John Hancock Observatory, March 2011

My wife and I took a mini vacation to Chicago last weekend. This was our second trip to Chicago, the previous being way back in 2003. Back then, we visited both the (then) Sears Tower (now, Willis Tower) Skydeck and the John Hancock Observatory. While the Skydeck is definitely taller, you simply cannot beat the view from the Hancock Observatory. The John Hancock Center tower is much closer to Lake Michigan (see this map), therefore you get a better mix of lake and city views. This time around, we skipped the Skydeck and opted instead for the more scenic JHO. Here are a few photos from that excursion.

Chicago Hancock Observation Deck North Shore
Chicago Hancock Observation Deck North Shore

Chicago Hancock Observation Deck 900 N Michigan Ave
Chicago Hancock Observation Deck 900 N Michigan Ave

Chicago Hancock Observation Deck South Shore
Chicago Hancock Observation Deck South Shore

My wife and I both agree. Unless you have a compelling reason to say you’ve “been there,” skip the taller Willis Tower Skydeck in favor of spending more time at the John Hancock Observatory. You won’t regret it!

Pheatured Photographer: Valery Titievsky

After studying many photos from Valery Titievsky’s Photostream on Flickr over the past few weeks, I decided I would need to set a limit on the number of photos to include in this post or risk mirroring most of that stream here. Three is just not enough, so please click through each photo on Flickr and explore the other photos. I think you’ll find yourself, as I have, spending a lot of time there.

First, let’s start off with the photograph which first drew me in:

Coffee & ...

This is part of a subset of photos within the set “The life in Black & White” simply titled “Coffee & …”. There is a sense of motion which he captured well here by tracking the waitress as she hurried by while using a slower shutter speed to blur the background.

Here is another photo entitled “Coffee & … (Street Life)”:

Coffee & ... (Street Life)

Here we see a good use of bokeh with the string of lights out of focus in front of the subject, but what really draws you in is the emotion captured in this moment. Is this despair or simply fatigue? Did she discover her wallet is empty after having finished her meal? There is a story here, but it is incomplete, thus the photo holds your attention.

Although I was tempted to pick yet another of the excellent “Coffee & …” photos, I forced myself to pick more of a street photo. This one is called “Old Man”:

Old man

Digging into the exif information for this image reveals that the flash did not fire, yet we see some quite dramatic lighting here. There is an excellent contrast between the dark, almost ominous, sky in the background and the brightly lit face of the man. His age and hair bring complex textures into the mix. What is the story here? Is this a street corner preacher, giving his sermon to all who pass, hoping some will stop to listen for awhile?

I have yet to make it through all 1600+ photos in Mr. Titievsky’s photostream, but I have subscribed to the RSS feed from his Flickr page so I can keep up to date on his work. I encourage you to do the same.

Photo Experiment: First Macro Shots

My wife got me a new macro lens and macro ring flash for Christmas, so I thought I’d finally try them out. Why the delay? Well, the ring flash came with a couple of step down/step up rings to adapt to different lenses, but they didn’t fit my new macro lens so I had to order the right one. Yup, I picked it up yesterday and couldn’t wait to use it.

Remember, you can skip directly to the photo set on Flickr to see more photos from this set. You can also click on any of the photos below to bring up their Flickr page and leave a comment or set them as a favorite.

Pie Bird Head Monochrome

Hunting around the house for objects to shoot close up, I found this ceramic pie bird sitting on the shelf. I set the camera’s macro focus to 1:1, then carefully moved the lens closer to the subject until I got the desired focus.

Pie Bird Head 3 Monochrome

Next, I backed off a little bit to take this shot, trying to capture more of the bird’s head at (hopefully) a more interesting angle. Both of these were taken with an overhead incandescent light shining down and the ring flash attached to the lens.

Garlic Head 6 Monochrome

What is this? A ghastly beast emerging from the deep? Nope, just a nice macro shot showing the bottom of a head of garlic. I can’t help thinking the root cluster looks a bit like ominous tentacles reaching out for you.
Garlic Head 4 Monochrome

From this perspective at the other end of the head, it takes on the look of a stratovolcano shot from a helicopter hovering above it.
Lambourghini 2

Oh yeah, I also got a Lamborghini Reventón for my birthday last year. It’s a little bit difficult to get into it, so I’ve not actually taken it for a drive yet, but I suppose that’s to be expected from the Matchbox edition of this supercar. Still, I think I captured a bit of its speedy nature here. For this shot, I got a piece of plain white paper to use as a backdrop.

All of these were shot in our “makeshift studio” in our dining room. Lori has set up a very functional area just off the kitchen so she can take photographs for her soon to be launched food blog. Here’s a quick shot of that studio showing, from left to right:

  • A black and a white reflector board on glass shelf standards.
  • A compact florescent bulb in a desk lamp stand.
  • A large cooler on or over which can be draped various backdrops
  • Atop the cooler are a couple of bamboo place mats used for backdrop.

Makeshift Studio

This was a great setup for my macro experiments. Hopefully I’ll be inspired to take some more of these in the future, and perhaps I’ll contribute a few shots to my wife’s new blog.

Pheatured Photographer: Mr. Flibble on Flickr

I think I’ve picked an excellent photographer to open this Category on my blog: Mr. Flibble. Irreverent, wacky and whimsical, yet at the same time cerebral and engaging. I couldn’t help but browse his entire photostream — Yes, every single photo entered my irises and tickled my visual cortex.

At the risk of driving you away from my own blog, I’ll lead with some important links to his work.

Now on to my critique. First one, so it may be a bit rough. Please endure!

I think the best way to critique this particular photographer will be to select a spectrum of his work. While he may be gaining notoriety for his recent distorted, ‘shopped and humorous creations, I feel it is important to dig a little deeper and reveal the underlying talent and evolution which is evident by browsing further back in his photostream. To start, the photo that sucked me in:

383/730: New sulphuric acid diet was maybe too drastic
New sulphuric acid diet was maybe too drastic

But wait, there’s more. This photo grabs your attention and the caption is hilarious, but Mr. Flibble is not done with you yet. The description of this photo on Flickr continues to entertain:

Not all of us are given free rein to lunge, stretch and perspire over ever part of the asylum. And as such, even the normally enthusiastic Flibble is prone to the odd love handle.

Not odd in that away, you understand. I hear it’s perfectly normal for love handles to protrude 45 inches outwards towards the ears before circling back towards the pelvis.

Anyway… a diet was in order and this one seemed so easy: “Just take half a litre of sulphuric acid with each meal and snack, and see the weight fall off you” they claimed.


Not being one to disobey unfounded claims, I embraced this diet with much gusto – even snacking between snacks just to be able to imbibe more of this magical “acid” they talked of.

Weighed myself today.

Something may have gone wrong.

Even the scales seem to suggest this might not have been my most splendid of ideas…


I’m on Twitter: @IDrinkLeadPaint

Softbox camera left at floor-level on 2.0, Second softbox camera right at floor-level, stupidly set on 2.5. Triggered by cable.

Yeah, so when he’s done melting your brain with sulfuric acid, he goes on to give you some juicy, technical details of how he achieved this wonder by providing strobist info. How cool is that? Super Cool, my friend.

The photo and caption grabbed me, the narrative in the description drew me in, and the details kept me coming back for more. That wood floor as a backdrop. Rough-hewn, wide hardwood. The perspective, although head-on and dead center on the scale itself, draws your eyes down the tibiae toward the center. Even the reflection of the skeletal ribcage in the LCD display on the scale and the skeletal nature of the metal “ribs” on the surface of the scale (why are those there? Perhaps a BMI feature of this scale?) work to increase the interestingness of this image.

Now, on to another absurdity which grabbed my attention.

381/730: Advanced ninjaing
Advanced ninjaing

While I much prefer Samurai to Ninjas, I couldn’t help but chuckle at this one upon first sight. But, again, Mr. Flibble delivers much more than expected. His description starts:

Dr. White was such a quiet, neat and polite man and seemed the most unlikely person to provoke the wrath of the asylum’s trainee ninja department, but he did, and today he paid the ultimate price.

It goes on. Please click the image above to continue reading. I’ll wait here should you decide to return.

Ahh, thank you for returning! Black, white, grey and Ninjas? What more could you ask for, but Mr. Flibble delivers it all. I love the setup here. There is so much detail, you can keep coming back to find something new. The textures of Dr. White’s lab coat and the “poofs” on the plate in front of him. The contrast of the deep blacks — not only in the ninja’s uniform, but also of Dr. White’s glasses frames and the stems of the flowers in the vase. One could almost remove the Ninja and Dr. White and still have a stunning photograph.

And now on to some alternative samples from Mr. Flibble’s work which show the underlying talent, absent the absurd, but still retaining the whimsy and vision that pulled me in so much that I did view his entire photostream.

Gremlin or Mogwai?
Gremlin or Mogwai?

Everything about this photo works:

  • Shallow depth of field with well-chosen point of focus
  • Black backdrop and foreground
  • Inverted subject
  • Cute!

Yet it still retains the essence of whimsy without the patent absurdity of his later photos. I’ve started following Mr. Flibble’s RSS feed on Flickr in hopes of seeing more photos like this in the future — albeit intermixed with the funny and absurd.

Next up, the abstract.

315/365: Yolk folk
Yolk folk

From the brief description on Flickr, you get the impression that he considers this a “throw away” shot, but I feel it shows he has photographic vision. While hunting for subjects to fulfill his 315/365 Project, he managed to find this gem amongst the routine of his life. The lines, the color, the bubble and the lighting all converge slightly off-center for a wonderful composition.

What does a good photographer do when faced with a subject that has been captured so many times over and over? Change the perspective!

In the gutter of Cambridge
In the gutter of Cambridge

A Google search of “Trinity Lane Cambridge” turns up several photos, but none of them as interesting as this. The forced perspective makes the buildings shrink into the background, looking more like cut-outs than stone and mortar. Texture, form, shadow and light mix perfectly here. I find myself discovering new details with each view — a true sign of photographic genius.

Finally, a bit of social consciousness.

Feature creep
Feature creep

Juxtaposition, contrast, depth of field and social consciousness all in one? Yup. And all accompanied by a bit of poetry:

The endless pursuit:

More blades
More plastic
More colour
More marketing spin
More money
More landfill
More complicated
More compulsion to upgrade
More more.

Where will it ever end?

Unfortunately, I think the answer to Mr. Fibble’s question is yes. Yes, it will come to an end, but not before it hyper-extends into the beyond!

368/730: Dartford tunnel