Thursday, November 29, 2007

Best Laid Plans, Meet Annie Leibovitz

I took the day off of work on Tuesday and went down to the Bamberger Ranch to shoot some fall panoramas. Arriving in the wee hours of the morning (the drive is a lot less of a hassle on empty roads), I slept away the remainder of a near-freezing night in the back of my pickup, regained consciousness at noon, had lunch with Margaret Bamberger, then set out to re-shoot my "Jacob's Ladder no. 1" panorama, roughly one year later. I thought it'd be interesting to compare the scene in drought conditions (as seen in the existing pano), and in the aftermath of this year's wet winter, spring and summer. I also thought I'd shoot some more panoramas on the creek that feeds the Jacob's Ladder tank; there'd been a good, solid (and much-needed) rain a day or two before, so the creek should have had a nice flow, and, with luck, the bald cypresses and grasses would be at the height of their fall colors.

However, things didn't work out as I expected. It turned-out that there was another photographer with permission to be on the ranch that day, and they'd already claimed the full-length of the road leading to Jacob's Ladder, and even the trail-head that leads to it from far upstream. And they'd laid claim in a big way: catering trucks, motorcycles, support vehicles, loads of staff, etc. Turns out that Annie Leibovitz, of all people, was on the ranch to shoot—if the third-hand information I received was correct—the Paul Mitchell heirs.

I commend her on the choice of locations, but ...well... damn.

That meant quickly coming-up with a plan "B" and "C" for my day's shooting. The trees were no help at all; the fall-colors were minimal and spotty. According to Margaret, most of the trees went more-or-less directly from green to brown this year, skipping the "fall color" phase almost completely. Speculation is that the wet winter, spring and summer conspired with the dry fall to throw-off the trees in a big way.

What fall color there was, lay in the grasses, which were a beautiful mix of reds, oranges and golds. I'd been wanting to capture the fall grasses, anyway, so the Liebovitz/tree conspiracy wasn't a complete show-stopper. I re-shot some of my early work around Madrone Lake (plan "B"), then, taking advantage of a temporary ceasefire that had been negotiated with the season's hunters for Liebovitz's visit, I hiked up into a valley of High Lonesome that I'd had my eye on for years (plan "C") where I shot a sequence of panos as sunset approached.

“High Lonesome Sunset” ©2007 Chris W. Johnson

The big problem with trying to shoot high-dynamic-range panoramas of grasses (and a lot of other things, for that matter) is the wind. Even shooting with a 10mm lens, as I do, eighteen photos are required to capture each scene (three separate exposures for each of the six segments of a 360 degree pano), so a pano can be ruined by the movement of a single prominent stalk of grass in any one of those eighteen images. Needless to say, that means waiting long and hard for the local air to come to a complete stop, and, due to the scarcity of such moments, doing without second takes. Pieces of the panos look promising (see above), but there's no telling whether any of them were shot when their scenes were still enough, long enough, for them to assemble cleanly. I'll have to assemble them to find out, and that's going to take a lot of work.

If the panos don't assemble well enough to be usable, the silver lining will be that I can truthfully say that Annie Liebovitz ruined one of my shoots, which should do a wonderful job of conveying the mis-impression that I move in elite photographic circles, when I really move in a tiny, second-hand pickup truck.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Snapshots from the Ranch

Snapshots from a visit to the Bamberger Ranch, back on the 13th.

A very-near sunset shot looking out over Big Valley and into the valleys of High Lonesome and Round Mountain. If the clouds had been more cooperative earlier, when the foreground wouldn't have been in shadow, this shot could have really been something.

The dinosaur tracks in their protective enclosure, and Margaret Bamberger photogaphing them.

Three large turtles, of a species unknown to me, enjoying a recently fallen tree in an ancient, spring-fed lake. Arrowheads and other artifacts found around this lake suggest that it has been important to more than just turtles for a very long time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Qwicap 1.4b12 Released

Qwicap 1.4b12 has been released. Thanks go out to Sunil for noticing the problem with extracting numeric values from XML when using the Qwicap XML engine stand-alone. That bug has been fixed. Also, the Qwicap.getStatusReport method works again. Full details in the change history. Source code, binaries and examples are available on SourceForge, as usual.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Qwicap 1.4b11 Released

Version 1.4b11 of the Qwicap Java web application framework (or anti-framework, IMO) has been released. This beta kind of got away from me, frankly. It really should have been broken-up into a succession of betas, and possibly version 1.5 betas, at that. But I was running low on things to do before declaring version 1.4 done, and some untouched items on the original 1.4 "to do" list were staring at me, and I started to think that it'd just be a downright shame to go to release without a few more of those features. One thing led to another, of course, and here we are.

My project management skills aside, good things have happened to Qwicap. Notably, this version embraces Java 1.5, provides Qwicap's first support for internationalization/localization/multi-lingualism, and allows Qwicap applications to run both directly from their WAR files, and within the default configuration of the Security Manager in Tomcat. It also wraps-up the effort to make Qwicap fully character-set aware. (It's so character-set aware at this point, that you can make web applications that operate entirely in the EBCDIC code page of your choice, or in any mix of the many other character sets known to Java. The limiting factor is the range of character sets supported by the various browsers, and the bugs therein.) See the change history for full details.

By the way, in connection with Qwicap's new internationalization features, I'm looking for people with good non-English language skills who'd be willing to translate Qwicap's internal error messages (there are something like 22 of them), and its "number guess" example application (one web page, and a few other strings). I expect that Qwicap's internationalization features will evolve with use, so translations will help not only with the actual translation problem, but will probably aid in the refinement and growth of Qwicap's internationalization API. If you're interested, there's contact information on the Qwicap main page, or you can leave me a comment here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Show's Over

The LBJ Wildflower Center show, in which my Bamberger Ranch panoramas were being shown, closed Sunday. I picked-up the unsold canvases this afternoon (Monday). There's no telling when I'll see my cut of the money from the pano that did sell; having been subsumed into my old friend, The University of Texas at Austin, the Wildflower Center has to have State paperwork filled-out and filed before they can give me a dime. The economics of this art are such that, unless I'm fortunate enough to sell a helluva lot more material, the difference between having that money and not, is just a matter of how deep a hole I'm standing in. I'm kinda used to my hole at the moment, so the money will come whenever it comes, and I can live with that. What the future holds for shows I know not, but this show went well, so, for the time being, I'm not concerned.

On the other hand, Margaret sold none of her sketches, and Kathy none of her photos. I suspect that the show was improperly structured for their needs; I've seen Margaret sell a passel of prints in a single evening of a single day show, and Kathy has no trouble selling her work, though she's usually showing other material. Possibly this extended show lacked the sense of occasion, and the opportunity to spend some time with the artists, learn about their subject matter, and form a sense of connection with it. Or not. All that aside, it was still a pleasure to have this opportunity. My thanks to the folks at the Wildflower Center for making it possible.

Sunset at the LBJ Wildflower Center's tower. ©2007 Chris W. Johnson

P.S. If you did happen to catch the show and liked some of the panorama canvases, but not enough to plunk down $1,900 for one, I also have high-quality, unframed, archival-grade paper prints measuring 44 X 17 inches (the image itself occupies 40 X 12 inches of that space) which I can sell for a great deal less. (But remember that framing costs will consume some of the savings.) Leave a comment with your contact information for more information. (I won't publish the comment.)