12/376 - Fading Away

Happy New Year! Like these flowers, 2009 slowly faded away. More to come soon!

11/376 - Apples

I was feeling better today and planned to take pictures. As I watched TV around 3:30 the light coming into my living room and dining room was almost too perfect to pass up. I had bought a wood bowl and matching plate (cheap) just for these kinds of shots. Unless Colin and I get out tomorrow or the next day you will probably be seeing some variations on these with other food items. 

It might have been better with the field of focus closer instead of on the stem but I like it anyhow. This really is a learning experience.

10/376 - recent kitty pic

I over did things yesterday and ended up watching a movie this evening instead of taking pictures. There is a part of me that is starting to think Roxanne is cuter than Desmond!

9/376 - My new Friend

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I fell rather hard last night. While my pride is still intact I am having quite a few aches and pains. Since I'm allergic to aspirin this has to get me through. It's NOT the same!

Just setting up and taking this picture aggravated my back and knee so I wouldn't hope for much tomorrow either!  

8/376 - recent kitty pic (Archive Pic)

So I spent part of the day shopping for some furniture and then came home and watched a movie with Diane and Colin. I had intended to shoot something but as I stepped from my living room up into my breakfast room I slipped on something and fell hard. Needless to say the whole thing took my picture taking desires right out of me. So instead, I grace you with a Christmas day picture of Roxanne as she is trying desperately to ignore that paper ball on the floor. The paper won! 

While deciding how I would handle those days when I don't get around to picture taking (which might be often) I determined that the best thing to do would be to list it as a POTD (picture of the day) failure but post a recent picture that I like anyhow. I hope you enjoy these "interludes."  

7/376 - Christmas entertainment

Looks like I have a lot of reading, watching and listening to do! On top of these items I got a pair of slippers, an Ansel Adams book, money, gumdrop cake and a present to be named later (hasn't been delivered yet). I also got a 5 in 1 reflector kit for my photography but I couldn't show it here because I was using it for this picture. It's wonderful!

6/376 - Gumdrop Cake

Larry (my brother-in-law) has become quite the cook in recent years. Awhile back he got his grandmother's recipe for gumdrop cake and has been making it ever since. I like it but there are others in my house who are not as fond of it. Every year Larry brings me a loaf. It's like my own personal stash!

5/376 - Pappadeaux

It was a busy day so I didn't get a chance to do some "polished" pictures. Additionally my flash was acting up while at my mom's so I didn't get anything there. However, since I was on the lookout and am interested in doing more night photography, I thought I'd let you know where we went for dinner. Having been raised close to Louisiana I am particularly fond of cajun food and Papadeaux has some great crawfish etouffee.

4/376 - Lily opening

My mom sent us some lilies for the holidays. 

The TV is a little better. I changed from an HDMI connection to composite and don't have the honking/barge noise. I'll wait till after the holidays to get that fixed.

3/376 - 24 Hour Furlough

My now 4 week old tv just returned from a week long vacation at the repair shop. They did a great job of fixing the picture. The sound, however, still resembles a barge horn or emergency signal at times. It's going back tomorrow and I'm afraid my planned holiday of watching movies is quickly fading away. It's not an artistic picture for today but it is what's on my mind right now.

2/376 - Phone Booth

Diane and I meet Carrie and Cori at The Cove for lunch today and then went to Starbuck's for coffee and desert. Since the "Photo a Day" project is still on my mind I snapped this while we waited for the restaurant to open. It just seems strange seeing phone booths. Not that I ever gave it much thought but I was under the impression that all phone booths were gone. What with the cell phone saturation. I know they are needed because poor and homeless people need communication devices also but I always figured that didn't mean much to companies that supply these things.

BTW, Guy Fieri from the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" swears by the fish tacos at The Cove. I wasn't really impressed and Carrie agreed. If we go back I think I'll try a hamburger or lamb burger. I think I'll also bring my laundry and wash my car while I'm there.

1/376 - And so it begins...

This is the start of my 376 project. 376 you ask? Because 365 just isn't enough! If you don't like that answer then you will just have to figure it out yourself. I've done a bit more reading about these projects and most everyone says to remember that this is not "A Masterpiece a Day" but rather "A Picture a Day!" I'll try to keep that in mind. It is also suggested that the photographer include a self portrait every so often. Finally, I may not get around to posting my picture everyday but I will shoot something and then post as soon as I get time. Please don't send me emails asking where my pictures are unless I get a week behind. :-)

I've been mulling over something like this shot for awhile (except the original idea was with both Diane and I) and it took me a couple of hours to actually execute it. To a degree it's supposed to be an homage to "Mad Men." Not only did I need to let the room get dark but I had to set up the flashes and then a bit of post processing. I hope you enjoy this and will follow me through this project. I'm looking forward to it.

New Project?

I'm thinking about taking up a "365" project. In case you're not familiar with the concept it means you take and post a picture a day for an entire year. I've read others say that it really improves your skills because you have to think creatively almost all the time. They also caution you to not get weirded out if some of your shots are mediocre or if you miss a day here and there. The real goal is to take "planned" concept pictures. While I hate setting myself up for failure (because the likelihood of actually finishing this project is slim) I like the idea of pushing myself on this.

I'm not really asking your thoughts on the subject, just ruminating. If I decide to do it I'll probably start over the Christmas break so I get a bit of time in. While I'm sure I'll have no shortage of things to take pictures of (what with a macro lens and all kinds of tchotchkes around the house) I will also be interested in taking pictures of people and pets. If you have some ideas along those lines I'm starting a list.

Cat Weekend

So a couple of weeks ago Colin moved back into the house while he switches roommates. Along with him came his two cats. Since it was going to be a relatively quiet weekend I decided to keep my camera out and use it on the cats when I had good chances. This first shot is of Arthur. This is Colin's oldest cat and has had a difficult time adjusting to the house and more kitty friends. It was very hard to get him out and in the open. I especially liked this shot however because it shows his serious side.

These next two pictures are of Roxanne. She is the sister to our Desmond. Her coloring is very similar but she is much more fluffy than Desmond. Also, she's the "queen!" She has appropriated certain pieces of furniture around the house and they are hers alone. She is very photogenic but hard to get her to keep still.

Obviously the picture below is of Beau. He's the oldest - nearly 11 years. While not very happy that there are two visitors, he has acted like a gentleman and leaves the others alone. I've rwally found that it's difficult to photograph him. Because of his black and white coloring it's difficult to get the blacks dark without turning the whites grey. Conversely, if I want pure whites (like he is) the black areas become harder to deal with.

And of course we end with Desmond. There is something that is just photogenic about him. When he sees the camera he starts circling around me and waits for me to take pictures. Like the shot of Arthur, this is a more contemplative shot.

Have I mentioned recently, how much I like our kitties? I hope you do too!


Blueberries, originally uploaded by cbinsa.

I'm getting a lot of comments about this picture. It was actually done as a setup shot to test out the flashes and the acrylic sheet. Diane first said she liked it and so I posted it on my Facebook account. From there others have mentioned their appreciation of it. Who knew? The more people talk about it, the more I like it too!

Summer vacation is coming to a close

Well it seems I'm feeling much more creative recently. It's probably due in part to the fact I now have less than one week till I report back to school. I was particularly pleased with these two shots of the blueberry pie. Diane made a pie last week (blueberries are incredibly cheap this year) and I kept saying I wanted to take pictures but my back was so tender I could barely get out of bed. So yesterday she made a second pie (like we need the calories around here) and this morning I was feeling good enough to do some shots. I spent some time last night going through the flickr site looking at shots tagged "blueberry" and was surprised at how few were well lit and looked "designed. The vast majority were just snapshot quality. Now, you might be inclined to say to me, "Chuck, I bet there just aren't that many people who take pictures of food and post them to flickr!" And I would respond with, "Did you know the '
Food Porn' pool of pictures on flickr has over 285,000 pictures?" That's a lot of food. And you would be hard pressed to find many bad shots there. If you are interested in seeing some of these amazing pictures of food click that little link!

Prior to today though I saw a picture on a Still Life pool where a guy had used his bone white, elongated coffee cups lined up and I decided to try my hand at that type of set up. I took several versions but decided on this one because the handles mimic the pattern of the back drop.

I re-started my picture taking with this shot. Several people have told me how much they like it but I think it's too busy. It was shortly after this that I decided to try and go simpler with some of my still life pictures.

And finally there is this picture of a silver sugar bowl with roses. I spent hours polishing this bowl (and trying several different concoctions to do it). We found the roses at the local HEB and I started cutting them down to fit. You'll notice, too, that several of these pictures include the acrylic sheets I bought earlier this summer for reflection work. It was while I was taking this picture that I realized just how hard it is to take pictures of highly reflective surfaces and not get your own noggin in the picture. Thankfully I have a remote trigger for my camera and I could stand off enough to the side that I'm barely visible.

Now, of course, Diane thinks I'm uniquely qualified to clean all the silver stuff we have around the house! Finally, I recently found Diane's grandma's cookie tin full of buttons. I'm planning on trying some abstract and/or macro shots of those this week. As soon as I get something interesting I'll let you know.

How does one compete with this type of creativity?

Maybe I spend TOO MUCH time looking at other people's pictures. I don't know. What I do know is that not only is this a pretty shot that is very well executed, I also would have never thought to do something like this. It's just simple and yet incredible. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Yes, I am still alive!

I guess it's a good thing that I only blog for my own amusement because otherwise, a 4+ month hiatus tends to kill readership! Since the two of you (Hi mom, Hi Carrie) know I'm alive because I talk to you on a somewhat regular basis I'll not bore you with details.

What I do want to discuss is photography. Recently
The Strobist blog (one of my favorites) started a new "boot camp" with challenges for those using small camera flashes. The challenges this year are tied up with also doing something "good" for the community. The first challenge was to do a "headshot" portraiture but the twist was to seek out job hunters and do pictures for them to use in their search. There was some good photography but not "exciting" work.

second challenge came out while I was in DC visiting Ryan and Ash and there was only 1 week to complete it. The request was simple enough, take a creative picture of food. The twist was to go to a local restaurant and offer to photograph their dishes for free. Since I didn't have enough time to think something through and execute it I didn't enter that challenge either BUT the winning pictures were fantastic and I know for a fact that I would never have come up with anything as creative as what some of these people did.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the shots from this challenge. To only see the winners click on the link that is attached to the title of this post. To see all of the food pictures (800+) go to this
Flickr link. My favorite (the Oreo shot) did not win but I'm not the only one that was surprised by that fact.

The picture above is one of mine. I was going to display some of the winning Strobist shots but ran into technical difficulties. I finally decided that since this is my blog, you get my pictures! The biscotti belongs to Diane and if you have tried any of hers, you know how yummy it is.

Now that I've woken up I find that I have a few other things to discuss so expect more, soon.

Self Portraits

So for Christmas, Diane bought me a set of "stuff" to give me better lighting options for my photography. Only problem is that either I've been too busy or not feeling creative enough to properly use them since the holidays. Now that it's spring break I decided that this would be the perfect time to really try everything out and see what I can come up with.

Now add to this that the photography blog I follow (Digital Photography School) runs a weekly challenge that I occasionally like to work on. The result? This week's challenge was self-portraits and this is the one I entered for the competition.

I like to call it "The Angry Teacher" because I'm sure my kids have seen this face on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, I probably won't win because there are literally hundreds of other entries that are far more creative than mine. I thought two others turned out pretty good and convey some sort of "feeling." You get to decide just what that feeling is!

The interesting thing about this "assignment" was just how difficult it turned out. I mean, really, it's not like you can just turn the camera around and start snapping pictures. For a true "self-portrait" you really need to have some sort of plan or idea and then try to get both the mood and lighting to match what's in your head. Needless to say, I learned a lot by working on this assignment.

I'm thinking about using this picture as my official school mug shot! My kids will just love it.

Speaking of students. During my first year of teaching I spent 8.5 months convinced that I had no clue what I was doing and that my poor students were getting absolutely NOTHING from me. Last night I checked my school email and found a note from a student from that first year. He was writing to thank me. Let me repeat, THANK ME! According to him he hated math until I started to teach it and made it fun for him. I was floored. I mean, really, much of that first year was spent in the pose shown just above and trying to figure out how I was going to get any better. Needless to say, this is now my most favorite student - of all time! Seriously, I am humbled. I've been told that you never know just how your actions are going to affect someone and in this case I would have truly guessed wrong.

My next official assignment is "portraits" of others and guess who is going to be my model? I bet you can also guess that I probably won't be allowed to post any of the pictures of her. Also, in the meantime I've been doing some table-top still life shots and as soon as I edit them I'll post an article here.

Until then...

The President Discusses Education

Visualize Chuck moving a wooden box marked SOAP to center stage. He sets it down, steps up on it and says...

Today, at a speech in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, President Obama outlined his proposal of 5 pillars of reform for education and I'd like to comment on his thoughts. If you click on the title of this article it will take you to the White House blog entry for the speech. In short, here are his pillars:
1) "Investing in early childhood initiatives" like Head Start;
2) "Encouraging better standards and assessments" by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;
3) "Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers" by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.
4) "Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools" by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.

5) "Providing every American with a quality higher education--whether it's college or technical training."
And my thoughts:
  1. While the San Antonio branch of Head Start has had some management problems, there are numerous studies that show that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to do much better in later school years when they receive support from the community at a very early age. It would be nice to see more put into those initiatives.
  2. I hate to say it but this seems to be a "throw-away" line. Everyone wants better standards and assesments but there are real arguments as to what those should look like. In Texas, the TAKS tests have been a dismal failure except to prove that people can easily find ways to punish schools, teachers and, by association, students. By "proving" that public schools "don't work" people can more easily push for charter schools or other personal designs. Every time I receive the grade reports on my students I am reminded of the axiom I was taught in my college statistics class, "If you torture a number long enough it will tell you anything!"
  3. Better recruitment and preparation = good thing. Incentivizing teaching is not a good thing. For many reasons. a) Studies show that "bonuses" bring improvements in a persons job for a very short time. Eventually the employee sees the extra money as an entitlement and they quickly return to their old ways. b) If you expect the best from someone and they agree to the payrate you offer, why would you ask for "better results" for more pay? Seriously, if I'm doing my absolute best then there is no such thing as 110%. Also, we don't REALLY give kids grades of 110...well, in class I do, but when the report card comes out it's rounded down to 100. You can't ask for more than the best and we ask for the best from our students AND our teachers. You are insulting my professionalism when you tell me you'll pay me more if I do even better.
  4. "Charter schools" - questionable at best. Some are pretty good and others are horrible. It's a crap shoot. We're talking about children's lives here. Why do some people get a chance to experiment with these kids? This whole idea reminds me of another favorite phrase of mine, "Hold my beer and watch this!" "Reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day" - I'd like to see the plan before I comment. We know that children tend to lose ground over the summer months and we also know that the current school calendar was originally based on a lack of air-conditioning and crops needing to be brought in. However, you will have a difficult time convincing teachers that those 10 weeks (more or less) off during the summer needs to be shortened.
  5. I've spent 4 years listening to people say that we should plan for 100% of our kids going to college. The truth is, there will always be a number of people who can't or won't be able to enter or complete college. For various reasons. In my humble belief, students should be prepared for whatever comes their way. Some should go into technical trades and others should go to college. It's nice to see someone at the upper levels of government see this also. As a "Career and Technology" (CATE) teacher I'm proud to be helping to prepare my students to be successful in either college or technical jobs.
Finally, the president spoke to students and told them that dropping out should not be an option. A wonderful sentiment. All in all, it seemed to be a great speech even if it was short on specifics. But, as they say, "The devil is in the details!"

One last note, when did education go from a "local" issue to a "national" one. I thought education management was a "States Rights" item and our state lawmakers (in ALL of their infinite wisdom) delegated the decision making to local school boards. What exactly happened to THAT concept?

Chuck smiles as he climbs off the box and exits stage right.

Math Fail!

I think my friend Carrie is on the internet more than I am. Of course, Diane can hardly imagine that this statement is possible! In any case, on Carrie's site she introduced a blog she has been watching lately and the picture she showed just made me go and check it out. When I went there and started scrolling through the pictures and videos I found the following that I figured I must document and show my math students. I hope you enjoy it also!

New Presidency, new website

photo courtesy of: ktylerconk

Change has come...to the official website of the White House. If this stuff interests you at all, check out the new www.whitehouse.gov website. Of particular interest is the official "blog" - look under "Briefing Room." While there is no place to leave comments to specific postings (think: "hey, send me some bail out money") there is a form to send email messages. What I was really impressed with was the first post that described some of the uses for this site and blog. Under the third priority of "Participation" they state that the text of all non-emergency bills will be posted on the site for 5 days before being signed by the President. This is to allow for further public comment.

I have already put this site into my Netvibes account so I'll be instantly notified of any changes/additions to the website. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you find a nice "News Aggregator" so you can watch stuff like this (or, my blog for that matter). Some possibilities include: Netvibes, iGoogle, Google Reader, Yahoo!, Pageflakes, etc...

Feel free to share this info with any social studies teachers you know. I'm sure they too will find it facinating and a great addition to their classroom.

Still Life Practice

Since it was a long weekend I tried to get a bit of practice in. I was trying to get the new kitty to pose but she wouldn't cooperate so I moved to inanimate objects. Here is the best of the book shots.

Through the weekend, though I've been planning scallops for dinner. As I worked though it in my head I decided that this would be a good chance for me to cook something good and possibly get a couple of pictures too. This article includes only the best of my shots but if you click here, you can see a couple other pictures of the scallops, talipia, noodles and "pseudo" sauce.

The dinner turned out good and I'm reasonably pleased with the pictures I shot. As always, I need more practice, especially with the new flash setup. Specifically, I need to remember to use some sort of reflector on the opposite side of my flash to kill off a few of the harsh shadows. Given that, this picture of the scallops really pleases me.

Make sure and check out that link above and look for a new picture of Olivia! She's really a darling and is out to capture our hearts. As some of you heard, our older cat, "Moogie" was sick and passed away this weekend. She was a good cat and over the years since Ryan moved she had adopted me. Especially through her, I had grown to truly appreciate cats, their power to put someone into nap mode and their aloof love. She was a good cat and we were blessed to have her around for over 13 years. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of her so I'll not re-post it here. Know, however that we loved her dearly.

I hope you have a great week and spend some time watching the inauguration. I won't bore you with a long diatribe about the historical context of this swearing-in (just watch CNN or any network news and you'll get that). I will say that I am grateful we will now see some changes in how things are done on a national level.


Carrying my camera

Plane crash into Hudson River, originally uploaded by grego!.

I carry my camera and several pieces of gear in a backpack with me almost everywhere I go. People have laughed at me and at times people have questioned my compulsiveness. I usually shake it off and don't give it another thought. Seeing this, though, makes me more resolute in having my camera all the time. Whoever took this picture of the Airbus crash on the Hudson river yesterday had his/her camera with them and was ready to snap pictures and upload them to flickr on a moments notice. They were posting clear, usable pictures online before the media could even get to the scene. So far this picture has been viewed over 250,000 times and it's only been 28 hours since the accident.

Do I think I'll ever be first-hand on a news story and be able to photograph it? Actually, I hope not. But, you never know when a very pretty flower or sunset or building, etc. is going to appear out of the blue.

And then there's always my dinner at some restaurant. Sometimes, even that deserves a good picture! And Ryan so loves it when I take pictures of my meals.

Have a great MLK weekend!

Antiques Shopping

I got the newest version of Photoshop Elements tonight so I spent some time loading it on my computer and going through some of my shots from earlier in the year. Here are a couple of pictures I took while Diane and I shopped at the Warrenton Antique Market. I especially like the one above simply because it reminds me of my father. I didn't really go fishing with him much. My grandparents had a place on Lake LBJ when I was small and I vaguely remember him fishing up there. Otherwise, I went with him once or twice to the coast. But when he died, the one thing I asked for as a remembrance was his fishing tackle. Those coupled with some of the lures I found of my grandfather's really puts me into a wistful mood. Also, I just find old lures compelling. I threatened to start a collection at one time but found it to be very expensive. Almost like buying "antiques!"

While we were shopping, I just stumbled upon this shot and thought the mirror added something to it. Also, the donuts looked to be almost as old as the table they were sitting on. I hope you enjoy these. In the coming weeks, as I have time, I'll post more from the fall and last spring.

Meet Desmond!

So, "He, who has not been named" has been officially christened "Desmond." I mentioned somewhere that Diane was thinking of a name from one of the books she's read but, in fact, I was wrong - that seems to be happening more and more lately! The name is just something she came up with. On Tuesday night "Des" was sleeping for awhile and playing for awhile. During one of his wakeful periods he decided to climb all over Diane. At one point he was laying down on her and was "belly-up." I guess he was airing out his underwear! I got out my camera and after a couple of pictures with the "DMV" flash, switched over to using my good, new flash. This is one of the pictures I got.

Beau and Moogie have spent the past week ignoring the new guy. I'm guessing they think he'll go away. Beau, especially, has been very aloof to everyone around here. We're hoping he'll settle back into his regular routine of camping on Diane's lap, soon.

Apparently our finding this guy was a stroke of good luck for the entire litter. Of the six kittens, we took one, Colin took one and two of my school colleagues each took one. I'm already planning a "family reunion" in a couple of months! The last I heard (Wednesday) there are two more if you are interested.

I've got lots of things to do this weekend but I plan to spend time later today or tomorrow getting some good pictures of the new guy. Hopefully I'll get them posted soon. Have a great weekend!

A new year, a new flash, a new kitty

Notice a trend in the title? Diane not only decided to get me a "good" flash for Christmas but also a spectacular subject to practice on. The "unnamed" new addition just got into the house about 30 minutes ago. I thought I'd post up a couple of early shots.

The funny face Diane is making is because "he, who has not been named" has already stolen her heart. Since I am leaving town in 2 hours you probably won't see many more shots till later in the week. Rest assured, though, MANY are coming. Take for example this shot of "he, who has not been named" and Colin.

Speaking of whom...Colin and his mother just left the house to go to the Humane Society for a kitty for him. I'm guessing this will be a "cat" year for our family.

Finally a solo shot. Don't you just love how my new flash captures his colors? Fine, I had to ask because, after all, it is ALL about me and my camera!

Have a great weekend! Please send cat food!

San Antonio end-of-year walk-about

On Monday morning Colin and I decided to go downtown and take some pictures. He's just now looking at photography from an artistic perspective and suggested we go out shooting. I was excited to do so. I find I really enjoy going out and ambling around with someone else. And Colin seems to have a natural eye for some things.

After we stopped by Little Flower Basilica and got several pictures there, we headed downtown. Since I have covered most of the route that I took him on, I decided to look for lines and patterns. Both of the shots on this post are what I came up with. While the one below is kinda nice (I need to go back and take it head-on), I was really pleased with the top picture. I'm especially happy because the sun is in a perfect position to make shadows that nearly exactly match the lines of the fire escape. The stinking tree leaves in the top left are a bit of a distractor but otherwise I thought it worked well.

Now that the new years party is over I plan to spend some time today playing with my new flash. I did a little practice last night but none of the pictures are post-able (meaning the subjects will get mad at me for putting them on the internet!). Also, tomorrow, Colin is coming back for another walk-about.

I hope all three of you who read this (thanks mom!) have a wonderful new year! It's hard to believe we are already in 2009 and while I had a pretty darned good year, I know there are many others who struggled. I pray that this year will be better for all. Certainly bringing in a new president will help to get the ball rolling. Blessings to all!