Trouble with Tripods

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As I was setting up my tripod for this shot this summer as I collapsed, de-telescoped, closed or whatever you call it, one of the legs the rubber foot shot off sending me scrambling to find it. Luckily I did! The glue had finally given up on the Gitzo 1325 legs of my tripod. Not bad after taking a beating for 8 years. I got a two part adhesive and glued it back in place and my tripod problems were over. Or at least I thought my tripod problems were over.

When I was using the tripod this week one i found that one of the legs was impossible to fully extend. Years of neglect had finally come home to roost. Photographing in and around the ocean means that your gear takes a pounding. Ideally you would rinse the salt water off your gear with fresh water. There are obvious problems doing that with cameras and lenses but you can and should do some clean up of your gear with a soft damp cloth after you’ve been out. I do this as needed after every shoot but I’ve never properly cleaned my tripod. This has largely been out of fear of getting the tripod to pieces and not being able to get it back together again.

I actually found that taking the tripod to pieces was much easier than I’d expected. On the old Gitzo that I have it’s simply a matter of unscrewing the leg lock the whole way and then pulling on the leg. The one that was stuck needed me to stand on the head of the tripod and then yank hard on the leg. Eventually it yielded to force! While the tripod was in pieces I took the opportunity to clean up the threads both on the leg and on the screw lock. The leg locks had been making awful grinding noises for years, presumably from sand and salt getting in there. This was easy enough to do with a rag for the legs and a toothbrush to get into the locks. As an aside I had always been taught to extend the tripod fattest section first, which of course meant that the lower section lock ended up under water the first time I used the tripod at the beach. While this advice is generally sound I typically have the lower section extended the width of my hand – about 4 inches – and then when working at the beach this is the first section that gets extended.

At the top of the tripod legs I found 3 bushings – two plastic and one that could easily be carbon fiber. Trying to get the legs back together was a little tricky and after a little bit of trial and error I realized that it was the plastic bushings causing the problems. I took these off the tripod and wound them into a tighter circle and then when they went back on the tripod the plastic stayed in this tighter configuration long enough to allow me to reassemble the whole thing relatively easily,

It was quite an educational process and easy enough that I could have been doing regularly all along!

Friday Inspiration: Andy Goldsworthy

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I dimly remember Andy Goldsworthy from when I lived in the UK, perhaps through that veritable institution Blue Peter, but his work didn’t connect with me at the time. I recently rediscovered Goldsworthy through his book, Time, that I found when I was browsing in a bookstore – remember those?

Andy Goldsworthy is a ‘land artist‘, a sculptor who uses the elements of nature as the materials for his sculptures. There seems to be a balance between the permanent works done with stone and the more ephemeral sculptures made with fallen branches, leaves, and ice. Thinking about his more transitory work made me think harder about why I photograph, I’m not sure that I would be happy to see my constructions disappear as the weather changed or the tide changed. Perhaps the change that ensues is part of the process and that seeing how the work develops with time is as satisfying as it was to make in the first place.

It was interesting to see Goldsworthy working in the field and to realize how close to the edge he operates. Many times it seems as though he could be 2/3rds of the way into making a work and it collapses, not once but over and over again. I hardly think that I would have maintained my composure in the face of such frustrations as Goldsworthy manages. Persistence clearly wins the day. Check out the videos below to see what I mean.

Five ways to Get More Sleep

I’ve long been a confirmed member of the 6 hours or less sleep club which I hadn’t thought was a big deal until my recent dive into healthy lifestyles. I was looking into ways to get rid of the last of the fat around my middle when I started to bump into the role of cortisol in fat deposition around your waist. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. Unfortunately your body sees amounts of caffeine in excess of about 300 mg as a stress, as it also does for inadequate amounts of sleep.

I found the video below entertaining and also a little alarming, particularly this

‘subjects who slept just six hours a night for 14 days had the cognitive wherewithal of someone with a .1% blood alcohol level. That’s legally drunk.’

Starting by measuring what my normal night was using an UP24 band I then experimented to find ways to get me closer to 7 hours of sleep a night. Here are some of the things that seem to have an impact for me.

Get some exercise – who hasn’t had the experience of seeing parents running their kids around in the hope that they will get tired out and sleep that night? It works for adults too? Implementing a regular exercise routine can really help stablise sleeping patterns. Just make sure that you’re not exercising just before bed. The elevation in body temperature can potentially be counter productive.

Chill out – I’ve found that I need the temperature to be below 72F and ideally around 70F for me to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Cut back on the stimulants – Avoid doing things before bed that wind you up, no coffee, exercise or things such as high intensity video games.

Eliminate screen time – the ever present screen – iPhone, iPad, laptop etc. inhibits melatonin production which makes it harder to fall asleep. Turn off the screens 30 – 60 minutes before bed

Review your plan for the following day
– an hour or so is a good time to do a brain dump of all the ideas that a swirling around and to clarify next actions for them. This is also a good time to review your schedule for the next day to make sure that you have everything that you need for the day and to determine what is a must do for the day.

Into the Film Vortex Once More

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I almost jumped off into the world of film photography recently. I was at a skate park when my Canon (it’s hardly inconspicuous) drew the attention of one of the teenage skaters. He told me that he’s just sold his DSLR to fund the purchase of a Hasselblad 500 series camera and then went on to extoll the virtues of film over digital. It did make me stop and think.

There is a mystique surrounding film for me – I came late to photography, never owning an SLR camera until the digital system that I got in 2005 – and so I feel as though I’ve missed out on something special.

It is quite possible to emulate the look of film using software packages such as those made by VSCO. While I’ve played with these software packages quite extensively never having shot film to any great extent I don’t have a good point of reference to know how close they get. If these emulations are good representations of the film that was/is available I’m glad that I didn’t have to deal with the imperfect color rendering – it would have driven me insane.

If you take the camera body out of the equation the only other piece that could have an impact on the particular look from a given film camera is the lens. While it’s not possible to use the exact lens same Hasselblad lens on my Canon cameras it is possible to get Zeiss lenses that are compatible. This was the path that I decided to pursue.

The image above is taken using a 18mm Zeiss ZE lens. I’ve had some fun learning to use this lens. The biggest challenge for me has been the fact that it requires manual focusing, so my reliance on autofocusing was out of the window, I do still get the reassuring ‘beep’ when the image is in focus by holding down the shutter release button. The other trick that I’ve been relying on is the ‘live view’ function and zooming in to check on my focus.

I’m not sure that I can tell the difference in quality in images made using this Zeiss lens and the Canon equivalent but they do feel better.

Friday Inspiration: Jim Denevan

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Jim Denevan is a chef and an artist. As a chef he is the founder and driving force behind the ‘Outstanding in the Field‘ farm dinners. The aim for the meals is to reconnect the diner to the land, to showcase the talents of the farmers who grow the food and the chefs who prepare it. Here’s a link to the companion book. They were in Boston this week visiting Island Creek Oysters but unfortunately I missed them!

As an artist Denevan creates some of the largest drawings on the planet. Working most often with sand on California beaches, but also in other parts of the world including Siberia (!), working quickly to beat the incoming tide he creates geometric patterns that because of their scale are best viewed from the air. Very impressive. Who ever said that crop circles couldn’t be man made has never seen a Denevan drawing. Check out some videos of Jim at work below.

Jim Denevan: Sand Drawings, Spanish Banks from Michael Cox on Vimeo.

Minimalism – Digging In

Not being ready to be done with a minimalist approach to life I decided to dig into a few of my favorite resources and wanted to share those here.

Zen Habits – Leo Babauta share’s his thoughts on living a simple life, quite a challenge given that he has six kids! I find the story of his transformation to a simpler, more frugal way of living began in 2005 to be truly inspirational. Check it out here.

Becoming Minimalist – Here Josh Becker shares the ups and downs of his family’s journey to ‘rational minimalism’. This link is a good place to begin finding out about Josh.

The Minimalists – I’m relatively new to The Minimalists and have been enjoying reading about their 21 day journey into minimalism. Check out their recent presentation at TEDx in Whitefish where they discuss community, consumerism, and living a rich life below. Some of the answers in the Q&A video, also below, definitely gave me hope that I’m on the right path.

Black and White: 2014

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I was pleased to find out recently that the image above ‘After the Storm’ was selected to be included in the on-line annex portion of the Black and White: 2014 exhibition at the Black Box Gallery in Portland. The show opens Friday Sept 5, but images are up on the web now.

This is one of those images that almost never was. There are times when I ‘see’ images that I have to make even though they don’t fit follow the ‘rules’ of photography. In fact, depending on how quick or slow I am there is an internal battle that happens prior to taking the photograph that argues whether this image is interesting and why and whether I should even bother. If I’m fast enough I just take the shot and move on. If I’m too slow, fiddling around with a tripod, getting the right lens etc. there’s time for the doubts to start to take hold. With time, I’ve learned to listen to the doubts, acknowledge them and then take the shot anyway.