Jun 292011

A documentary on Amelia Island on the PBS channel the other week got me to thinking about going to Fernandina Beach. The place has been visited several times but never with my DSLR.

At this time of the year the heat can be oppressive in northeast Florida and there is always the threat of thunderstorms, which is no bad thing because the build-up to a thunderstorm makes for an interesting sky. The important thing is not get caught out in one once the rain begins – it is the equivalent of someone turning on a tap or faucet, as they say in America.

By late afternoon, the heat starts to subside so that walking about is not quite so unpleasant as earlier in the day and, from a photographic point of view the light is so much better as the golden hour approaches.

We parked up at around 5:00 and the clouds were starting to get dark out to the west. Time was limited but there is nothing like a deadline for concentrating one’s mind.

An obvious focal point at Fernandina Beach is the St Marys River, with the Rayonier cellulose mill, the marina and the port facility. The marina provides access to the jetty alongside the river where a number of large motor yachts are usually moored.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I watched one such vessel being refueled and also happened to notice the diesel pump when the operation had finished. It read 1,000 gallons and a cost of $4,999.00. That was just one tank. The boat seemed to be heading out but I was mistaken. It was simply turning round to gain access to its second fuel tank.

I guess if you can afford a luxury motor yacht, you can also afford the cost of filling her up. That amount of fuel would keep my car running for about four years.

How the other half lives.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The impending storm held off and we eventually headed to dinner at the Crab Trap seafood restaurant – I bet you would never have guessed from its name — on N 2nd Street. I can recommend the coconut shrimp.

By the time dinner was finished, the clouds had become dark and menacing, a stiff breeze was rustling the palm fronds. Rain was imminent and we made it to the car across the street just as the first drops of rain began to fall. The subsequent deluge came as we headed to Interstate 95.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Jun 262011

I have been having a problem with my right eye since Wednesday evening. My diagnosis, courtesy of a search on Google, is a posterior vitreous detachment, which causes floaters and an intermittent flashing light in my peripheral vision.  I go to the Florida Retina Institute tomorrow to rule out a retinal tear or worse a detached retina. Hopefully, I will get things sorted out.

I am fortunate from a photogaphy point of view that my focusing eye is my left one even though I am right handed. To be honest I think I am probably left handed but when I was taught to write at school I was told to pick up the pen in my right hand and duly did.

Yesterday, I came across a blog site called Running After My Hat, which in turn led me to this amusing video clip of B.B. King, singing One Shoe Blues, which was written by the creator of the video– Sandra Boynton.

Jun 202011

A sudden spurt of activity yesterday evening saw me overcome the impasse that dogged me for two days and halted work on the latest gallery for Calvin Palmer Photography.

The photographs that comprise the Canary Wharf gallery had been selected weeks ago and last week, once my birthday was out of the way, I decided it was time the gallery was presented to the public in the hope of generating some sales.

The process of creating a gallery involves resizing the images and then producing the html pages, which includes titles for the images, captions, descriptions and keywords.

One image was tentatively titled but the title was about as exciting as the controls on a washing machine. Oh, it was functional and accurate but hardly inspirational and certainly not befitting a supposed creative mind.

The problematic image. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The more I tried to come up with something more inventive the slower my brain functioned. Of course temperatures of 90 degrees plus do not help when it comes to creativity. Come mid afternoon and I am enveloped in a kind of warmth that speaks to one thing and one thing only – sleep.

Experiencing the summer heat of Florida, I can see the sense of the siesta in Spain and Latin America countries.

In theory, air conditioning should provide the ideal environment for an Anglo-Saxon like me to remain productive but in an old house, it remains very much a theory. The A/C unit upstairs cannot maintain a temperature lower than a couple of degrees of the ambient temperature. It will run and run quite merrily but its impact on the room temperature is zero until the temperature outside begins to drop. And that usually occurs around 9:00 pm.

But being English, I soldier on with a mad dog for company. How else would you describe a Chihuahua?

Actually Brandy, the name comes from her previous owners, is a lot smarter than the breed is usually given credit for. I think it took a certain degree of intelligence on her part to unwrap several Hershey Kisses left in a bowl at Christmas to get to the chocolate. Although it was the pieces of silver paper left on the carpet that gave her away.

Perhaps I should have given the task of coming up with an interesting title for the photograph to the dog; on second thoughts, perhaps not.

As usual it took the heady combination of coffee and a cigarette to deliver the goods. I had just stepped outside on the back deck with a mug of coffee in hand and a Winston in my mouth and before I could light the cigarette, the title came to me in a flash.

Once I had smoked the cigarette, I dashed to my Mac Pro and completed the html page for that particular image. I then worked steadily for the next hour or so finishing off the titles and captions for the remaining images in the gallery and it was ready for posting for worldwide viewing.


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Jun 162011

Returning to the theme of the inferiority of LCD screens, as compared to a viewfinder of a DSLR when it comes to the ease of viewing camera settings, I picked up my Leica D-Lux 3 yesterday to take a shot of the haze hanging over Jacksonville.

Wildfires in Florida and Georgia have filled the air with the acrid smell of wood smoke for the past three days. Yesterday the smoke formed a haze that reduced visibility at street level.

I decided to use the little Leica, thinking that I would probably need its zoom capability to frame the shot. Indeed, I ended up shooting at the equivalent of 42 mm.

I set the camera to Aperture Priority and framed the shot. I could tell from the image on the LCD screen that it looked somewhat overexposed. I looked at the f-stop and it was almost impossible to read. I eventually managed to discern it was f/4.0, which should have given a decent exposure.

I took a second shot and once again the image looked washed out. There was only one thing for it – set the camera to Program AE mode and let it work out the aperture and shutter speed for a perfect exposure. Success!

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

While there is a lot I admire about the Leica D-Lux 3, the problem with reading information on the LCD has plagued me from the start. And the 207,000 dots LCD screen doesn’t cut it in the bright sunshine of Florida. Many a time, I have virtually shot blind, being unable to compose my shot on the screen because of the reflection from the sun.

Using the D-Lux 3 yesterday did remind me, however, of what a superb camera the Ricoh GRD III is. Its 920,000 dot LCD screen really does stand up to bright conditions and the choice of an amber colour to depict aperture, EV compensation and ISO also helps to make the information easily readable 98 percent of the time.

The strengths of the compact Leica are its lens, image processing engine – Leica seems to handle blue skies like no other camera – and optical image stabilization rather than sensor shift.

But with its larger sensor, fantastic user interface, and customized settings, the Ricoh GRD III leaves the D-Lux 3 standing. The improved D-Lux 4 and D-Lux 5, both boasting large sensors, might equal the GRD III in terms of image quality but would still be hard pressed to match Ricoh’s handling.

Jun 132011

As an experienced photographer I like to think I have all the bases covered when taking a shot. Most times I do but every now and again, I am prone to a moment of madness, forgetfulness or call it what you will. Senior moment is the phrase I like to use.

On Saturday, I attended a social function at a gated community on Fleming Island, which afforded me access to Doctor’s Lake and the chance to fire off a few shots.  It was a bright sunny day. I lined up my first shot in aperture priority mode  and the camera told me I needed to set  a smaller aperture. I turned the aperture wheel to f/5.6. That wasn’t enough for the conditions. Eventually, the camera was happy with an aperture of f/8.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

Now in all the time I have owned the Ricoh GRD III, the smallest aperture I have shot with is f/6.3. I just assumed that surrounded by a large area of water on a bright day, light was reflecting off the water to create even brighter conditions than normal.

It is to the credit of the LCD screen of the GRD III that I was still able to frame my compositions with ease. Reading the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting was a little more difficult. And therein lay my problem.

The day before I had been shooting indoors and ramped the ISO setting up to ISO 400. Usually, when I get the camera ready for my next shoot, I first delete the previous files and check the camera settings. On this occasion, I did the former but forgot about the latter. I was shooting in bright sun with ISO 400. Small wonder that I was having to use f/8. It was only when I came to work on the RAW images that I discovered my oversight.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This kind of scenario sums up why I much prefer to shoot with a camera with a viewfinder. On my Canon 40D, I would have noticed the high ISO setting instantly and made the necessary change. But the small numerals on the LCD of the Ricoh don’t always register, especially following cataract surgery. And I refuse to wear reading glasses because I would be constantly putting them on and taking them off for each shot. My distance vision is good.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

In a nutshell, that is many a photographer’s dilemma. We don’t always want to carry the weight of a DSLR with us, particularly at a social function, and so resort to compact cameras where we are reliant on the LCD screen. Like I say, the Ricoh GRD III LCD does an excellent job 98 percent of the time and is a thousand-fold better than the LCD on my Leica D-Lux 3 where both settings and composition are in the lap of the gods on a bright sunny day.

Ricoh’s GXR camera comes with an EVF, at a price, which does contain the same kind of information visible in the viewfinder of a DSLR. Maybe that is a compromise worth making to avoid my kind of senior moments, although I have my doubts whether I would take to an electonric viewfinder. My only experience of using one was with a Panasonic LC1 camera in a pawn shop. It was better than nothing but I didn’t like it. Of course EVFs have made rapid strides since Panasonic’s early model and Ricoh’s EVF has the second highest resolution after the EVF for the Olympus PEN cameras. Maybe it is time to check out EVFs again.

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Jun 082011

I came across a fascinating series of photographs this morning from an exhibition by John Bulmer, a  former photographer for The Sunday Times magazine.

The exhibition is entitled “The North” and features working-class scenes from the north of England, although the inclusion of the Black Country, in the West Midlands, stretches the definition of the north of England to breaking point. The photographs were taken in the 1960s, the period I grew up in and capture a way of life I experienced at first hand.

It was a time of cobbled streets devoid of cars and lined with terraced houses whose chimneys belched smoke from coal fires. The street lighting was gas, which created pools of a dim yellow light every 25 yards.

Black Country street in 1961 by John Bulmer.

Front steps were scrubbed on a weekly basis in the days when elbow grease had real meaning. Washing was hung out to dry on lines in back yards or across the street and invariably ended up catching particles of soot from the grimy atmosphere and had to be washed for a second time.

Hanging out the washing in a northern mill town by John Bulmer.

It was time when men wore flat caps and for women headscarves were de rigueur; women who became old before their time and acted as the unpaid police of the streets. There were certain houses where you did not play football outside for fear of incurring the wrath of these women and, at times, losing the ball. These dragons and self-appointed militia did not think twice about confiscating the ball if their censure was ignored. And you never dared complain to your own parents.

The 1960s was also a time of redevelopment of the major cities, when vast tracts of slum housing were cleared to be replaced by ugly pre-fabricated concrete monstrosities that created more social problems than they solved and robbed people of their back yard privacy and privy.

Moss Side, Manchester by John Bulmer

Bulmer’s photographs capture the spirit of a bygone age, which to today’s youngsters must look as remote as photographs of the Victorian and Edwardian era did in my youth — such is the dissonance of time.

His exhibition is being held at the Third Floor Gallery, in Cardiff, and runs through June 12. It moves to Chris Beetles Art Gallery, London, in October.

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Jun 062011

I am less of a man than I was yesterday. A little piece of me is missing, gone forever. I may even be a little less wise. This morning I had a wisdom tooth taken out, something I had put off for several months.

I paid for my tardiness. On Friday, a small piece of the tooth broke off. The next day what seemed like eight ounces of filling dropped out. That was a blessing in some way because the jagged edge was rubbing against the inside of my cheek.

Pain did not automatically set in but I knew that I was living on a knife edge. Better to act than wait for excruciating pain to occur.

Why did not I get it tended to sooner? My logic goes like this — booking an appointment for an extraction is like standing in front of a firing squad and then giving the order to fire. Who in their right mind would do that?

I called an oral surgeon in Riverside this morning and was told that I could be seen at 11 o’clock and to arrive at 10:45 to complete the paper work.

I duly arrived at the appointed time but the oral surgeon did not keep his side of the bargain. It was 11:40 before my name was called. Appointment times certainly aren’t what they used to be.

I notice a lot of things in America are posted as starting at some particular time or other but they seldom do. A concert by Jacksonville Ballet a few weeks back was supposed to start at 7:00 pm. Well that is what was written on the programme. At 7:15 the proceedings got under way. When I expressed my frustration that nothing had started at the designated time, and that nothing in America starts at the designated time, a woman sitting in front of me burst out laughing, turned round and said: “Ain’t that the truth.”

The dental assistant was a bouncy kind of a woman, bright and cheerful — just the kind of person to put you at ease as you walk into the torture chamber.  Sorry, I meant surgery.

She applied the pina colada flavoured numbing cream. It’s a pity it didn’t contain a generous tot of rum. Moments later the oral surgeon appeared — a thick set jovial man originally from New York. He asked me how long I had been in the United States and was surprised that I had retained my English accent. An English accent is not something that fades after 11 years — it is there for life.

He administered the anaesthetic and left the room.  The  roof of my mouth eventually became dry, to the point where I could feel every ridge and groove with my tongue.

The oral surgeon reappeared. I was rather glad he was well-built because I figured it would take a fair bit of strength to dislodge the tooth. He approached, I opened wide. He gave one short tug; re-affixed the forceps and gave another tug and it was all over.

The dental assistant placed a piece of gauze into the gaping hole and told me to bite down. She then reamed the various dos and don’ts that I had to follow in the course of the next few hours and days.

“No smoking for 24 hours,” she said.

Like a poor ventriloquist, minus a dummy, I replied through clenched teeth, “No guckin’ chance.”

The dental assistant laughed out loud. I told you she was a good sport. I probably made her day and became the subject of lunchtime conversation with the rest of the staff.

So now I have the aftercare to contend with. As yet I have not had to resort to the painkillers. I have taken the first of the course of antibiotics. My cups of coffee have been drunk cold but then again I make a cup of coffee last two hours so that is no great imposition. And true to my word, cigarettes have been consumed.

I know, I am incorrigible.

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Jun 022011

My life would not be worth living if I lived in Denmark. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has just banned the sale of Marmite. Apparently, any foodstuff fortified with minerals and/or vitamins has to gain special exemption to be sold in Denmark.

Other foodstuffs facing a similar ban, under legislation passed in 2004, include Rice Krispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine.

Marmite, a bi-product of the brewing industry and first developed in my home county of Staffordshire, England, is fortified with vitamins B6 and B12.

For as long as I care to remember my breakfast has consisted of cereal, orange juice, Marmite on toast, and coffee. When I first moved to the United States in 2000, one of the first things I did was track down a store selling Marmite.  I became a frequent visitor to the British Emporium in Grapevine, Texas.

Moving to Jacksonville, I was not so lucky. Jacksonville being Jacksonville has no store selling British foodstuffs. However, recently the Publix supermarket I visit on a weekly basis has started a small selection of British food items, including Marmite. Publix only stocks the small jars and they are  prohibitively expensive. My supply now comes from British Delights, based in Connecticut. I order the 500 g jars online.

Marmite is one of those strange foodstuffs that you either love or hate.  I love it. Back in Britain, one of my favourite snacks was Marmite on toast made with Hovis bread baked by a local bakery — Marsh’s of London Road, Stoke. A couple of rounds and I was in seventh heaven, at least as far as my tastebuds were concerned.

Marmite was first manufactured in 1902 at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and is still made there today. The town has an association with brewing that goes back centuries.

[Based on a report by The Copenhagen Post.]

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