Assignment: Texture

Assignment #7:  Photograph a juxtaposition of texture:  put smooth against rough or rough against smooth.

With this assignment I’m taking a different approach.   I frequently find I want more out of my images, but I’m not sure what.  How do I figure that out?  What is the creative process?     I selected an item I wanted to photograph, and with this post I’m exploring how I got from an image that is blah at best, to something I kinda like.

My friend Elisabeth, from Virginia Beach, gave me a beautiful knitting bowl for Christmas.   Not only is Elisabeth a corporate executive, she is also an excellent cook and entrepreneur (Pennacook Peppers – check them out on Facebook; their pepper jelly is the best!) as well as a gifted potter.  She made me this knitting bowl!   I love it.

Picture #1 – Harsh Light, Ugly Backdrop

With this image, I’m not doing Elisabeth or the bowl any favors.

Knitting Bowl Bad Light

I put the knitting bowl, holding a couple of balls of yarn, on a side table next to a window with western exposure.  The light is harsh.  The blanket-in-process is scruffy looking, with knitting needles and markers poking out.   A water mark appears on the table beneath the bowl.  Ugh.

Picture #2:  Adding Warmth and Shiny/Tiny Objects

To provide warmth, I taped up a sheet of gold-colored poster board on the wall behind the bowl.   Adjusted the blanket to hide the needles as well as the watermark.    Placed some knitting tools in front of the bowl for additional interest and texture.

K Bowl & Shiny Objects

This isn’t knocking my socks off.   And the light is glary.

Picture #3:  Lamp as Light Source

Because the light continued to bother me, I waited until dark and turned on a table lamp to provide the light source.  Also angled the table to draw the eye in toward the bowl.  Tried to shine the light on the crevice and swirl – key features of the bowl through which the yarn is threaded – to focus the eye there.

Knitting Bowl Lamplight

Not loving this.   The hot spot on the back of the bowl is a distraction.   I’m not sure the little knitting tools add much to the image.

Picture #4:  Change in Perspective

I waited a while to take more images and tried a change in perspective to get the creative juices flowing.   Shot the image from above to capture crevice and swirl from inside the bowl.   Thinking that less might be more, removed the blanket and tiny tools.

Knitting Bowl from Above

No.  This is going in the wrong direction.

Picture #6:   The Monochromatic Look

Back to a more traditional perspective.  My friend Susie suggested I identify the feeling I want the image to evoke, and to keep this in mind while shooting.   I decided I wanted the image to conjure feelings of home, warmth, softness, being cared for.

The blanket is therefore a must and goes back in.  Also in – a second ball of yarn that matches the blanket and the first ball to add more texture but not more color.   The bowl is on the same side table next to the window, but this time I pull down the white window shade to diffuse the light.   Knitting tools stay out.

Knitting Bowl Monochrome

Very close, but not quite right…..

Picture #7:  My Favorite

This is my favorite.  I like the hint of pink from the second (different) ball of yarn and how the curvy blanket hugs the bowl.   The table edge to the right adds some healthy tension and helps frame the bowl.  The shadows on poster board add depth, and I find the quality of the light in this image more appealing.  And the crevice/swirl – front and center – really show what makes this beautiful bowl a knitting bowl.

Knitting Bowl Favorite

So, did I succeed?   Does this image evoke feelings of home, warmth, being cared for?    Please leave a comment to let me know.

Assignment – Random Walk

Assignment 6:   Go for a walk without your camera.  Go back and make one photo of something you noticed along the way.

I did this assignment three times because for some reason, having just one photo to post isn’t enough.    That probably means something but I’m past analyzing it.   All these walks were in my neighborhood, at dusk or after dark, within a 15-block radius or so of my apartment.

The directive to make only one photo of something along the way was tough.   I interpreted that to mean – choose only one subject, because once I found my subject, I made  multiple images and then selected my favorite.   I can’t imagine limiting myself to only one image!   What if were out of focus?  Or someone stepped through it?  Or … pick any reason.

Even so, in each walk-about, I was conscious of wanting to find that One Thing worthy of being my sole subject.     It’s the commitment that’s hard.    In the first walk, I found a subject, made a couple of images, but it really didn’t work.   So I selected something else.   In hindsight, that was cheating.  In the subsequent walks, part of the learning, for me, was figuring out how to make the subject work, even if my initial images didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

Although I felt pressure to find the One Thing, once I found it there was also some benefit to focusing (ugh, a pun) only on that.  Often I approach my photography as if I’m playing a scattershot game of 52-card pick-up.   Something I should remember in other facets of my life.  Frequently less is more.  It’s defining the “less” that’s the problem.

In my third and last walk, I was on the path into Columbia University grounds, and this very nice woman asked me to take a picture of her and her son with her iPhone.   I did, we chatted and then walked together a few blocks down Broadway.    Helen let me take a photo of her and her son and gave me permission to post it here.   This is one reason I love New York – random, chance encounters where pleasantries are exchanged and connections are made, however fleeting.

Walk 1 – The path above Riverside Park

The Park at Night

Walk 2 – Near Columbia University, Broadway and 115th

Food To Go

Walk 3 – Statue of Shinran Shonin, founder of Jodo-Shinshu sect of Buddhism, outside the New York Buddhist Church

Shinran Shonin

Helen & David, near Columbia University

Helen & David

Happy Holidays

Photographic assignments will resume in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Here are a few images to commemorate the season.   The first is of holiday lights at the Houston zoo.  The other two were captured while playing around in a friend’s dining room, seeing what I could do with her poinsettia.

Peace (1)


Ivy & Poinsettia

My favorite is the middle one.   I like the contrast between the reds and blacks.    Dark shadows used to bother me, and I tended to lighten them on the computer.  But increasingly deep shadows appeal to me – I think they can add depth and mystery to an image.   That’s probably a sign of something – evolving artistic taste, maybe even an existential shift of some sort.  …Or maybe not.   Something to explore further , at least photographically, in the new year.

Assignment – Environmental Portrait

Assignment #5:  Make an environmental portrait of someone inside their home.  Include their surroundings as clues to who they are.

I took these images during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Three generations under one roof.  Our patriarch, the eldest, just turned 77.   The youngest is two.     Six kids (the cousins) in total.   It’s a poignant time because we are only able to gather like this once a year, sometimes less, and the question always lurks in my mind – will we meet like this, in just this way, again?    For me, too, it’s a reminder of how I’m getting older.   I don’t see it in the mirror so much as in the faces of my nieces and nephews when we get together.  And then there’s my diminishing memory.  I’ve had to list all their birthdays on a white board in my hallway so I don’t lose track.

The assignment requires environmental portraits.     Some of my favorite images were close-ups with no surround-sound clues, and so I reluctantly excluded them from this posting.   I prefer to capture candids because the kids especially are more natural.  But you gotta move fast.   I did more post-processing on these images than usual – cropping and straightening and adjusting for hot and colds spots.   Also converted to black and white.    Tossed quite a few images with blurred faces and portions of arms and legs.

My Favorites

I’m not above photographing someone who’s sleeping in the living room.   I wanted a different perspective, something a little arty – offbeat.   There isn’t much in the way of background to add context, but the lying in repose is clue enough I think.  He is often found in this state.

Sleeping Hands

Snoozing on Sofa

I shot both of these with the lens wide open at 2.8, at 800 ISO (high ISO is my modus operandi these days to avoid camera shake effect).      Tried to have clearance between his nose and hands in the second image but couldn’t find an angle that worked any better.


Technology is prevalent in this household.

Computer Jockey

That’s Gran teaching the grandkids how to play Bookworm on the iPad.

Playing BookWorm with Gran

Arts and crafts – creating a birthday card for granddad.

Making Granddad a Card

Reading is fundamental.   Granted, these next two images aren’t in the home but I think the surroundings provide some insight anyway.

Reading Together

Sometimes you gotta take a timeout.

Taking a Timeout

Hugs are the best part.

Cousins Hugging

Key Takeaways

  • I really like the look of portraits in black and white.  Normally I opt for B&W with a predominately blue filter (e.g., the trees in Assignment #2), but in these instances, I opted more for a green filter, or sometimes half green and half red.   That seemed to work better with skin tones.   Don’t know if that’s typical or just the situation this time – something to read up on.
  • With the kids, I got better results when we made the photography a game or I could blend into the background unnoticed.
  • Sometimes it’s better to put down the camera and just play.

Assignment: Strangers

Assignment #4:  Make a portrait of a stranger in their work environment.  Include their surroundings while embracing simplicity.

Two aspects of this assignment particularly challenged me.   The first has to do with the strangers.  I generally shy away from taking images of people, particularly those I don’t know.   I feel intrusive.   The antidote is to engage with the people, get to know them, segue into making a photograph.   But, being more of an introvert than extrovert, this is hard too.   Engaging is work, and there’s the possibility of rejection.   In New York City, especially, there’s also the high probability of encountering pick-a-fight hostility or lost-in-the-funhouse lunacy.   I get enough of that on the subway every day, just minding my own business.

Secondly, for me, the assignment includes an inherent conflict.   My idea of achieving simplicity is to get close, home in on the subject, cut out extraneous objects.  So including the surroundings while embracing simplicity feels oxymoronic.    I’m not sure I can do both.

 My Favorite

So it may be no surprise that my favorite is this lizard, taken inside the Central Park Zoo.   Granted, this is not person, but since when does a stranger have to walk on two legs?   His job is to hang out and give folks the chills, and we pay for the privilege.   In some small way he’s helping keep the zoo afloat and to my  mind, earning his keep.   Image was taken through a glass window.   ISO at 3200.  Converted to black & white in Aperture.

My Second Favorite(s)

When it comes to photographing strangers, NYC’s busker community provides many willing and fascinating subjects.   They’re used to tourists buzzing around with cameras and they like to pose for tips.

This fellow was hanging out near Times Square and wearing a sign offering photos for $3.     Engaging was easy; I was genuinely curious about the mice.   He’d trained them for over a year and showed me several very nice images on his phone of him with his cohorts taken by an Australian magazine.

It was fun chatting with him.  And the images are meaningful to me as a result of having had a conversation.   I wish I’d asked him his name.

I did try to step back and incorporate more background, but we were in front of a non-descript telephone booth.  If I had captured more of the bright colors and hordes of people hanging out in Times Square, the subject would have been lost.

It’s a fine line, I think.   Background can provide more context  but also more distraction.    When it comes to buskers, background may be more of a distraction because it doesn’t necessarily have any relevance to what they are doing.


This is a mime posing as the Statue of Liberty.  Mimes are great because they don’t want to engage either.     They’re sort of like the Buckingham Palace guards; you can try but they will pretend you’re not there.

Don’t believe this is a real person?   Check out this next image, with raised arm.  There is more background in this second one, but I think it detracts.

This image may come closer to filling the requirements of the assignment, except I don’t have a feeling of simplicity.   This man is not a busker; he sells pretzels and beverages out of the cart.  In this case, his surroundings do speak to his work.   I thought about stopping to talk, but didn’t.  I thought we ‘d have language barrier, plus it felt more like I was bugging someone on the job.

Key Take-Aways

  • Taking the time to engage with the subject IS important.   It makes me feel better about taking his/her photo.  I imagine it makes the other person feel better about having his portrait captured.  Overall the experience is richer.  Other things being equal, I suspect the images are better too, when we interact.
  • Providing enough context yet achieving simplicity is a balancing act that, for me, requires more practice.

Assignment – Symbols

Assignment #3:  Find and photograph circles and crosses.  Pay attention to the symbolism.

I struggled with this assignment.    My initial reaction was….  crosses and circles – that should be easy.  I already had several images of crosses in my albums, taken on various trips with no thought of symbolism.    So, I thought I’d focus on photographing circles instead.  I thought it would be easy…

My Favorites

I quickly ran into a dilemma – when is a circle a symbol and when is it merely a shape?

To establish some sort of framework, my idea after debating for several days was to photograph coins (circles!) in various venues and talk about the symbols evoked.  For examples, coins in a piggy bank representing wealth, frugality; coins in a fountain indicating wishes and good luck; coins tossed in the air suggesting chance or decision-making, as in ‘heads I win, tails you lose’; and coins on the eyes of a person, signifying death and afterlife.

My images of coins in a fountain and in a glass piggy bank were uninspiring, and I didn’t try coins on a corpse.  But I did like this image of a quarter spinning, easier to capture than a coin tossed in air.  (I say easier to capture, but it still took a couple of hours and 300+ photos to get this one.)

I searched through my albums to see if I had captured any circles, in addition to crosses, as none readily came to mind.   To my surprise, I found this image taken in Suzhuo, China; it’s the entrance to the Garden of Harmony.   (Originally taken on film, scanned onto my computer and converted to black and white.)   This is the best example I’ve seen of a circle as symbol – a physical representation of the harmony to be found in the Garden.

Finally, I took this photo while exploring the cemetery in New York City.   The grave holds a famous pioneer in the world of sports.   You don’t have to guess which sport….  The flag is a nice symbolic touch too.

Other Circles

From my archives I pulled these images of various circles, representing a variety of things.

Remains of ancient temple to the god Poseidon, in a field in Greece.  Scanned from a physical photo and converted to b&w.

Clock, Prague

Store sign, Czech Republic


While I took a few crosses on the cemetery outing, none struck my fancy.   From my archives I retrieved these images.  Two came from Eastern Europe and two from Central/South America.

From the Merry Cemetery, Sapanta, Romania.  Color image converted to b&w, with color selectively added back in.

Atop a mountain in Poland, in the middle of nowhere.  I have no idea why it was there.

From inside the Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru.

In a cemetery in Guatemala.

Unlike circles, it seems to me that the symbolism of crosses is rather straight-forward and consistent.  That is, crosses are a symbol of health, either spiritual health or belief (primarily Christian, as in crosses in churches, cemeteries, shrines) or physical health (crosses on pharmacies, ambulances, hospitals, The Red Cross…).

 Key Take-Aways

  1. Do a little research before taking out the camera!  I found a book in my bookcase, “Man & His Symbols” by Carl Jung, after I took the photos and as I was writing this blog.  It includes a 10-page discussion on the symbol of the circle.  Who knew?   Reading this in advance could have provided me added inspiration.
  2. I’ve taken a lot of images of symbols over the year, but unconsciously, I think because they are so in-grained in culture, mindset, or worldview.
  3. Ultimately I found the circles more interesting – and more prevalent – than the crosses.  This is not what I had expected.  Initially I struggled to find a circle that seemed even remotely symbolic.
  4. Sometimes, though, a circle is just a shape.

Assignment – Form

Assignment #2:  Set your camera to black & white, look for strong form instead of color.


When I think of strong form, Edward Weston’s Pepper #30 comes to mind:    I love the simplicity, the sensuousness.  I can feel the fleshy texture of the pepper in my fingers.

I did not have the pepper in mind when I shot for this assignment, but nature was on the agenda.   A friend and I went to a cemetery in Brooklyn to join a photography meet-up group.   We never found the group and instead wandered amongst the trees and tombstones, making images of whatever took our fancy.   The trees quickly captured my attention for their quirky and sensuous forms.   I had to improvise a little though.    I couldn’t figure out how to put my camera in B&W mode, so I took images in color and converted to B&W in Aperture later.

 My Favorites

Here are my favorites.





At the time, I felt a little obsessive-compulsive, walking around the same few trees, snapping one image after the other.  I thought I was capturing a lot of images with a wide variety of subjects.

But in hindsight, out of 45 images of these trees, there were only 7 distinctly different photographs.    Many were more-or-less duplicates (as much as 15 in one case), with the main difference among them being the exposure.  I tend to over-expose but wanted sufficient contrast for the B&W conversion, so I snapped many small-step changes in exposure just in case.

An interesting thing about Pepper #30 is . . . Weston must have taken 29 other pepper images before he produced this one.   Whether they were 29 variations of the same pepper or several peppers, I don’t know.  So maybe 15 of the same subject isn’t too many – maybe it’s not enough – but whatever the number, I need something more than exposure to differentiate one from the other.

 Initially Liked, Now Don’t

Here is an image I first liked, but now don’t.    Initially I titled it “tree bosom”, for obvious reasons, and mentally placed it in a ‘sensuous trees’ category.   (Google ‘sensuous trees’, and you’ll be amazed at the number of hits, including a half-baked website.)

Later, though, while looking at this image, the face of Gilligan (from 70’s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island”) popped in my head.’-star-Bob-Denver-dies    It’s like getting an annoying song stuck in the brain.   Now I can’t look at this image without thinking of goofy bug-eyed sailor wearing jaunty sailor hat.

Now, for me, this image is cartoonish, garish.   I debated not posting it at all, but that defeats the purpose of the blog, does it not?

 Runners Up

I did try my hand at capturing other forms.  Two images of man-made metal forms appear below.  The first comes from a door to a crypt at the cemetery.

This second one I found in the sidewalk at the Central Park Zoo – increased the contrast for more dramatic effect.

Key Take-Aways

1. Use my camera’s bracketing feature to automatically capture different exposures.

2. Devote more attention to composition; experiment with perspective.

3. Look for – photograph – the light.

4. Cremation is the way to go.  Not now, please, but when my time is up, hopefully in the distant future.