Speed Limit

Suburban/rural landscape photograph

Leaving – View from parking lot of 4-Star Meats, game butchers.


As you head north out of Eugene, the city lumbers on for a while before the space between the buildings finally begins to stretch out. This is about the spot where that happens on Prairie Road. Office buildings and warehouses, and the mini-marts that serve the people who work in them, give way to businesses like the 4-Star Meat Company, a family-owned butcher shop that turns your bow-hunted elk into steaks and sausages. Also, there’s not much traffic going through here after 5:30 or so, but what there is, is going a lot faster than 40 mph.

Signal-to-noise ratio

Outbuilding and tractor beside slough on Carol Avenue

Stillness (outbuilding and tractor beside slough on Carol Avenue)

Reminding me that I’m a rank amateur: I’ve had this Sony A6000 for a little over four months and am still discovering technical issues and–I hope–solutions. Last night I shot this 30-second exposure and threw it into Lightroom (image processing program) when I got home. Without Lightroom adjustments it was nearly pitch black, so I opened up the dark areas using the sliders, and on top of that increased the exposure by a full stop.

Although I like the result–it matches, more or less, what my eyes saw while I was parked on the side of the pothole-pitted road–at anything approaching 1:1 magnification or greater there’s an awful lot of noise (weird-colored speckles) in both the sky and the field. This hasn’t been a problem in my other long exposures, and since I just got the camera back from the shop with a clean sensor, I naturally suspected the sensor cleaning was at fault.

But after extensive online reading, I saw that my downfall was probably due to bracketing the exposures. That is, I set the camera to automatically take a 15-second shot followed by a 4-second and then a 30-second shot. When you turn on automatic bracketing, Sony’s in-camera noise reduction program is turned off. All my previous successful long exposures had been single shots–I remember, because when the noise reduction program runs, you have to wait about as long as your exposure took AFTER the shutter closes before you can shoot again while the program does its cleaning up.

Of course I’ll go out tonight and test that theory.


Sunday driver on a Saturday night

Better in Your Wardrobe

Better in Your Wardrobe: Motel on 99, reflecting the last glow of the sun in the west just as the rain starts.

Since picking up a camera I’ve annoyed more people in the space of a few months than I think I have in my whole life (or maybe I’ve just been oblivious–always a possibility). Photography has transformed me from a moderately aggressive driver into a pokey tourist, my head on a swivel, my foot always on the brake, looking for anything that might make an interesting picture.

So I do my best to ignore the grimaces and fists in my rear-view mirror, and drive around compiling lists of spots to come back to when the light is right. Or when a cop isn’t eyeing me suspiciously.

This motel on Oregon 99 is one of those places. I’ve been waiting a couple months for its west-facing, hobbitish gabled roofs to catch the sunset, and last night was as close as it’s gotten yet. The dark sky in the east was a plus, so using my newfound skill at being a pain-in-the-ass driver, I abruptly swung into the pothole-riddled gravel lot next door and fired off as many shots as I dared. When I finished, I looked up and saw the lot I was in belonged to a security services company–one that’s apparently open on Saturday nights. A burly fellow exited the building and gave me stinkeye as he unlocked his pickup. I didn’t bother to put the lens cap back on, but tore out before I had to answer any questions.

Elevator Speech

Wonder Why The Right Words Never Come

Asked for a line or two about what kind of photos I shoot, I wrote “my pictures are often taken at the edge of town, and if they’re about anything, it’s the mix of industrial and rural activity going on there.”

And that seems to be where I’m at for now. Far more capable photographers have got the Natural Scenic Wonders of the Pacific Northwest ™ angle covered, and although I’m not ruling it out, I’m not sure I’m ready to wade into Eugene’s street scene. So I’m touring the outskirts and the industrial districts, looking for signs of the changing economic landscape in the actual geographic landscape.

Or, in less elevated but more honest terms, looking for good pictures.




Firs Bowl, January Morning

When I was an art major a long time ago, I spent a lot of energy worrying about the meaning and purpose of my paintings. Something like that is going on again with my photographs, but this time with no professors asking me to defend my work.  It’s just me on my own, bothering myself. Am I documenting the changing landscape of Eugene? You know, deliberately? Or maybe I’m commenting on the American Dream, or the state of capitalism, or urban sprawl.

I don’t want to do any of those things, at least not on purpose. Every time I construct an intellectual scaffolding around my artistic work in any medium, I end up in a silly and painful tangle of internal arguments. And I stop making work.

The truth is I’m drawn by what looks beautiful to me. Mysterious. Often this seems to be the result of some combination of artificial lights and temporary emptiness. And a strong emotional reaction to the place as a place: This place–building, lot, landscape–couldn’t look like this anywhere else. As fast as we build standardized, lookalike strip malls and fast food franchises, nature moves steadily and with irresistible force, beating on walls with rain and wind, depositing mold spores in siding and rust on roof vents, sending up moss and grasses through cracks in the asphalt. Everything is local.

Things look different in the dark


The Amber Lights


This beauty salon–I keep coming back to it, I suppose because it looks so lonely and stoic on its expanse of asphalt. I wanted to capture the recessed lighting in the front eaves, but about a week ago somebody turned them off. Or they burned out. Still, I like the reflections in the window.

The people in the coffee booth have seen me parking in front of this little building multiple times a week, and probably wonder what I’m up to.

Can’t seem to focus

Semi-trailer piled with insulation blankets in parking lot at dawn

Warmth: December 10, 2016


Armed with a whole day’s watching of YouTube tutorials, I drove out at first light determined to master the art of tack-sharp focusing with my new Sony A6000, once and for all. I was headed for the Flake Board wood products plant on the west side of town, to take pictures of its dramatic smokestack and complex buildings. The only accessible vantage point was from inside the parking lot of Garten Recycling, on the other side of the railroad tracks. Surprised that office lights were on at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, I pulled in and parked as casually as I could.

Dozens of shots later I headed back to my car, but not before taking one last picture–the trailer piled with insulation blankets. A guy came out of the recycling office and asked if everything was okay. I told him I’d been wanting photos of the smokestack, and I hoped it was all right if I used their parking lot to shoot from. I assured him I wasn’t from the government, or a law firm, and we laughed a little.

Not one of the smokestack pictures came out, despite “focus peaking” and “focus magnifying” and a handful of other tricks I learned yesterday. And the trailer is just barely in focus. It turned out, however, to be the most interesting shot of the bunch.