Monthly Archives: December 2010

Onward, upward

Captured on a cold, cloudy Christmas Day.  One exposure HDR using Nik HDR Efex Pro and Lightroom 3.

Captured on 12/25/10 with Canon 7D + Canon EF28-135mm, 1/250 sec at f/10, ISO 100

How I designed and built thads•world

I thought it might be helpful to share the decision-making process I went through before launching thads•world.  Fortunately, I came to this project with a good frame of reference, having launched a wine blog (BeyondtheBottle.com) several years ago using MovableType.  Even still, there was much to learn about designing a photography blog, which inevitably focuses on the presentation of one’s images.

The first decision I had to make was whether to use an all-encompassing, stand-alone service such as liveBooks, SmugMug, PhotoShelter, Zenfolio, Squarespace, or go with a WordPress, Drupal, MovableType solution that I could fully customize and host myself.  I was also intent on staying away from Flash-based sites, due to the lack of support provided on the Apple iOS platform and issues with search engine optimization.

Since my needs are unique and may not align with yours, I recommend starting with a list of requirements before making any purchase/implementation decisions.  The more time you spend investigating, considering, and deciding on your approach, the better results you will achieve and the happier you will be over the long run.

With my decision to go with a CMS tool, I focused on those that would offer a scalable platform not only for text, but more importantly presenting images, video and other digital media.  My consideration set boiled down to a choice between WordPress and MovableType.  While I had used MovableType for my wine blog, I wanted to try WordPress after seeing so many sites using it and hearing so many sing its praises.  Thus far, I am very happy with WordPress as my CMS.   In fact, as a result of using it here on thads•world, I am going to migrate my wine blog to WordPress in the next few months.

After deciding on WordPress as my content management system, I then started looking at various WordPress themes for photography blogs.  A search for “wordpress photography templates” helped me locate a number of informative posts reviewing various themes.  The most insightful review I found was here, one written by a web designer/developer.   This ultimately led me to Photocrati, a company that appealed to me for several reasons.

First, I really liked the variety of themes Photocrati offers for WordPress users, and the flexibility one has in fully customizing these to make them unique.  Second, I liked the fact that this company was founded by a photographer, someone who understands the needs of folks like me.  Third, I loved the price ($79 for all 15 themes) and usage terms (multiple sites).  Fourth, I liked the guidance offered in selecting and setting up Photocrati’s preferred hosting service, BlueHost (more on this later in the post).  Finally, I really admired how this company is using part of the proceeds from my purchase to invest in the Photocrati Fund, which offers grants to photographers working on humanitarian and environmental projects.

Thus far, I have been really pleased with my experience setting up, installing, and using Photocrati on my WordPress blog.  I am also glad to have chosen a service that offers a broad, relevant knowledge base via online help articles and user forum posts.  And it was very helpful going with a web host that Photocrati recommended. Here too, I have been happy with the pricing and service of BlueHost thus far, with the exception of a recent Sunday when my site was down. It would have been nice had BlueHost sent notification of the downtime.

Finally, I made a post-launch decision that involved returning to one of the stand-alone services mentioned above.  Due to storage and file size limitations with my web hosting service and the Flash-based Photocrati galleries, I decided to subscribe to SmugMug Pro as the repository for my portfolio and assorted galleries.  I chose SmugMug based on recommendations from other photographers, including a very positive review by Trey Ratcliff at StuckinCustoms.com, whose promo code I used to sign up for a year’s subscription at a discounted rate (thanks Trey!).

SmugMug offers an excellent resource to store (unlimited storage), share (embedded links), and even sell (prints and online usage) my work.  If you click on the “Portfolio” link above, then you will be redirected to my SmugMug site.  While I have yet to fully integrate my Photocrati theme into SmugMug, this capability is available, one that I intend to undertake soon.

Essentially, thads•world comprises two sites in one:  1) a blog site built on WordPress and Photocrati hosted by BlueHost; and 2) a portfolio site served and hosted by SmugMug.  For me (and for now), this offers the best combination of tools and services to share and comment on my work.  Hope this helps in your efforts designing or redesigning your photography site.

Going commercial and getting published

It’s pretty cool when you open a print magazine and see one of your photographs published for the first time.

Such was the case yesterday when I picked up this month’s edition of MIX Portland and saw one of my photos in a print ad.  The shot of the salmon in the tear sheet below is mine, one of about a dozen images the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) licensed for use in their marketing efforts.  I am honored to be alongside the work of Andrea Johnson, an award-winning photojournalist whose photography has been featured in a variety of food, wine and travel publications.

MIX Portland Magazine, December 2010

This all began a few months back when the folks at IPNC reached out to me after seeing my coverage of their event at BeyondtheBottle.com, another site of mine that focuses on my experiences enjoying Oregon and Washington wine.

While working through the licensing arrangements with IPNC for print and online usage, I was also contacted by an Oregon winery about using shots captured at their location during the same event.  Even better, this winery ended up hiring me for assignment during this year’s wine harvest in October (more details on that project in a future post).

It’s been an enlightening and gratifying experience these last few months since having two entities become interested in my work on a commercial basis.  I’ve learned a lot about defining usage terms, drafting license agreements, formulating work assignments, and other aspects involved in commercial work.

As a result, I am eager to seek out more opportunities to license my existing work while generating new assignments within this industry, which offers the perfect combination of two long-standing passions of mine:  photography and wine.  I look forward to sharing more about my experiences in this space in 2011.

P.S.  If you love Pinot noir, then IPNC is an event worth attending at least once in your lifetime.  I’ve been twice and can’t wait to experience this amazing weekend again in the years ahead.

Impressions of Tokyo and Beijing from 1991

This is the first of a series of posts on photographs I took decades ago, prints that I am only now scanning/digitizing using an Epson scanner and restoring/enhancing with Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.  I’ll be the first to admit, most of these images are not praiseworthy.  My intent with these “retrospective” posts is to create a personal catalog of and commentary on the photos I captured starting in my teens and up thru my early adulthood.

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In the late summer/early fall of 1991, I participated in an international work/study program in Tokyo.  When the program finished, I spent another couple of months backpacking thru much of China and parts of Thailand.  During my travels, I went thru a lot of film using a Nikon Nuvis 75i, an inexpensive point and shoot that I recently uncovered in a box along with some other cameras used in years past (more on that in a future post).  As I made my way around Asia, I purchased a number of Fuji panoramic disposable cameras, which ended up producing some of my favorite photographs.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing. I am especially fond of the two People’s Army soldiers photo and the panoramic shot of the Chinese flag with honor guard.

This is one of my favorites from the month I spent traveling through China in 1991.  Two years after the uprising in Tiananmen Square, soldiers patrolled the area ensuring no spontaneous demonstrations arose.  I was a bit nervous taking this shot, as I didn't know how these two soldiers might react (they never noticed).

And here are several images from Japan, which I converted to black and white in Lightroom 3, giving them a bit of a new twist on life, if not an even more dated appearance.

More analog prints/negatives to digitize and share in the weeks ahead…

Photographing the Oregon wine harvest

In October, I had the opportunity to cover the Pinot noir harvest at several wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Due to a nice stretch of warm, sunny weather, I ended up being there during the peak of harvest activities in the valley. As a result, everyone from the picking crews to the winery staff was extremely busy – a perfect opportunity to capture all of the hard work that goes into each year’s harvest.

Unpicked and picked Pinot noir rows at Belle Pente Vineyards (Harvest 2010)

In terms of the shoot, I spent a lot of time in different vineyards, chasing the picking crews as they worked through each row clipping clusters and filling bins. When I wasn’t running up and down vineyard rows, I was planted at the top of a step ladder or hoisting a monopod above me to gain a different perspective on the harvest. My flash came in handy when using the monopod, as it was challenging trying to hold my camera steady on top of a five foot long pole. I soon found that shooting from the ladder, with the monopod stabilized against the top step, provided a more steady shot. Here are a couple of shots captured while using this method:

From the vineyard I then followed the action into the winery, where the grape clusters were hand-sorted and then moved into holding tanks. Once the pick starts, the fresh-picked fruit seems to have no end, as bin after bin is hoisted onto the sorting platform from morning to midnight. Along the way, there is constant cleaning, measurements, unloading/loading and other activities going on outside and inside the winery. The constant movement of people and machinery required all kinds of approaches from using natural light to flash, wide-angles to close ups, and hand-held shots to tripod mounted ones.

Overall, it was a terrific experience covering this event. I learned a lot by experimenting with different approaches, making a variety of mistakes, but coming away with some images that I am pleased with in terms of their ability to convey the hard work that goes into each year’s harvest.

For more photos and commentary, please visit BeyondtheBottle.com, a site that offers my perspective on Oregon and Washington wine.

To compile photos or not?

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then do two pictures speak two thousand words?  Three photos, three thousand?

You be the judge in the following sets of photos presented individually and then together as a either a diptych or triptych photograph.

Here are two shots of a red barn from a late winter scene in Walla Walla, Washington.  I really like the green roof and red walls, which I saturated a bit to create even more contrast with the sky and snow.  One their own, each of these photos is interesting, but…

Barn in Walla Walla, Washington.

…I prefer the following compilation, which brings two perspectives together to tell a broader story.  I am not sure if you can have one without the other.  What are your thoughts?

Here’s another example, this time with three separate shots taken of seagulls on the ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island.  Each individual image suggests it’s own story, capable of standing on its own.

And then there’s this compilation of all three shots, which I like much more.  What do you think?

Veterans Memorial at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery

On the morning after Veterans Day last month, I opened The Seattle Times to see a photo of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen-Washelli adorned with small flags at each headstone.  Soon after breakfast, I found myself heading north down Aurora, all the while hoping the flags were still there.  It was a typical cold, grey November morning when I arrived, but just as I was setting up for this shot, the sun broke thru the clouds and cast these unbelievable rays of light and warmth across the cemetery.

A shot at the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in north Seattle.  This section of the cemetery was established in 1927 for the burial of veterans and their spouses.  This HDR version really captures the moment that morning (the day after Veterans Day 2010), with the rays of sun breaking thru the evergreens, casting headstone shadows while flags of red, white and blue waved in the wind.

It wasn’t until I was processing these bracketed images (used Nik HDR Efex Pro with Lightroom 3) that I noticed those amazing colors coming from the Chimes Tower, which was constructed as a means to connect to veterans buried elsewhere.  Granted, my eye may have seen them, but the colors didn’t register at the time.  Most likely due to me being fixated on the headstones and flags, which created such a beautiful setting in this following shot, my favorite from the morning.

I really like the depth the shot below conveys, as well as the fall colors in the background tree line.  The Veterans Memorial Cemetery was established in 1927, when Evergreen-Washelli dedicated a portion of their land for veterans and their spouses to be buried.  You can learn more about the history of this special place here.

A few shots from Lake City neighborhood

One of the things I have found about shooting is that you never know when that image is going to reveal itself.  Yesterday, I had an hour to stroll around the Lake City commercial district while getting our car serviced.  At the start of my walk, I was thinking it was going to be a bust of a shoot until about half way along and suddenly a variety of images started to reveal themselves.  It’s almost as if I had to acquaint myself with the environment before really opening my eyes to what was around me.

The following shot of the Lake City Way and 30th Ave sign was the moment when everything changed.  I had just crossed the street after shooting a Lake City neon sign (see pic further down) when I looked up and saw this perspective of the street sign, the holiday decoration and the street lamp in the frame along with these beautiful clouds against a brilliant blue sky.

This shot and the rest of these were bracketed for HDR purposes.  I used Nik HDR Efex Pro, with the Landscape-Postcard preset adjusted then back into Lightroom 3 where I made final adjustments.  I really like the Nik HDR plug-in for Lightroom, much more than Photomatix Pro.  Nik HDR Efex Pro is much more user friendly, offering a number of preset thumbnails to choose from with each bracketed set uploaded.

Here’s a shot of a famous Seattle institution, Dick’s Hamburger’s.  The challenge with this shot was the rotating “Dick’s” sign, which was fortunately turning slow enough to where I could get several quick shots off at an ISO 200 setting.  Also, Nik HDR Pro Efex does a good job of addressing ghosts, which was critical with this image.

‘Tis the season with this shot.  I really liked the red in the street lamp holiday decoration and the Value Village sign.  This shot could be from anywhere in the U.S. right now where a Value Village is located.  In looking back at all of these shots, it was the white clouds and blue sky that made all of these interesting.  Until I got my perspective aligned with what was happening above me, I didn’t think there was anything worth shooting.

Welcome to thads•world…


While this site gets built out in the coming weeks, I wanted to take a moment to welcome you to thads•world and introduce myself.

The purpose of this site is to chronicle and share my experiences with digital imaging, most of which will be focused on photography but with some video on occasion.  This site represents a significant leap forward in my efforts to share my work.

Along the way, I want to provide folks with an understanding of how my work was captured and processed, with the hope this helps others in their creative efforts.  I encourage readers to post relevant and constructive comments about my approach here, as I do look forward to hearing your perspective.

Finally, for those interested in learning more about who I am and what I do, please visit my personal bio page here.

Thanks for visiting.

Sincerely,

Thad Westhusing