Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

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History in our hands

Recently I set up my computer so that rather than a static desktop background, it shuffles through the photos in my scenery album. I should mention that I’ve got photos going back to 2007 on my hard drive – and yes, I’ve got them backed up – when I got my first digital camera, which was a Polaroid PDC 2030. I’ve upgraded since then and now use a Canon DSLR, or my phone if I don’t have the Canon.

Earlier tonight, I was staring at the screen while the microwave warmed my coffee and I realized something I hadn’t thought of before. As I said, I’ve got it set on shuffle so the photos are in random order, or as random as a computer can make them, and some images came up and I said to my cat (who wasn’t listening as usual) “Well, I’ll never be able to take that shot again because that location doesn’t exist.”

If, like me, you enjoy taking photos of scenery, either in your own area or on trips, you too may have images of sites that are no longer there in the same condition they were when you captured their likeness. The current header photo is a good example of that. Two months after I took this shot, a pedestrian bridge was erected across the creek and effectively cut the photo in two, destroying the peaceful scene. And I have other examples as well of places that have been significantly altered by “progress” since I took my shot.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious photographer or just a casual shutterbug, you could have photos of historic significance on your hard drive, or in a box somewhere.

A few years ago, I had a showing at the local library. This show, titled “Listen to the Preacher Man”, consisted of photographs of various churches in southern Durham Region. At the end of the week long show, I asked the head of the historical department of the library if she wanted any of those photos for her files. Of the twelve I’d had on display, she took nine that showed places of worship in Pickering and a part of Ajax called Pickering Village (the original “Pickering”). Suggestion: if you have photos of buildings or areas in the municipality in which you live that no longer exist or have been altered, consider asking the historical department of your local library if they’d like copies. If they accept, while you might not get paid for them, you may be able to negotiate a price for a tax receipt. And, it also means you won’t have to store them any longer.

In the meantime, keep taking those photos and remember to hug an artist, no matter what medium they choose for they need love too. And also – smile for the camera.

Cat.

Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Some of this, some of that

1 – Unless you’ve been in another galaxy, you are aware of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the New Jersey and New York areas earlier this week. We’ve all sat and watched the news reports of flooding and fires, while shaking our heads and saying ‘those poor people’, or words to that effect.  Through WordPress, and later Facebook, I’ve become friends (and yes, I mean “friends”, not “Facebook friends”) with a lady who lives near the Jersey coast.  When you actually know someone who lives in the affected areas, it seems to make it a little more personal – wondering how much damage they suffered, or given the number of people killed, if they’ve survived.  Fortunately my friend was able to send me a short message telling me her house had been flooded and she would fill in the details later.  I’ll admit it was a great relief to receive that short note.  To that friend: Ms M, I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

2 – I’m thinking of creating a macro for this next one since it seems to happen so often.  Once again, Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto left a council meeting to coach a high school football team.  His reasoning this time was “it was a playoff game. If I weren’t there, they wouldn’t play and would have to forfeit the game.”  Robbie, if the city of Toronto is paying you to be the chief magistrate of Toronto, then you should keep your fat ass in council meetings, not run off to do some volunteer work for Don Bosco Catholic High School.  You yourself admitted that if you’d been in an accident, someone else would have covered the coaching duties, so why not apply that same logic to games that occur when you’re occupied at city hall performing the duties for which you were elected and for which you are being paid?

3 – I originally started in photography back in the ‘70s, with a Canon SLR.  When I started in digital photography about 2007, my first camera was a Polaroid PDC 2030 which a neighbour had given me.  I got some good shots with that camera, but it was very basic and I wanted to do more.  I was able to pick up a Canon PowerShot A460 point and shoot  on sale.  Loved that camera and it lasted about a year and a half, until a friend dropped it on a concrete floor. (No she didn’t offer to replace it.)  Such were the features of that A460 that it took two point and shoots (both Canons) to give me the same features and in the meantime I also moved up to a Canon EOS Rebel XT DSLR.  But I kept looking for another A460.  Finally, last week, Henry’s Cameras had not one, but two listed in the “used” section of their website.  I wasted very little time contacting them and arranging to have one of them shipped to my local store (or as a friend calls it “my local camera pusher”).  So, I now have a brand new old friend – a Canon PowerShot A460 point and shoot – to complement my Rebel.

Now, since it’s a sunny day, I’m taking my new/old friend out to take some photos.  Enjoy your week and pray for those affected by Sandy.

Cat.