I’m a Photographer, Damn it!

These last few months, I haven’t felt like going anywhere, and consequently I haven’t been taking as many pictures as usual. It’s been too hot, too humid, and I admit to suffering increasingly common bouts of depression. Two and a half years of COVID, the shit happening to our country, the inflation that is slowly forcing me toward a decision I don’t want to make… and so much more I won’t bother listing here, have taken some of the joy out of my favorite hobby.

But today I feel it again. A few months ago, the Florida Bluebird Society asked for submissions, and I sent in my best bluebird photo. They accepted it, and yesterday I received my payment for that pic, a copy of the calendar. 😉

bluebird

I snapped that pic inside, under an overhead light, so the colors are a bit off, but the “real thing” looks fine.

Here’s the original, the one I submitted.

It struck me this morning, while I was taking that picture of a picture (heh), that I am a photographer, and not just because one of my pictures was published. I’ve been taking photos since 35mm cameras were standard and I was one hell of a lot younger. When digital cameras came out, I was standing in line. “What? No more schlepping film to a store and paying a small fortune to have it developed? I’m IN.” There was no stopping me.

I’ve upgraded equipment every single time I could afford it and kept taking photos. I went from “prosumer” cameras to a Sony with interchangeable lenses. I read everything I could get my hands on. I bought and learned to use Photoshop. I also purchased specialized graphic software so I could learn how to bring my pictures to life. I kept reading and learning and trying new things.

I am a photographer.

I’m also a pretty damn good post processor. 🙂 Here’s a pic I found of Yuzu, in the hoodie he wore for Fantasy on Ice this year. It’s a great photo, but it’s small and in horrible shape. This is the actual size I had to work with. Take a look at his neck.

This is what I turned it into after a lot of processing through multiple programs.

Are you impressed? 🙂 I never thought I could “save” this photo, but it turned out beautifully.

I have to remind myself that I am good at a few things, and photography and post processing are two of them. I can still write, too, though I haven’t published anything, other than the occasional flash fic, in three years. What can I say? Life has become so uncertain, I find it difficult to be creative in the way that writing demands. Photography is easier, so I’ve focused on that, even though I make no money from it.

“Making money” is the one thing I’ve failed at in my life. I always only have enough to survive. That has gotten really old though. *sigh*

As soon as the weather cools down, I plan to visit Bok Tower, which is north of me and beautiful, so everyone says. I’ll definitely have the camera with me that day.

Here’s another reminder that I not only take good pictures, I also process them beautifully. Green iguana with textured background.

See you next time.

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The Unacknowledged Effects of Getting Older

I could write two or three books on this topic, but I’ll restrain myself. 😉 Because the truth is you are never prepared for being old. Society paints this rosy picture of us all living our best lives. We’re in great health, exercising regularly, eating well, and cuddling on a beach in front of a driftwood fire–it’s almost always a beach. We’re partnered up and have plenty of money to eat out every damn night and travel to the exotic countries we didn’t get to visit when we were working full time.

I call bullshit!

My parents were able to do that when they retired (The Generation that Devoured their Young (the Silent Generation)), but wages have been flat in America since 1970. Minimum wage hasn’t gone up either, and even though some (blue) states have taken it upon themselves to raise it, it’s still nowhere near what it should be. Fifteen bucks an hour is still barely surviving if you’re single, and there are lots and lots of single people in this country. They never married or they got divorced or their partner died. What you earn during your long working life determines your social security payment when you retire.

The majority of working people are middle class or low income. We’ve been screwed by the Republican Party for decades because they serve only the wealthy, and if you ever believed otherwise, you’re an idiot. Even now, they’re trying to rebrand themselves as the “party of the working class.” Lies, I tell you. They don’t even have a platform, other than pointing fingers and blaming others, usually the Democrats.

I digressed. It happens. Moving on.

The point I’m trying to make is a lot of seniors live in abject poverty, despite social security. I’m one of them. I worked hard my entire life, but I could never get ahead, much less save for retirement. When I retired at 62, my monthly SS payment was absurdly low. Yeah, that was a mistake. I should have waited until I was 66, but the thought of working five more years for people who didn’t appreciate me, who took advantage of me, made me sick to my stomach. So I took a chance.

For many years I somehow managed just fine. I became a book editor to make extra money, and that worked out well for a while, too. But it was a constant scramble that only got worse. Silver Publishing (my first paid editing work) imploded when the owner hightailed it for South America (or was it South Africa? I forget). After that I worked for Dreamspinner Press. Lovely people back then, and the owner paid her writers. But I worked around the clock for a couple of years, no time off (and I mean no time off, not weekends, not holidays), for horrendously low wages, but I was getting a monthly SS check, so I told myself I was okay with it. I just needed enough.

When I was offered the chance to work with someone who would refer editing jobs to me, I leaped at it, and I did well for several more years. At this point, I’d been editing a long time, and I was getting burned out. Fixing the same problems over and over and over until I couldn’t see straight was driving me up a wall. But while I was stashing money every chance I got, I was also trying to better my living conditions. There was also an appendectomy in there, and a 4mm kidney stone that drove me to the ER not once, but twice, because it refused to pass and the pain was horrific. Medicare only picks up 80%, and I was expected to pay the rest. In other words, simply living costs money, and you can’t plan for everything.

Looking back, I did everything right, but I got fucked by our politicians and financial people. I lost my house in 2008 (the Great Recession), and after relocating to Florida, I was forced to move several times as rents increased past my ability to pay them. Then COVID happened, followed by the highest inflation in decades, and here we are. 😦

I recently turned seventy. This year the Medicare COLA went up 5.9%, but inflation was topping 8%. Also, the Medicare premium was raised a lot more than it usually is, and it’s taken right out of our SS check.

And yet another disaster: the person who was feeding me work decided to retire the editing part of her business, and I was set adrift. I’m pretty much trying to survive off my SS check, which is a measly $994/month. Think about trying to live on that! If you divide the annual total by the number of working hours a year, it comes to $5.62/hr. Not even minimum wage, which has been kept artificially low for decades. I almost laugh myself to death when I read about people “struggling” to survive on less than $2500/month. JFC, they should walk in my shoes for a while. I’d be living so much better if I had that much income!

This is all happening when I’m old and getting older. I was brainwashed in my youth and middle years to think these years would be “golden,” and I’d be living well on that beach. The reality is so much starker and more depressing than that. The worst of it? All the things you give up as you relocate from place to place, each time moving lower on the financial ladder.

During my last move, I gave up all my furniture, including a rocker I’d had for forty years, all my kitchenware, nearly all my tools, most of my clothing, two desktop computers, nearly all my paperback and hardcover books and the shelving they once filled, not to mention all the odds and ends you acquire over the years. I’ve been reduced to the bare minimum, and it’s still too much, because I see another move in my future, and this time I have no idea where I’ll land.

______________

Here’s a pic of a writing spider, taken at a weird angle. It’s not the best photo, but I kind of like it anyway. 🙂

This black swallowtail just emerged from its chrysalis. The wings are almost dry enough to fly.

This is a brown anole. They’re plentiful in Florida, but this one reveals the dorsal ridge. It appears over fights regarding territory. I guess I was considered a threat. 🙂

See you next time.

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Core Strength

I got to thinking about “core strength” when I saw this pic of Yuzu. Imagine the muscle strength it must take to maintain that position long enough to smile for the camera. Really look at it… perfect balance, but I bet it hurt like hell. My flabby gut muscles ache at the thought.

But there’s another kind of core strength. It makes you strong enough to deal with what life throws at you, and lately that’s been quite a lot. I don’t know one single person who isn’t juggling shit every single day. We’re looking at the problems climate change is causing, and the Republican Party turning Nazi right before our eyes and lying about it. “We only want what’s good for this country. We only want what’s good for you.” LIES. They want more power, they want more money, and they don’t care what you want.

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Topaz Just Works

People have a hard time believing Topaz programs can improve really bad photos, but I have proof. Just how good is AI anyway?

Pretty darn good.

Song Joong-ji plays two roles in Netflix’s Arthdal Chronicles. He’s looks different, and is good in, both. For fun, I went looking for a couple of pics that would show a clear before/after processing. Here’s the first one. It’s heavy with noise to the point of almost being pixelated. I’m guessing it was a screencap. I cropped the original to give you a closeup view of how bad it is. Right click and open in new tab (I think that’s what they’re doing now; you’ll figure it out) to see uploaded size.

First thing I did was enlarge it in Topaz Gigapixel. This program not only safely blows up most photos, it also gets rid of noise and the “jagged” edges you often see on low resolution or compressed pics.

After doing that, I adjusted curves and took it into Luminar AI for further work. Notice how smooth his skin and the background on the left are. Noise gone! Artifacts removed! I am constantly amazed at how good Topaz programs are for recovering detail while improving the photo. I then ran it through another Topaz program–an old one I refuse to get rid of–to bring out more detail. In this case, it was his hair and the texture of his shirt, as well as clarifying the stones behind him.

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Compositing

I haven’t done this in a while, and I was rusty. Compositing is combining different photo elements in one picture to make a cohesive (and hopefully believable) whole.

I’m self-taught, and while I can picture what I want to do in my head, I can’t always figure out a way to make it happen on the computer. My skills are limited, but I keep trying. I’d really love to take classes in graphic software, but that ain’t happening.

The thing about my “talent” is I’m a really good mimic. I learn fast, so when I want to find out how to do something, I go online and search. That’s how I learned Photoshop. That’s how I got several jobs in web design. That’s how I learned photography (that and taking a lot of pictures!). I’m really good at picking things up and incorporating them into my digital projects. I research and read and try things out. Over the years, I’ve developed a good workflow when it comes to processing my photos.

Just don’t ask me to create something out of thin air. Can’t do it. My brain doesn’t work that way. That’s always struck me as strange, but give me a blank canvas, tell me to draw or paint something, and I can see it in my head, clear and complete, but I cannot, for the life of me, put it on paper. It’s frustrating as hell! I’ve always wanted to paint, but it’s not going to happen. Maybe I lost that ability when I was a kid and leaped off the basement stairs… straight into the wood header over the last step. My forehead hit that thing while I was flying, and I dropped like a sack of cement. Damn, it hurt. To this day, I blame all my inadequacies on that one incident.

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