This is another from the wedding we attended last weekend. I got this image during the cocktail period between the ceremony and reception, while the space was being converted for dinner and the wedding party were off taking pictures. Unfortunately for the bride and groom, it had been raining all weekend, which meant that their plans for an outdoor wedding had to be altered. For most of the guests, though, it was actually quite nice, as the rain made for a cozy feeling indoors and some beautiful scenes outdoors.

What I love about this image is the painterly quality of the bokeh. When I look at the tree in the background, it almost looks like something one of the impressionists might have created.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve to recover highlights and deepen shadows and midtones, brushed in over the background; second curve applied to the entire photo to brighten and enhance color.

Thoughts for improvement: As I mentioned, I absolutely love the bokeh here. I'm not sure about the composition, though. When I took the shot I was mainly interested in the drops of water on the tree in the foreground, and had taken several closer shots to focus more clearly on them. Here I was trying to get both the drops and the tree in the background in the same frame, but I think it might have been better to just pick one or the other.

Delicate and Strong

Delicate and Strong

As I mentioned before, Juliette and I went to a wedding this weekend. We'd both been looking forward to it, in part because we've been wondering for years now what it would be like--the couple are two of the most interesting people I know, and the bride has an eye for detail that is unmatched. This image is one example of that attention to detail. The chairs for the ceremony were decorated with little flower arrangements that were tied onto the backs, a large soft flower surrounded by what I think were thistles. The contrast was wonderful--not just in the play between the pink of the flower with the blue of the thistle, but also the textures and characters of the two blossoms. I love the idea of the soft, pale, delicate petals of the one being balanced by the prickles and tenacity and strength of the other.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve for highlight recovery and contrast; BW conversion with yellow filter.

Thoughts for improvement: If I had a camera that had better low-light performance, I would have liked to try this at f/2.8 or maybe even f/4. I like the way the shallow depth of field makes the thistle bloom soft while keeping the closer points of the leaves sharper, but it's a shame that some of the texture in the large flower is lost.

Glamour Shot

Glamour Shot

We do clean up fairly well, don't we?

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode (matrix metering). Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/1250 sec (+0 EV), ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve to bring up exposure and add contrast; heavy burn over the background; skin smoothing brushed over both faces.

Thoughts for improvement: Straight out of the camera, this shot was very underexposed. It's unfortunate, because at 1/1250 of a second, there was plenty of room to play with that--I can easily hand hold at 1/60 or even 1/30. I'd like to see how this would have come out at ISO 200 or 400, 1/30 sec, f/2.8. Even with the smaller aperture and slower ISO, that should still give me about two extra stops of exposure, which would either nail it or be perhaps a little overexposed. I actually like what a bit of overexposure does to eye color and skin tone, so I can't but think that the whole thing would be that much better.

Come Over Here

Come Over Here

We went to a wedding this weekend, and after we got all dressed up, Juliette wanted to take some pictures. We did some standard portraits of each other and a few that I took at arm's length of the two of us. This was the last one, by which point we'd devolved into pure silliness.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode (matrix metering). Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/640 sec (+0 EV), ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve for contrast, desaturated reds and yellows, slight overall desaturation.

Thoughts for improvement: It's hard, of course, to get framing just right when you're holding a camera at arm's length. This turned out very cute, but I still would have liked to get more of Juliette's face in the shot. I do like the texture in my jacket lapel and the color and rumple of my shirt, though, so in order to get all that and more of Juliette's face, I would probably have to have longer arms.

My Favorite Deputy

My Favorite Deputy

Seeing as we were there for the Brick-or-Treat event, we brought Jason's Halloween costume with us to Legoland. We got there in the morning, though, and the event didn't start until the late afternoon, so for most of the day he just wore his street clothes. When it was time to change into his costume, Jason was pretty excited, and as we headed back into the park to find the event, he proudly displayed his boots and vest as he marched along.

That lasted all of five minutes before he started kicking the boots off and pulling at his collar. Hopefully he'll make it a little longer when it's time for some actual trick-or-treating.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/500 sec, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Curve to set black point and add contrast and color pop; cropped a bit off the top and left side.

Thoughts for improvement: There's a bit of lens distortion I probably should have cleaned up, and it also may need a little straightening. Other than that I'm pretty happy with it.

Places We Lost Along The Way

A few months ago, I had a dream. I dream most nights, but even though I usually remember them when I first wake up, they tend to slip away some time between rolling out of bed and leaving the house. This one, though, has stuck with me.

I had gone back to my home town to visit an old friend at the house he lived in when we were kids. Everything was more or less the way I remembered it, and we chatted for a while--about what, I don't know. Eventually we wandered out into the yard, and I stood by the hammock at the edge of the property and looked out across the valley at the hills on the other side. I just looked and smiled for a few moments when I remembered that he and his mother had moved out of that house a long time ago, and suddenly I was crying. "I never thought I'd get to see this view again," I thought to myself.

I woke up almost immediately after that, but that feeling of having lost something stuck with me for most of the rest of the day. Since then, it's come back to my mind every few days, and I often find myself feeling an intense sadness that I probably won't really get to see that yard again.

Not too long after that I stumbled across Ze Frank's Childhook Walk project, in which he asks you to imagine a walk you used to take as a child, then try to recreate it in your mind, possibly with the help of Google Street View. It reminded me so much of the dream that I knew I had to try to see what Street View had for me. Of course, my friend's old house was well back from the road, so there was no chance I'd actually be able to see the view from his yard. But I was able to find the front of his driveway:

I must have walked up and down that driveway five hundred times over the years. Maybe more. It's strange, sometimes, to think that that's all behind me now. But he doesn't live there anymore, nor does his mother, nor anyone I know. There's no reason I'd go there, and no reason for whoever lives there now to let me on the property if I did.

It's been probably fifteen years since they moved out, and until a few months ago I never thought anything of it. After all, people move, things change, and life goes on. I guess that's why it surprised me that I reacted the way I did in my dream; I hadn't realized that I still cared so much. It makes sense when I think about it, though. A lot of what I remember about myself at that age goes back to that house and that yard, and while I'll obviously never be able to visit those days again, somehow being also unable to visit the place makes the loss more poignant.

I tend to the maudlin, I suppose.

I think most of us have places like this, places that were once really important that we'll never go back to. Take a minute to think about what that place is for you. Maybe you can find it in Street View. Maybe you have a photo of your own. Maybe you only have your memories. What did it mean to you then, and what does it mean now? Tell me about it, if you don't mind. Share a picture, if you can.

Clown Fish

Clown Fish

Jason really enjoyed the Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland. Of course, I still prefer the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the one at Legoland does have in its favor the fact that it's explicitly directed at children, and so there are a lot of fun interactive demos and shows.

In this exhibit there were actually three or four different species of clownfish. As soon as he saw it, Jason ran over, yellow "Nemo! Nemo!" His memory has really been impressing me lately--the last time he saw Finding Nemo was when we visited my mom and stepdad six months ago.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 1600. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve to add contrast and increase midtones and highlights, brushed in over everything to the right of the rock; burned the background behind the fish.

Thoughts for improvement: The focus is a little soft, and, of course, the D40 doesn't do so well at ISO 1600 in terms of noise. Probably it would be better, too, if I had placed the fish off center in the frame.

A Fire Upon the Deep

By Vernor Vinge

Going into this book, I had only a vague impression of Vernor Vinge's work. I had a notion of him as a hard science fiction writer, of roughly the same generation as men like Larry Niven, Robert Forward, and Gregory Benford. Thus, I figured A Fire Upon the Deep would be the same sort of book that one of those guys would write--a fairly straightforward plot centered around a strong central scientific or technological concept, written in an engaging style but with more of a focus on ideas and action than compelling characterization. Now, I do enjoy those other writers. Nevertheless, I found it a pleasant surprise that this, my first foray into Vinge's work, turned out to be quite a bit more complex and engaging than I had anticipated.

Most hard science fiction novels are built on a single concept--a giant ring-shaped structure built around a star, for example, or an alien race that lives on the surface of a neutron star--and the bulk of the plot is driven by exploration of the implications of that concept. Fire, on the other hand, incorporates two main SF ideas. One, a universe in which technology becomes limited by proximity to a galactic core--thus, advanced civilizations with faster-than-light travel and interstellar domains can only exist near the edges of the galaxy, and the furthest reaches of space are inhabited by god-like AI entities. The other, a race of wolf-like aliens in which individuals have no true intelligence or consciousness and true sentience only occurs amongst highly bonded packs. Either of these ideas would be interesting enough to merit its own entire book, but by bringing them together in a single story, Vinge makes some neat ideas really spark.

In Fire, a team of researchers inadvertently awaken an ancient and powerful AI that immediately turns on them, destroying the outpost and then spreading outward like a virus to take over entire civilizations. One ship escapes, carrying with it a small piece of the AI that could be the key to defeating it, but it is marooned on a primitive planet within the Slow Zone--a part of the galaxy close enough to the core that faster-than-light travel is impossible. Immediately after landing, the survivors on the ship encounter the planet's inhabitants--a group-minded race called the Tines--and become caught up in the local politics and war. Meanwhile, the malevolent AI continues to spread, and the starfaring races in the outer galaxy scramble to oppose or flee it. The novel bounces back and forth between epic, space-opera interstellar war and medieval intrigue and betrayal, culminating in a breathtaking climax.

Fire combines gripping action, well-realized characters, and tense, complex intrigue in what I think is one of the best examples of its genre. It's also surprisingly funny for hard SF--scenes are intercut with newsgroup-style posts discussing the events of the story, many of which are hilarious to an Internet-savvy reader. It's little wonder that Fire won the Hugo for Vinge--I could scarcely put it down, and even having had weeks to contemplate it I can think of no flaws and still find it a very satisfying story. Indeed, this is the best hard SF I've read in quite some time.

Started: 9/21/2010 | Finished: 9/23/2010

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Finishing up this little series on Legoland's Minitown is this charming little scene I spotted on the back side of a wharf in the Lego San Francisco. I just love how expressive these bricks can be.

In case you were wondering about the little discs lying around, those are pennies. The wharf display is the middle of a little pond, so of course there were coins all over the place.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: straightened horizon; curve to bring up overall exposure, drop shadows, and add contrast; slightly desaturated reds and yellows.

Thoughts for improvement: The big thing here is that I slightly missed the focus. I would love to say that that's on purpose, and soft focus can be used creatively to give a dreamy quality to a photo, but that's not what happened here. Compositionally, I think this would also be improved by bringing the subjects off center--I think a wider shot with more of the buildings and the subjects close to or at the lower-right "rule of thirds" point would be better. It might also change the lighting behind the man's head, which is a little problematic there because the lack of contrast in that area makes it a little hard to distinguish the subject from the background.

I'm Getting Mixed Signals Here

Me: "Do you like Ms. Manijeh? Is she your friend?" [Ms. Manijeh is one of the teachers at his day care.]

Jason: "Um yeah." [This is his new thing, putting "um" in front of his answers. I don't know what's up with that.]

Me: "That's good. What about Eva, is she your friend?"

Jason: "Um yeah."

Me: "And is Tescia your friend?"

Jason: "Um yeah."

Me: "Is Kayleigh your friend?"

Jason: "Um no."

Me: "No?"

Jason: "Ale my friend."

Me: "Ale's your friend? Well that's nice."

Jason: "And Kayleigh."

Me: "Wait, Kayleigh is your friend?"

Jason: "Everybody my friend, daddy!"

Me: "That's true. Everybody is your friend, Jason."

Jason: "And Jason my friend, and Mommy my friend, and Daddy my friend. And Cooper my friend."

Me: [smiling] "That's right, we are all your friends."

Jason: "I love you!"

Me: "Awww, thank you! I love you too!"

Jason: "I love you, daddy!"

Me: "Awww... That is so sweet. I'm going to kiss you now!"

Jason: "No, don't kiss me!"

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