulu? Sick of scrolling through the same crap on Instagram and Tik tok? Or have you had your fill of the depressing news from the media? It’s time to get up and do something that could help occupy yourself and get you through these unprecedented and troubling times. Here’s a few things I have been practicing to keep myself busy while staying at home.

  • Create some kind of routine for yourself. Wake up, take care of yourself, work from home, workout. whatever it takes. Set aside time to do certain activities. An hour to reading, a half an hour to workout, 45 minutes to clean. Just wake up, get and stay active. Go to bed and do it again tomorrow
  • Reduce your time on social media and watching the news. To save your precious mental health, ration the time you spend on them. Yes, by all means stay informed but don’t let your appetite for information start to disturb your peace and calm.
  • This is a great opportunity to work on your products around your house or apartment. Got a leaky faucet, a door that squeaks or any home repair that needs to get done or finish, now is the time to get after it!
  • Reach out to family, friends, loved ones and coworkers. We are all social beings and especially during this global pandemic, we need to talk to our families and friends. To hear those recycled bad jokes, to remain your mom that your dad is not crazy! Do it for them, you’ll hear the appreciation in their voice.
  • Cook your favorite meals. Banana pancakes for breakfast, grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup for lunch, throw some rib eyes on the grill for dinner. Why not?! Along with your “Quarantine food”, try cooking one of your favorite meals. If you don’t know how, YouTube is your know it all friend! And if you don’t have the supplies you need, the next time you go to the grocery store, practice social distancing along with protecting yourself. And pick up the things you need for your favorite meals.

food

  • Listen to all those podcasts and audio books you have been wanting to get to. Like the song says, “Time is on my side“. Get your tasty beverage, grab those ear buds or that busted ass pair of headphones you got and start listening. Heck, you might even learn something new. Or dare I say it, laugh out loud.
  • Start a journal. “Day 6 in lock down. This morning after my lame ass breakfast, I stumbled across an enlightening and amazing blog today that help me occupy my time. Today seemed to fly by with all the activities I did.” When we get through this, and we will. Looking back and reading our quarantine journals could be entertaining.
  • Rediscover your lost and forgotten hobbies. There is no time like the present to douse that old withering fire with a bunch of fresh gasoline. Get back into whatever you love to do! Unpack that project you got hidden in the bottom of your closet. If all you have are outdoor hobbies, maybe it’s time to unearth something new.

Hobby Time

  • Never stop learning! Sign up for online classes. There are so many to choose from. Some are paid but if you don’t have the coin, I get it. There are plenty of excellent educational channels on YouTube.
  • Working out indoors. “Get your sweat on!” You can still get huge and ripped. There are countless indoor workouts you can do. If you live in an apartment, be considerate of your neighbors.
  • Redecorate your house or apartment. It is Springtime. And a change in season could also be a refreshing change in your living quarters (Star Trek reference). Switch up old artwork on your walls, maybe rearrange your furniture. Heck maybe go down the rabbit hole looking for ideas online. I’m sure your find something interesting.
  • Update your Resume and Portfolio. This could be an excellent time to dust off that tired resume and stale portfolio of yours. Lord knows I do. There is a shit ton of helpful and useful information online. Be brave, you might just find your dream job.
  • Play online games with friends. There is nothing like talking smack with your friends while gaming. It’s stupid fun! Doesn’t matter if you’re on PC, console or even on your mobile device. Just don’t be a Leroy Jenkins!

Game On

Whatever you do, don’t waste this time being unproductive or even worse, full of worry and anxiety. Feel free to share this with others. Stay safe and busy!

Until next post,

Steven

Aesthetics

This is the last part in a series I call “Exploring My Creativity”. An examination of my creativity. Being an inspired individual, this is something I feel I must do to expand my thought process. As long as I can remember, I have been doing creative things. And it seems to grow more complex the older I get. At the start of 2018, I told myself I wanted to embrace the idea of “Concentration and not Validation”. To focus on what drives me to be creative and not seek out the instant gratification of social media. The last part in this series, I want to talk about is my sense of Aesthetics. If you haven’t, be sure to check out parts one and two, Passion along with Inspiration.

What is aesthetics? According to Wikipedia, it’s a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste and with the creation or appreciation of beauty. Here’s my simple definition, why things look good, how to create something appealing as well as how to present it. I know it is far more complicated than that. I have always been a bit of a philocalist, a lover of beauty. From images & artwork, music & movies, the human body, and even moments in time. This will not be a post about me explaining my sense of aesthetics. What I do want to share with you all is how my sense of aesthetics effects my everyday life, how it effects the things I create along with how it effects the way I see the world. Be warned, this will be subjective.

My sense of aesthetics is responsible for me having an extremely critical eye. It doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, if it’s an image, a scale model, a surface detail on a vehicle or how light shines on someone’s hair. How is it composed? Are the proportions balanced? Should I Shoot in Landscape or portrait? And that’s just for photography. My eyes and brain are constantly evaluating the aesthetics of things. I’ve learned to put my critical eye to good use. And a good example of this is at work.

I’ve been an automotive clay sculptor for various major companies for the past 20 years. The easiest way to describe my job is, a designer draws an idea, I sculpt that idea out of clay and change it until management is happy with it. First in scale, then full-size making hundreds of changes along the way. As I model, I’m constantly asking myself questions. First, does the model look like the designer’s sketch? Then, if not, what do I have to change to make it look like it? Then I’ll make the necessary changes and ask the same questions again. All the while, being very critical and brutally honest about every surface I create.

Just like my passion, my attention to detail has infiltrated and spread into every part of my life. Over the years, it has become a finely tuned way of seeing the world around me. From how I see images with my photography to sculpting new automotive products at work. It is something I have learn to embrace and use to better my work. Because of it, I know I see things differently than most. I see all the details before I see the whole thing. And if the details are done poorly, I lose interest, move on and don’t see the complete object or picture.

That sharp attention to detail is also a habit that has found its way into my model making. As I build a kit, I treat each part like little models. Putting as much detail into it as possible. I also spend a considerable amount of time addressing how the kit comes together. Hiding the seams and joints to make it appear to be seamless. Even come time to paint, I’ll sometimes spend 30 to 40 minutes masking something off that only takes 2 or 3 minutes to airbrush. All the extra care and attention I put into the build, will make for a more visually appealing model. That ceaseless questioning the aesthetic’s of things along with my attention to details has made me a masterful sculptor and model maker.

Holy Tape Batman

As a photographer, knowing what makes a good image along with being able to see the image before you shoot it heavily influences my sense of aesthetics. When I’m behind my camera, if I’m at an aviation event or on one of my adventures, I’m not looking for subjects to shoot. Instead, I’m searching for some interesting light. “Shoot the light not the subjects” is a fundamental principal of my process to capture images. I feel the light in an image can make or break it. It can set the mood, make it pop, add dimension, and even direct one’s eye.

Fear the BONE

One of my photographic practices I enjoy doing, is to walk through the belle isle conservatory with my camera in hand, but not shooting anything. As I walk from room to room, I’m looking at the light. What is it doing? What direction is it coming from? Is it a reflection? Once I’ve made a complete lap of the conservatory, I then go through again shooting the subjects in the light that stood out to me. I try to keep track of the time of day, weather and sometimes even the season. Maybe the image is an afternoon shot, maybe it would be better on a sunny day or even wait until springtime when everything is in bloom? And yes, I have waited for months to capture a certain image. I have found that I produce better images if I do this walk around first then if I had not. And I did something similar during my trip to Antelope Canyon, by booking two differently timed tours.

We all have a medium of storytelling that we love, mine is cinematic. Some prefer to read; I enjoy watching storytelling. My sense of aesthetics has altered the way I view movies and shows. Some say I’m overly critical when it comes to things I watch. My suspension of disbelief does not tolerate garbage. A poorly conceived story, weak characters, predictable plots, shitty visual and special effects along with crappy cinematography and editing. All contributing to poor storytelling. Which is becoming a dying art form that is increasing due to absurd number of reboots along with the poorly rehashing of established materials.

Even though they are only a few minutes long, there are videos on YouTube that I enjoy far more than those multi-million-dollar Hollywood productions. For example, “Nerdwriter’s” brilliant video essays, to the entertaining maker “This Old Tony”, along with “Sean Tucker’s” personal life-long journey into photography. Regardless of content, they all are clearly passionate about their work. And it’s that noticeable hint of passion I can identify with.

This personal journey of exploring my creativity has been a healthy personal struggle. And through struggles, we grow. It started with a question and took me along an unexpected path that taught me something about myself. And what have I learned? That my creativity is divided into three unique elements. Passion is my fire; Inspiration is my fuel and Aesthetics is my vision. That all three needs to be nurtured and managed with care. My creativity is only one of my numerous fragments that makes me who I am.

Thanks for coming along,

Steven

On a side note, my distaste for social media has slowly eroded with my return to Instagram along with the start of a Flickr account. I’m using Instagram as a creative writing exercise. Sharing a brief story with each image. And Flickr is going to be the place where I show my images. Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, my March and April adventures had been put on hold until we get through this. Stay safe everybody.