Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why Do Cameras Hate Me?

Be forewarned. My dad actually fell asleep listening to the story I'm about to tell. And my dad has a vested interest in my photography/filmmaking career because he's a musician and wants me to shoot a music video for him. He asks me repeatedly why I can't do the video, and it seems that the more I tell him about my technological limitations, the less he understands. So one day I decided to just spill the whole story for him I've already mentioned, he fell asleep before I could finish.

The one disclaimer I have is that I had just had lunch at my parents' house and my dad usually falls asleep in his chair after lunch. But fall asleep while hearing the answer to a question he asked...well, here's hoping you don't fall asleep too.

But you should know this post will be long and will contain a good deal of technical information.

So now you know. Continue if you wish.

My interest in photography really began when I was a child, and if you want the story of my artistic journey, you can read it here. This post will be concerned with the challenges I've faced since making the decision to go pro.

My First Attempt to Set Up a Portrait Studio

I had received my first SLR camera as a Christmas gift from my parents a couple of years previously, and was ready to start doing portraits. So I walked into my local camera store and asked what equipment I needed to buy if I wanted to do studio work. The woman at the counter said the first thing I needed was a new camera because my entry level SLR did not have sufficient manual controls to be used with studio flash. Since I already had a Minolta, she suggested I simply upgrade to a Maxxum 5 so that I could continue using the same lenses (I had two by this point).

Using a Minolta was already a problem, even back then, because it had a different hot shoe than most other cameras, and often the accessories were not available in store and had to be ordered. Then just a couple of years later, Minolta went out of business altogether, which makes everything that much trickier.

But eventually I got my studio assembled and began taking photos. I mainly did shoots for friends and family members, but I did land a couple of professional jobs. Then one day I set up my studio lights and took a picture and...the lights didn't flash. Being young and dumb and having no knowledge of electronics whatsoever, I didn't even know how to troubleshoot the problem. And because I hadn't been making enough money from photography for it to start paying for itself, I didn't even see the logic in taking my equipment in for repairs. So I gave up. Yep. Just packed away my studio and didn't look at it again for twelve years.

When I Decided I Wanted to Make a Movie

If I ever manage to become a successful filmmaker, I'll have to give some of the credit to Sam Raimi, because it was The Evil Dead which ignited that first spark in me. Actually it was watching The Evil Dead with the director's commentary that gave me the idea that making a movie was something I could do. 

So I bought an awesome book, How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail). I became obsessed. I was going to make a movie. But there was one small problem. I was looking into all this during the time when the filmmaking world was just beginning to transition from film to digital, and film was still considered king. And when I began researching how much it would cost me to purchase film stock, then have it processed, I realized this filmmaking thing would have to go on a back burner for a while.

When I Finally Did Make a Movie

This was a few years later, when digital video was finally considered respectable. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could finally afford to make a movie. Still on a budget, however, I decided to buy a used camera. Well, it turns out I didn't do quite enough research before choosing which camera I wanted. More on that later.

I shot one short film. I won't post it here because my children are in it, and I won't share videos of them without their permission, and I doubt they would give permission. But it was a cute little film. A ghost story. My mom called it creepy, so I guess I did a good job at creating the mood.

Anyway, I shot the footage, but had no way of getting it off my camera. You see, I had purchased a MiniDV camera, and the only way to upload MiniDV footage to a computer is via a firewire cable. Small problem. Firewire has gone out of vogue in recent years and most new computers do not come with the correct ports. Some newer Macs have them, but again, I was on a budget. I couldn't afford a Mac. Then...Eureka!...I pulled out an old laptop I hadn't used in years and took a look at it and...lo and behold...a firewire port! I was in business. Now I could start editing this little movie I'd made.

So I bought a firewire cable and attached my camera to the computer and...nothing. The computer did not recognize the camera. I cannot put into words the frustration that resulted.

So I went on Ebay and bought a cheap MiniDV camera I could use for uploading footage. It worked! I was in business again. I edited that first movie on Windows Movie Maker, and started making plans for another movie. A "real" movie. So I wrote a script for another short film and my dad bought Sony Vegas Pro for me for Christmas (I told you he has a vested interest in my career). Then my husband and I bought a new computer. It did not come with a firewire port, but it's a desktop, so new ports can be installed. We bought a firewire port and installed it, then plugged in the cheap Ebay camera and...nothing. Again, the computer would not recognize the camera.

Tenacious as ever, I made the movie anyway. I shot it on the prosumer level MiniDV camera, then slid the tapes into the cheap MiniDV camera, plugged the camera into that old laptop, uploaded the footage, transferred the footage to a flash drive, then finally onto the new computer where I had installed Sony Vegas Pro. And now I was ready to edit.

So I finished the movie, and I think it turned out pretty good. But that was not the end of my troubles.

When Things Started to Fall Apart Again

Remember how I said my dad is a musician? Well, I am as well, and I decided I wanted to get together with my dad an make an album. I'll gloss over the details of that because it has nothing to do with cameras. Where the two come together is when I decided to make a music video from one of the songs I recorded.

Okay. So I shot the video and was going to use the same process for transferring footage that I had used before. But when I started uploading videos to the old laptop, the computer decided not to cooperate. You see, the way firewire works is you put the tape into your camera, plug the camera into your computer, open some kind of editing software (Windows Movie Maker works) and then click "capture". The computer will tell the camera to start playing the tape and the editing software will make a file of the footage. But if the computer decides to be sluggish, it will take a break while the tape is playing and the resulting video will be missing frames. That happened again and again and again as I was trying to upload this music video. I think I tried eight times to upload one clip, and each time there were frames missing.

So I got desperate. I had to get this footage off of my camera somehow, so I used the only recourse left to me. I plugged the camera into my dvd player and burned the video onto a disc. Well, I didn't know that you can't import decent footage from a dvd into an editing program. I tried. And tried. And tried again. I won't go into all the problems I had with it because I really don't want you to fall asleep. But suffice it to say the results were horrible.

So that was it. My filmmaking career was again on a back burner until such a time as I could afford an up to date camera that could transfer footage via USB, memory card, or some other method that is not likely to become obsolete within the next five years.

Getting Back Into Photography

The flame was rekindled when I started publishing my books and wanted to use my own artwork for my book covers. I started taking pictures again, and was reminded how much I loved photography. But I still had the issue with my studio lights.

Then one day I had an aha! moment. I realized that maybe it wasn't the lights themselves that were malfunctioning, but the connection to the camera. That would be cheap and easy to replace. So I did some troubleshooting and finally fixed the problem. Yay! I was in business again. I was so excited I actually came up with a long term business plan that involved selling photos from my website, making premade book covers to sell, opening a portrait studio, doing custom photo shoots for book covers, and so on. And the filmmaking even came back into the picture because I was hoping to make enough money from the photography to buy a decent video camera.

But here's the thing. I still have that Minolta Maxxum 5. That in and of itself is not a problem. Yeah, film can be a pain in the butt, and I'm having to spend a lot of money on processing, but the picture quality is comparable to what digital photography can achieve, so I was content to use my old camera until I could afford a new one. Until the Maxxum 5 decided to malfunction, leaving me without any camera I can use for anything.

So now I have a choice. Get the camera repaired, which could cost more than the thing, old as it is, is even worth? Buy another Maxxum 5, which I can get on Ebay for about $50? Upgrade to a Maxxum 7, which would still be a film camera but would be a slightly more advanced one? Or spend a couple thousand dollars on the digital camera I want? The only thing I know is that I have to do something, because being without a camera, now that I'm finally realizing just how much photography means to me, is not an option.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Did I Just Experience "Mansplaining"?

Let me start off by saying I've always hated the word "mansplain". To me it comes off as sexism against men (I can say that because I'm a woman). I mean, think about it. The word "mainsplain" implies that it's perfectly fine to have an opinion, to have facts to back up your opinion, and to express said opinion and the facts that go with it in words...unless you're a man talking to a woman. In that situation you're not engaging in a healthy intellectual debate. You're mansplaining. Put in those terms, it seems a little sexist against women, too, because it implies that women, delicate as we are, just can't handle the boundless logical depths of the male brain, so men should refrain from talking to us about anything serious.

Something happened the other day that may make me change my tune. I think I may have experienced real mansplaining, and I think it might actually be a thing. Here's what happened.

I was on vacation and wanted to take some pictures to document my adventures. If you've followed my blog, you know I only have a 35mm camera, so taking lots of pictures means carrying around lots of film. So I looked up a camera store near where I was, made sure the website mentioned that they carried film, then drove there in hopes of purchasing some.

We were visiting family on this trip and I wanted to get some photos of family members. I knew we may be hanging out inside a lot, and I hate on-camera flash (don't all photographers hate on-camera flash?) so I was thinking to by a few rolls of high ISO film. Well...I walked into the camera store and asked the guy behind the counter what kind of fast film he had. I specifically said 800 or higher. Instead of just turning around and grabbing the film for me, the guy at the counter stood silent for a second, then said, "Um...are you planning to do low-light photography? Because generally the faster the film the grainier the photo. 400 speed film is usually sufficient for most lighting conditions."'s not like I just picked up my first camera yesterday. I understand the differences between the various types of film, and I want something fast. Mainly because I haven't spent a lot of time using the really high ISO stuff and I want to see what it does. But primarily, dude, it's your job to sell me the film, so sell it to me without the lecture. If I want to know something, I'll ask.

All right, so we moved past the awkwardness of my choice of ISO and entered into a pleasant conversation about photography while he--finally--grabbed the film for me and moved to the cash register to check me out. Then I mentioned that I'm saving up to buy a digital camera but until I have the money I'm still using my old 35mm. At that point he informed me that I could get a pretty cheap digital camera if I looked in the used market, and that would save me a lot of money on film and processing. Again...dude...I know I'm spending a lot on film and processing, but I'm not going to get just any digital camera. I have specific things I'm looking for and won't take less than that. So I told him I have a Minolta Maxxum 5 and any new camera I get needs to be a step up from that because I don't want to go backward in my photography career. Then he began to tell me about the Sony cameras which are compatible with Minolta lenses. Sigh. Yes, Mr. Camera Store Guy, I know about the Sony cameras. And I told him that. I also said I've been looking at the Sony a77 at which point he took the liberty to inform me that I don't need anything that advanced. There are other cheaper cameras which can to everything I want them to do. Really? You met me less than five minutes ago and already you know what I want to do with my camera?

So I, ever polite because I see no point in getting rude and nasty with strangers, told him that I didn't want to invest in a camera which would only be a temporary fix. When I buy a new camera I want to be able to use it for years, for whatever photography needs may arise during that time. And finally he conceded that maybe, just maybe, I knew what I was doing and was capable of making my own decisions about cameras and film. that what people mean when they refer to mansplaining? Of course, in order to say without doubt that it was mansplaining, I'd have to prove that he made assumptions about me based on my gender. I don't know that about him. Maybe he's like that with everyone. To make assumptions about him based on his gender would just as wrong as any assumptions anyone has ever made about me, so I won't do that. But I will say that I was annoyed and maybe just a little closer to understanding an issue that has puzzled me for quite some time now.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coming to Terms With Social Anxiety

You're five years old and it's difficult to look people in the eye. Everyone says, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a baby. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're ten years old and looking people in the eye is a piece of cake. But it's hard to speak above a whisper when in the presence of someone you don't know very well. Everyone says, "Speak up," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a kid. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're fifteen years old and you're not afraid to be loud and proud. But showing emotion is the most frightening thing you can imagine because letting someone into your head gives them power over you and you're not comfortable letting another person have that much power over you. Everyone says, "Would it kill you to smile now and then?" and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a teenager. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're twenty years old and you've found your smile. You've even learned to exaggerate your reactions for the benefit of friends and family. But picking up the phone and ordering a pizza sends your body into fight or flight. Everyone says, "Just get over yourself. You want the pizza, just order the darn pizza," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're young and this adulting thing can be scary when you're just starting out. But it's really just a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. But fast forward a few years. Now you're thirty-eight years old and your kid has a birthday coming up and it's your job to call your kid's friends' parents and invite them to the party. But the mere thought of it makes you sick to your stomach. In fact, it makes you want to crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position, pull the quilt over your head, and not come out until even your kid has forgotten about the birthday. And because you are no longer a baby, you are no longer a kid, you are no longer a teenager, and you are no longer a young adult, there is no wise mentor to help you get through it. There is no one to tell you it's just a phase. Because it's not just a phase. At thirty-eight years old you have outgrown everything you're going to outgrow and what you're left with is simply who you are. And that thought turns your blood to ice water because you know those birthdays are going to keep coming and your responsibility for planning the parties is not going to go away and for the rest of your life you're going to feel this way because it's just who you are. And somehow you have to accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bullies, Serial Killers, and the Only David Lynch Movie My Husband Will Watch

No, Hubs, I'm Not a Serial Killer

It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.

What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:

"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"

"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."

(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"

(sigh) "You just don't get it!"

What Dexter is Really About

At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:

The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.

The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).

The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.

Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.

Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.

The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving

Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).

Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.

After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.

I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.

In Conclusion

So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.

In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone trust someone enough to show my true backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.

So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: August 2017

Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers.

I don't know where to start with this book. First I suppose I should say that this is probably the most well-written indie book I've read since I started doing these reviews. I think I found two typos in the entire book (I've read traditionally published books with more than that) and no grammatical errors whatsoever. There may have been a couple of instances of head-hopping, but only when the narrative stepped back from deep 3rd POV to a slightly more omniscient POV, and it was pulled off effectively so as not to come across as a newbie mistake. The author does an excellent job of "show, don't tell", pulling the reader deep into the psyches of the characters, particularly that of Brad the rooster.

But I'd be short-changing this book if I said it was the most well-written indie book I've read and left it there. Really, this is one of the most well-written books I've read period. Because the quality of the writing goes far beyond just style. This is an amazing story. A dark story. A frightening one. One that pulls you in deep and doesn't let you go. So much happens in this book, and the reader is left wondering, along with the character upon whom the final scene closes, "Why?" Why did it all happen? What went wrong.

The events of this story have layers upon layers of meaning. I wonder what the author's goal was in writing it. Is it a critique of society, using the social structure of the henhouse as a metaphor for our own lives. Is it therefore a warning against becoming so set in our ways that we can't accept new ideas? Or are we supposed to see it from the opposite point of view? Are we to blame Brad and his rebellious nature for the bad things that happen? Or perhaps the thing in the woods is meant to be the devil or some other equally ominous entity and the author's intent was to make us wonder whether evil originates in our own hearts or somewhere else. Do we let it in, or is in us from the beginning?

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while, and it's a refreshing change from the lighter sorts of stories I've been reading of late. I highly recommend this book.

Please grab a copy of this book and read it. You'll really be missing something great if you don't: