For a minute there I lost myself, phew…for a minute there

Summer at Lake Crabtree
Summer at Lake Crabtree, Cary, North Carolina, February 2012, Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 121mm; exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/8, ISO 100, Canon Speedlite 580EX II triggered wirelessly

Radiohead references aside, I’ve gone through a number of life changes, both professionally and with respect to lifestyle since I last updated this blog.  I posted last from the coast of Washington as I was in the middle of some significant soul-searching.  I was at a crossroads both professionally and personally.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting images from the last six months–what I have to show for them, that is.  There have been moments that I considered packing up all of my gear and selling it off, closing the shutters on a dream.  Summer, my partner who has seen me through this transition in my life, has expressed at numerous points a concern that she has somehow negatively influenced by passion for photography.  I’m taking stock of life as I recognize that I’m emerging from a state of prolonged shell-shock at the fallout from the end of long and complicated relationship.  She certainly has not stifled my desire to make images of the world.  If anything, she inspires me.

Summer and a cup of tea
Summer and a cup of tea, Savannah, Georgia

I have a backlog of images I would like to share with the world, but first I wanted to share this amazing woman.  I want to be a better person, a better partner, a better photographer, a better communicator, a better citizen of the Earth because I know that my own life is better for having her as such a central part of it.  She shares with me a deep respect for this planet.  A visceral connection to the landscape and the flora and fauna that color it in.

Summer on Sanibel Island
Summer on Sanibel Island, Florida

Early in our relationship we spoke of partners creating space for the other to grow.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just how much space that would mean as my life changed dramatically.  I have a new appreciation for intentional family (to say nothing of my biological family, whom I love dearly).  In many ways, I feel like my vision has been fogged for a months now but it’s beginning to burn off.  Confidence is slowly being restored to my heart, my head, and pumping in my veins.

Summer in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis
Summer in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis

This remarkable woman is the reason that, come August, I can append two letters to my name.  In March she traveled with me to Columbia to defend my M.A. project at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  That project, “A River in Reverse: Asian carp and The Great Lakes” was the result of hours of blood, sweat, and tears over the last two years, but especially the month of February and into March of 2012.  She helped me to reframe some of my darker experiences in graduate school.  She helps me to realize just how amazing life can be.  How fortunate I am to be on this path together.  How blessed I am with the talents I have.

Summer walking on the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Summer walking on the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

I don’t have a crystal ball.  I don’t know with certainty what my future holds.  What I do know is that as I take stock of my life, I cannot help but to feel fortunate and loved at this moment in time.  We’re planning to hand-fast so that we might share the joy we feel about the the peregrinations that we will share over the course of our life together.


Kitchen knives loom over ripening tomatoes

Knives loom over our ripening tomatoes.
Knives loom over our ripening tomatoes. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens @ 27mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100 | Key: Canon 580EX II Speedlite in 16×16″ Softbox on camera right. Fill: Canon 550EX Speedlite in Lumiquest Softbox III on camera left. Triggered wirelessly using ST-E2 transmitter ratio 2:1 key to fill.

Things have been fairly quiet on the blog while I make some final arrangements to be truly “in business” as a photographer in the state of North Carolina.  I am contemplating a very large order of roll paper in anticipation of opening up my HP Z3200 to making prints for fellow photographers.  Hopefully, that will include some of my dear readers here!

However, most of my new work of late has been around the house, especially Elizabeth’s garden which is now producing lots of tomatoes.  This afternoon I made a photo of our harvested tomatoes that are ripening on the kitchen counter…or atop the microwave, to be more accurate.  In years past, other creatures have gotten to Elizabeth’s tomatoes before she had a chance to pick them, so this season she’s trying to pick them when they’ve begun to ripen, and allowing them to finish the process indoors.  So far, so good!

An Assassin Bug in our lettuce

An Assassin Bug perches on a leaf of lettuce harvested from our garden.
An Assassin Bug perches on a leaf of lettuce harvested from our garden. It made its appearance as we were soaking the lettuce prior to rinsing. | Canon 7D and 100mm f/2.8 macro lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800 | Canon 580EX II triggered wirelessly, bounced off ceiling camera left.

While soaking some lettuce harvested from our garden (it makes the dirt come off more easily when rinsing), Elizabeth called me into the kitchen because an Assassin Bug had evaded her inadvertent attempt to drown it, and was perching on a leaf of lettuce.  It may not be a very good attempt at macro photography with insects–see my dad’s Web site for an idea of what good macro photography can look like–but it was entertaining while it lasted.

Another perspective on the Assassin Bug.
Another perspective on the Assassin Bug. | Canon 7D and 100mm f/2.8 macro lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/4, ISO 800 | Canon 580EX II triggered wirelessly, bounced from the ceiling on camera left.

Ultimately, we set our friend free on the back porch so it could continue on its quest to rid our garden of more pernicious six-legged creatures.

Gardening at night

Sugar snap peas overwhelm their trellis
Sugar snap peas overwhelm their trellis in our garden, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 24mm | Exposed 1/50 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 100 | 580EX II and 550EX Speedlites triggered with ST-E2.

The other day I received my Lumiquest Softbox III that I ordered at the Joe McNally and David Hobby “Flash Bus Tour” in Durham, North Carolina on 4 April.  A new light modifier?  Well, I simply had to play with it.  Trick is finding cooperative subject matter.  As I mentioned a few weeks back, Elizabeth and I have been working on a new garden/cooking/home improvement blog, and it was high time for an update on the crop of peas growing along the “whimsical trellises” that she made in the back yard.

Lighting the garden
Lighting the garden

So I set up the Softbox III on my 580EX II Speedlite, gelled 1/4 CTO on a stand at camera right as my key, and placed my 550EX in the back, zoomed out to 105mm and gelled 1/2 CTO to work as a kicker.  While outdoors I tend to use my low-end radio triggers for wireless flash, in cloudy conditions and after sunset I find that I can get away with wireless ETTL with either my ST-E2 or a flash as the commander.  This makes setting the light ratio and also the amount of light a lot faster when I don’t have much time (like when the sun is setting and the sky is getting really dark and really fast).  In this case, I think the warmer light created by the gels contrasted nicely with the cool sky at dusk.

Excerpt from our new blog: No work, no kneading, what’s not to like?

My third attempt at "No Knead Bread" yielded this beautiful, rustic boule.
My third attempt at “No Knead Bread” yielded this beautiful, rustic boule. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100 | 580EX II and 550EX Speedlites triggered with Canon ST-E2 Transmitter.

Our New Blog

Over the past couple of months, Elizabeth and I have been working on a project together: a combined cooking, gardening, and home improvement blog that we’ve named With One Cat in the Yard.  Today I posted about making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (aka No-Work Bread), which was popularized in a Mark Bittman column in The New York Times in 2006, and I thought I would cross-post it formy readers here.  Our new project is certainly not a photography blog–I’ve included the technical details for the photos in this post, but you won’t find them at With One Cat in the Yard–but I hope everyone will take a look.  More to come!

Flour, salt, yeast, water, and time perseverance

I’m in my third week of attempting to make good bread.  I’ve always enjoyed crusty bread, but I’ve never found the price of five dollars for a boule to be particularly attractive, so I rarely buy it.

Elizabeth suggested trying a recipe that inspired many food bloggers a few years ago: Jim Lahey’s “No Knead Bread” featured in Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times.  The recipe became so popular that publishers perceived a demand for a book, so Lahey wrote My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method to further explain his method and offer variations. Both Lahey and Bittman emphasize that the process is so simple that a child could make it happen, although I don’t think my mom ever would have trusted me to drop dough into a 450° F stock pot and put it back inside an oven.  Sometimes I wonder why anyone would trust me to do that now.

The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight).
The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight). | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100 | Canon 550EX Speedite triggered with 580EX II Speedlite on “Master.”

My first effort was not completely successful, nor was my second, but the third was just right.  I was skeptical that I could make a loaf of bread worthy of an artisan bakery, but lo and behold, it’s not only possible, but has quickly become one of my new favorite breads.  Not only does it look amazing and have a satisfying, crackling crust, it’s also pretty tasty.  Now, it’s not the best, most flavorful bread ever, but it does have a faint sourdough flavor of which I am quite fond (on account of the lengthy fermentation period) and it’s fantastic for dipping in soup, olive oil, or as sandwich bread.

The basic recipe is stunningly simple: three cups of bread flour, one and a half cuts of water, one and a quarter teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast are briskly mixed together in a bowl and then left alone overnight: at least 12 hours, but extra time does seem to yield better results.  While the original recipe calls for 1 and 5/8 cups of water, the video on the Web site and also the recipes I found on several other blogs all called for one and a half cups, and indeed that seemed to work well.  After the lengthy first rise, the dough is rolled into a ball, allowed to rise again, and then baked in a pot inside of a conventional oven at 450° F.  This creates a “fake oven,” as Lahey refers to it in the aforementioned video, meaning that it simulates the steam-injected ovens found in professional bakeries.  The moisture of the dough is trapped within the pot and circulates throughout, ensuring a crisp crust.

Note: the recipes I follow are at the end of the post!

No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven
No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T* lens | Exposed 1/40 sec. @ f/2, ISO 1600.

For my first few loaves I used Elizabeth’s hard-anodized, eight-quart stock pot.  The current thinking is that anywhere from three to five quarts is just about “right” for No Knead Bread.  (The original recipe called for a six to eight quart pot.)  Combined with our concern that such high temperatures for an hour and fifteen minutes might deteriorate the non-stick coating, I purchased a Lodge five-quart cast iron Dutch oven on Amazon.

However, the sticking point to this bread–literally–is not the equipment needed, but the second rise of the dough.  After a few attempts, I believe I’ve found an effective alternative to the original recipe.  I offer you my experiences with this bread so that you can learn from my mistakes and quickly get to the point: great bread at a great price with relatively little effort.

Post continues at With One Cat in the Yard!

Another “lunar surface” detail

Bottom crust of "No Knead Bread"
Bottom crust of “No Knead Bread” | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/8, ISO 250 | Canon 550EX and Canon 580EX II flashes triggered via Canon ST-E2

Last week I hinted that I was beginning to explore baking my own bread.  For the past couple of days I’ve been working with “No Knead Bread,” which became popular in 2006 with Mark Bittman’s article about baker Jim Lahey’s process that involves quickly mixing a rough dough and then letting it rise for at least 12 hours.  I hope to perfect it soon, and with it, introduce everyone to a project we’ve been working on here in Durham for a few weeks now.  More to come!

Craters on the surface


Craters on the surface
Craters on the surface: light wheat bread recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice featured on Smitten Kitchen | Canon 7D and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200 | 580 EX II Speedlite fired in the DIY Beauty Dish on camera left.

Over the past month Elizabeth and I have been working on a new project I’ll be unveiling soon.  Part of it is a new-found interest of mine: baking bread.  I’ve never considered myself a good candidate for the Atkins diet because I simply cannot get enough bread in my life.  Elizabeth has a bread machine that she purchased from a second hand store, and while neither one of us particularly likes the loaves it makes, I’ve found that it’s a fantastic dough-making machine–plus it takes care of the first rise.  Pictured here is the top crust of a very basic, but very functional sandwich bread: Light Wheat Bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and featured on the Smitten Kitchen.

My best experience with CPS yet

Hulett House - April 2009
Hulett House – April 2009 | Canon 5D Mk. II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 144mm | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 800.

A brief history of CPS

While I believe that customer service should be important to all businesses great and small, it’s clear that it isn’t always the case.  So when a company does something for one of its customers that is above and beyond all expectations, it’s a good feeling.  It’s also something that should be recognized by the end customer and held up as an example of loyalty-earning service.  There was a lot of complaining two years ago, when Canon Professional Services transitioned into a fee-based, tiered program.

I recall a few people asking why they should have to pay for “better service,” and I scratched my head.  The airlines have had a tiered fee structure for years: pay the base rate and sit in coach, but pay them several dollars more, sit in business class, and get better service.  Pay even larger sums, and sit in first class with an even greater level of service.  I had only been a member of CPS for a year when they changed up the program, but I have to say that I’ve seen only improvements in the past two years.  Sure, Nikon Professional Services doesn’t charge (yet), but that’s in part because they’ve cut costs by firing some of their beloved NPS representatives, such as Carol Fisher, who used to represent Nikon at photojournalism programs such as the University of Missouri.

So, for the past two years I’ve paid $100 per year and received a discount of 30% on repairs plus several equipment loans for evaluation.

The problem

So what is this all about?  Last week I sent in my 550 EX Speedlite that I damaged in a shoot for my Advanced Techniques class in my second semester at MU.  It’s sat on a shelf for close to two years after I melted its diffuser from an hour of firing at 1:1 on manual.  Before asking, the answer is that I wasn’t thinking at the time.  One of the last photographs that the flash helped me to make is at the top of this post.  Both of my 550 EX flashes were mounted on light stands and firing against the white walls of the mixed martial-arts gym, Hulett House.  Of course an hour of shooting at full power will do bad things.  But how bad?

550EX test before CPS repair
550EX test before CPS repair: damaged flash is labeled “B”. Note that the identical units are zoomed to 35mm and firing at 1/16 power. Canon 7D and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens @ 27mm | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/4, ISO 100

While behaving normally under E-TTL II mode, my 550EX that I had labeled “B” (for grouping purposes in wireless flash with the Canon ST-E2 transmitter) would only fire on full power in manual mode.  The photo above shows just how badly the Speedlite had been damaged: both are supposed to be firing at 1/16 power, but the only one doing that is the flash on the left.  So, after two years of my 550EX “B” Speedlite working only as a paperweight, I decided to send it in to CPS to be repaired and then sell it to recoup the cost of the repair.

An aside:

I have an odd hang up about broken gear: ultimately, I’d rather fix it and sell it to someone to recoup the repair costs than to let it rot on the shelf indefinitely.  This is what I did a few years ago when I bought an Olympus 21mm lens off of eBay that turned out to be woefully scratched.  I sent it into a man out in Colorado who gave it a new lens coating and then sold it, barely making up for the cost of the lens plus its repair.


Refurbished Canon 580 EX Mk. II Speedlite
Refurbished Canon 580 EX Mk. II Speedlite from CPS

Last Thursday I packed up the 550 EX and shipped it FedEx to Canon’s Newport News, Virginia factory service center.  One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about living in North Carolina is that FedEx Ground will get a package to Canon overnight.  On Friday I approved the repair that was estimated to cost far less than I had mentally prepared for: only $77.

On Monday morning I received an e-mail that the factory was out of parts to repair the (discontinued) 550 EX, so they would be replacing it…with a 580 EX Mk. II Speedlite!  I am completely convinced this would not have happened had I not been a member of Canon Professional Services.

Today, my Canon-refurbished 580 EX Mk. II arrived…and it doesn’t have a scratch on it.  Sure, am I excited that I received a flash that retails for more than $450 by paying $77 and trading in my old unit?  Absolutely.  But it would have been far easier for Canon to tell me that they don’t have parts any more and simply ship my old flash back to me in its damaged state.  This is the kind of thing that makes me think twice about ever switching brands–my loyalty has been earned with time, but it was renewed once more this afternoon when the package arrived.

Well done, Canon.  Kudos on raising the bar for CPS!