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When your drone starts to act up…

June 7, 2021, 11:20 AM

On Tuesday, June 1, Elyse and I went on a little adventure in Prince William County, Virginia, where the goal for me was to photograph some old AT&T Long Lines infrastructure up close with the drone.  First of all, for those not familiar, AT&T Long Lines is a now-defunct system from the mid-20th century used for telecommunications via microwave transmission.  It has long since been replaced by more modern systems, but many of the towers still remain.  Some have been converted to cell phone towers, with varying amounts of the old Long Lines infrastructure abandoned in place.  I’ve photographed about six of these things in varying degrees of detail, mostly in Virginia, both ground-based and with a drone.

On this particular day, I had two towers in my sights: one near Dumfries, and one near Manassas.  The Dumfries one was directly off of Route 234, and the Manassas one was a little bit further off of the beaten path.  The Dumfries tower was in full form, with its horn antennas still attached, while the Manassas tower had lost the old horn antennas.

Here are some of my photos of the Dumfries tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

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Categories: Cameras, Northern Virginia

A flight over JMU…

May 15, 2021, 2:12 PM

On May 10, while Elyse and I were on a weekend trip down to the Shenandoah Valley to see the parents and such, we stopped at JMU, and I took the drone for a flight over the far side of campus across Interstate 81.  That is a part of campus that has definitely changed since I was a student, as it’s a lot more built up than it used to be.  There are lots of buildings over there that weren’t there when I attended.  There’s also a new indoor arena over there called the Atlantic Union Bank Center, or, as the folks on Reddit have taken to calling it, the “Algerdome”, after JMU’s current president, Jonathan Alger.  I flew from a facility that was new since I was there, on the roof of a massive parking garage next to the Algerdome, built on the former site of Blue Ridge Hall.  That higher vantage point was helpful because it gave me a better line of sight to my aircraft and a better signal for my remote, as there were fewer buildings getting in my way up there.

And here are the photos:

Potomac Hall

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Categories: Harrisonburg, JMU, Photography

Storytelling and the value of context…

February 24, 2021, 6:40 PM

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how my photography tends to present itself in the various places that I post my work.  This is on the occasion of a nearly yearlong backlog of photography that is sitting in my queue just waiting to be published.  In other words, this is why there haven’t been any Photography or Life and Times sets published from 2020 as of yet (they’re coming, I promise).  2020 was a banner year for me as far as photography went, as I was more productive in that year than I have been for the last several years.  I’ve just not gotten much of it out the door, with only a relatively small amount’s being published as the photo feature on the front of the website, as well as in the Journal.  The rest of it is still waiting to be published.

The reason for the delay in publication is because of a giant Flickr project that I’ve been working on since around April or so.  What I want to do is to use my Flickr as my main photo library, i.e. most stuff that I publish goes on Flickr.  The ultimate goal with this project was to take everything that I had previously published on Wikimedia Commons and ensure that it was duplicated on my Flickr.  I called it “putting Wikimedia Commons behind me”, because I’m essentially moving on from the platform, and making it where I never have to refer back to it again.  But I didn’t just do a straight sweep of Flickr and copy it all over.  That would be too easy, and if I’m publishing something on a new venue, I want it to look good by my current standards.  Thus I go in and locate the original photos in my archive and process them according to my current techniques as if they’re new material.  Sometimes the cut is a little different, and sometimes the lighting comes out a little differently than before, but I think that it’s a much better end result.  Recall that I did the same thing when I converted Schumin Web to WordPress back in 2011-2012.  I went back and reprocessed all of the photos from the originals, and they looked awesome.

This situation was made a tad more complicated by the way I did things back in 2013 when I first started getting serious about my Flickr.  In that case, I went through things from the beginning, but I was very conservative about what older material I published to Flickr.  I didn’t publish a lot of older material when I did that initial upload.  Who knows why.  So for this project, I did two waves.  The first was a second dive through the archives up to 2013, looking for stuff that was worth publishing as a standalone work.  That took several months to do, and resulted in about 17 pages’ worth of new uploads to Flickr.  Some of that was stuff that had previously been published other places, and a lot of it was new.  I figured that I would catch most of the stuff that was on Wikimedia Commons that way.  While I did catch quite a bit of it, I knew that I wouldn’t catch all of it.  Thus my second wave was to sweep through my contributions to Commons directly, and catch everything that I’d missed.  I figured that I would probably catch about 100 photos and put them up on Flickr.  Oh, how wrong I was.  When I finished my sweep, I ended up having 528 all together.  Made me think of Strong Bad when his computer got a virus, and he said, “That is not a small number!  That is a big number!”  I located all of them, edited all of them based on my current standards, and now I’m in the process of uploading them all.  Thankfully, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

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Some people just don’t learn…

February 7, 2021, 10:20 PM

Do you remember Marilyn Armstrong, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago regarding a case of copyright infringement?  She came back for a second round.  Apparently, she found my Journal entry, and just couldn’t leave well enough alone, going on another rant in the comments:

First of all, NO ONE intentionally took anything.  This appeared in a pile of pictures listed by Google as “free for public use.”  No name or other information was attached.  I didn’t write the piece, I didn’t post the picture and if I want a picture, I use my own since I am also a photographer.  One of the people who writes on this blog was just looking for a picture of a building with an orange roof and it came up in that Google collection.  I don’t know how ANYONE can figure out whose picture it is when there’s no attached information AND it did not come from your site.  I already said I was sorry, that it was accidental, unintentional, non-commercial.  Beyond that, you really might consider embedding copyright information in your pictures so people have some way of knowing that the picture is NOT — as Google said — free for public use.

Since I didn’t select OR use the picture personally, and since GOOGLE was the organization that pulled it off your blog and stuck it in a pile of “free for public use” pictures, maybe you should consider going after them.  Someone ought to, but they have a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and if the U.S. government can’t get them, I’m pretty sure you can’t and I can’t, so they’ll just keep doing what they do and people like me will get blamed for assuming that they aren’t lying.

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Out of everything, 2020 was an exceptionally good year for my photography…

December 31, 2020, 2:33 PM

Out of all of the things that occurred in 2020, I think that I could define my year most by my photography work.  I had a very productive year, on a few different fronts.

First of all, I got a new phone in early March, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is a pretty powerful camera in and of itself, with four different lenses built into its design and all sorts of other fun features.  For that, I tend to get the most out of the standard lens and the wide angle lens.  Here’s a comparison of two shots taken from the same spot:

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.

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Categories: Photography

A lot of “teachable moments” in one email…

December 18, 2020, 6:20 PM

Recently, I submitted a takedown notice for content in a post called “Preaching to the Choir” which, among other things, discusses the seventh and ninth commandments in the Bible (conveniently skipping over #8, i.e. “thou shalt not steal”), on a blog called Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth.  The post contained a photo that I took of the former Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain.  Specifically, they used this shot:

The Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain

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Going behind the pylons…

November 19, 2020, 11:31 AM

Back on November 6, Elyse and I took the drone out for a spin again, and I did some photography.  This time, we went out to Leesburg, and took a late afternoon golden-hour flight around a familiar landmark: the former Walmart off of Route 15.  This is a typical 1990s-era pylon-style store, and it closed in May 2019 when a new Supercenter opened elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  Because of the proximity of the location to Leesburg airport, I had to notify the airport of our activity using their online form, and then, whirlybirds away.  I flew up and around the building, and even investigated the roof a little bit.

A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.
A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone…

October 25, 2020, 10:45 PM

Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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Taking my photography to the skies…

October 6, 2020, 10:37 AM

I suppose that it was inevitable.  When Elyse and I were out meeting up with someone in Baltimore back in March, they had a drone device that they used for a lot of aerial photography, and they showed it off to us.  I loved that thing, a DJI Mavic Pro 2, and they gave me all of the information about it so that I could do my own research.  I wanted one of those things, but I couldn’t justify a $2,000 price tag for a drone that nice when I had zero experience flying a drone, and didn’t have a good idea about what I wanted to do with it.  So I sat on the idea for a while, occasionally going on Amazon to drool over the drone that I knew I couldn’t justify to myself.  Then I found a somewhat lower-end drone, the DJI Mavic Mini.  A $500 price tag was easier to justify, and that price also told me two things: first, it was expensive enough that it would do what I wanted it to do, but also cheap enough to be a good, accessible starter drone.  I asked the experts on Reddit, and the consensus was that it was a good entry-level drone, and it could do everything that I was looking for it to do.  So I went on Amazon and bought it.

One thing that I got a quick crash course in after I bought this was the regulatory environment for drones.  Basically, you can’t just take this thing anywhere and fly it however you want.  Like the roads, you share the airspace with other users, and as a drone pilot, in the big hierarchy of pilots, you are down where the dog lifts its leg.  And that’s how it should be.  I’m flying an unmanned vehicle, and as such, my feet are firmly on the ground at all times.  If something goes wrong with my aircraft while I’m flying, the worst thing that happens is that I lose my drone, as well as all of the material that’s stored on the card.  I might be unhappy about losing my drone and the photos stored on the card, but no one’s going to die should this thing fail mid-flight.  Compare to a real pilot, who’s actually up in the sky with their aircraft, and if something went wrong there, there is a very real possiblity that someone could be seriously injured or lose their life.  Therefore, I quickly learned that you have to do your homework before flying.  Thankfully, there is a phone app called B4UFLY that will tell you what restrictions are in place in different areas.  Right offhand, I live in the Washington, DC area, and as such, there is a lot of restricted airspace there, because Washington.  In short, don’t even think about flying in DC, and you probably don’t want to fly in the suburbs, either.  Right around my house, I also have restrictions because there’s a small airport (GAI) nearby.  Once you get out of the immediate metro area, though, it’s fairly wide open, though national parks are a blanket no-go.  But outside of that, there’s plenty of stuff to do.

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What a washing machine might see…

May 24, 2020, 11:06 AM

I’m currently working on a photography project where I’m going through my old photos from the period before I started using Flickr seriously, which means stuff prior to around September 2013, with the goal of putting more stuff from the back catalog on my Flickr feed.  What I’ve noticed is that of all of the photos that I took, I took a lot of stinkers, but there is a lot of good stuff that got passed over in the past, mostly because the Life and Times and Photography formats tend to tell a story through the photos, with various levels of narration, and if an otherwise good photo doesn’t help to tell that story, it typically won’t get used.  Flickr is a different format from Schumin Web, and photos tend to be viewed individually rather than as collections, though that capacity does exist.  So photos that are good but otherwise irrelevant to the story will “work” there.  The recent Journal entry about my trip to Hampton Roads is a good example.  That entry used 79(!) photos from the four-day trip, and there was a lot that I didn’t cover because that was already an obscene amount of photos for one Journal entry, and I already found pacing to be a challenge when writing that one, wanting to cover a lot but not go on for too long.

In any case, I found a group of photos that I did on February 26, 2013 that I never used anywhere.  I set a camera inside the washing machine and the dryer in my apartment building, and set the shutter timer, and posed for the camera.  I believe that my intent was to use one of these as a splash photo, but I ultimately didn’t like any of them enough to run them on the front of the website, so this whole set got shelved.  I think that I rejected them primarily because it was rather late at night, and I wasn’t really looking my best.  However, in going back through these for the Flickr project, they made me laugh a little bit, because the even though the concept was a bit ridiculous, the results aren’t as bad as I thought at the time.

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Categories: Photography

The more they talk, the more irresponsible they sound…

April 23, 2020, 10:45 AM

So I have a new story about my experience enforcing copyrights, this one involving materials posted to YouTube.  First of all, though, for those not familiar with how YouTube handles DMCA copyright takedowns, it is worth noting that their takedown form is a bit lackluster, though they’re usually pretty quick to respond.  The problem is that YouTube doesn’t allow a claimant (i.e. me) to fully make my claim to ownership of a piece of video content, which has led to problems in the past.  Here’s the relevant section of YouTube’s copyright form:

The relevant section of YouTube's copyright form, showing where I identify the work in question

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Stack ’em up?

April 1, 2020, 1:25 AM

So my latest experiments with photography have been with stacking exposures.  For those not familiar, the general idea behind stacked exposures is to take several short exposures instead of one long exposure, and then “stack” them on top of each other in order to simulate a photo with a longer exposure.  It is useful in situations where a true long exposure is impractical, such as when shooting in daylight.  The way it’s done is that you take all of the shots that you intend to stack out in the field, preferably using a tripod and a remote control for the shutter, and then do the stacking at home.

Whenever I test a new technique, I typically will shoot photos of something that I’ve photographed before.  This way, I already know what the photo is supposed to look like, and I know what works as far as angles go.  That eliminates a few variables so that I can just focus on the technique.  In this case, I did two field trips.  One was out to Point of Rocks and along Route 7 in Virginia and ultimately into DC, and the other was to Burnt Mills Dam off of US 29 in Montgomery County.  The Virginia trip was mostly for nighttime shots, and the Burnt Mills trip was for daytime shots.

At Point of Rocks, Elyse went trainspotting at the nearby MARC station while I wandered around with my tripod to photograph some stuff.  My focus was on the Point of Rocks Bridge and the Potomac River running under the bridge.  My focus was mainly on smoothing out the water.

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Looking at some old photos from 2002…

June 17, 2019, 11:54 AM

Sometimes, it’s fun to look back at old photos.  The world changes, after all, and sometimes, old photos document things that don’t exist anymore.  For whatever reason, Elyse and I were looking at my photos from a trip to the Washington DC area that I made on April 13, 2002.  For context, back when this trip happened, I was a junior in college, and had just been notified that I was being laid off from my call center job with Telegate USA (the successor company to CFW Information Services) after just under five years’ employment there.  The call center where I worked was closing, and Telegate, primarily a European company, would exit the US market entirely within the year.

This particular trip produced the Old Town Alexandria set in Photography.  I now consider that set to be poor work, and have it on my list of photo sets that I eventually want to reshoot, along with Meridian Hill Park.  I figure that, with the passage of time and my becoming more proficient with the camera, I could do a much better job a second time around.  In the case of the Old Town Alexandria set, I really didn’t take enough time to compose the shots.  Timestamps indicate that it took me an hour to cover from near the waterfront to the Metro station.  I was really just walking and photographing without putting much thought or effort into it.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the DC area via the Metro, and more or less exploring around.

It’s also funny to think that I took these photos with my original Sony Mavica camera, which recorded at 640×480 resolution, with corresponding image quality.  It was only slightly better quality than a potato.

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Looking back on some old photos…

January 29, 2019, 1:32 PM

Recently, Elyse and I were coming home from Frederick on a night with a very bright full moon.  The discussion turned towards how it was moonlight that was making everything so bright.  I was no stranger to this concept, and remembered a set of photos that I shot on July 31, 2004.  There, I was up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia near Rockfish Gap, shooting photos after work using Big Mavica with the tripod, under a full moon.  It was late at night, but the photos might have almost led you to think otherwise:

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I have so many great ideas for photography, and I want a banner year…

January 12, 2019, 1:24 PM

Let’s admit – 2018 was kind of a bust when it came to photography.  I had plans, but none of them really came to fruition, with the exception of my trip to Centralia in May.  Even the big road trip in October produced only tepid results.  Most of that can be attributed to extremely poor luck when it came to the weather.  I got rained out almost every single time I planned to do something exciting.  Sure, we’re not in a drought situation anymore (far from it), but I have a shortage of newer material, which affects other parts of the site.

That said, I have lots of plans for photo sets.  I keep a list of ideas, but unfortunately, due to the rate that these shoots get accomplished, I have referred to the list as “The place where photo set ideas go to die.”  A lot of the list contains infrastructure sites, such as tunnels and bridges, both locally and on the road in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  I also want to do some explore-the-town photo sets, again both locally and on the road.  I also want to do a few reshoots of old subjects that I think that I can do better now than I did way back in the day.  See Richmond’s Canal Walk from 2002 and Richmond 2013 for an example of this.  Here are two photos of the same subject – one from the 2002 set and the 2013 set:

2002 photo
2002 photo.

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