New Toys!

Recently I did a shoot with Harlean (who is a fiction), and ended up cranking the ISO setting on my camera up to 1600 just to get shutter speeds in a reasonable range. That left her with some pretty tough cleanup in post production, and meant the pictures were not what they could have been. “That does it!” said I, “We’re gettin’ us some lights!”

After some research I chose Alien Bees for my new strobes. In (sometimes heated) discussions online the only concrete criticism light snobs could downgrade the Bees for was not costing enough. The day I’m good enough to say, “you know, I could really use better strobes,” will be a good day indeed. (Although, I once thought I would never need more camera than the one I have now, and guess what? I think I’ve actually reached the stage where I would get better pictures with a better camera. No one is more surprised by that than I am.)

Lights!

My new Alien Bees, ready for work.

Anyway, the lights arrived today and I made a shambles of the living room unpacking boxes and setting things up. Pretty slick, huh? I’ll still be looking at accessories — first step, CTO gels to mix better with the ambient light, then maybe a softbox or two. We’ll see. There’s more than enough to keep me busy as it is.

Naturally, I wanted to get to work taking pictures right away, but it would not be fair to ask a human to sit through hundreds of experimental shots while I fiddle around with lights in the “lets see what this will do” mode. I asked my sweetie if I could borrow some shoes to shoot. She has a few pair kicking around. I figured shoes were interesting, and had an architectural quality. I wanted to see if I could capture the curves and forms with well-placed light.

shoes!

Still life with high heels.

I wasn’t very specific about what sort of shoes, but she came through with four shoes that each presented different lighting challenges. One high-contrast, another very shiny, and so forth.

I took a lot of pictures of shoes, at different angles and with different backgrounds. In some cases, the background was lit better than the shoe, in others, some details of the shoe were lost. In many you can see my reflection in the leather, not just the reflection of the lights (which is problem enough).

Note that I didn’t spend a lot of time choosing the photos to go in this episode — they’re decent examples but not necessarily the “best” — whatever that means. Each of these has something I like, however.

It became apparent pretty quickly that having lots of light is useless if you can’t control it. I knew this intellectually already, but there’s nothing like getting down there in the trenches to bring the lesson home.

more shoes!

Another still life with shoes.

I also got some fun serendipity along the way, like light reflecting off the lining of one shoe creating a great highlight in the heel of another.

I got a bit worried after a while, that I couldn’t turn the lights down enough to let me open the aperture to limit my depth of field. Now, there was a problem I didn’t anticipate. It turns out, as I was reviewing the photos to post here, I realized that my camera was still set to ISO 1600 from the other day. Tomorrow when set the speed down to a safe and sane 100, I’ll get much richer pictures and a lot more options for exposure. So, while these pictures have their flaws, I’m really excited about how my pictures will look after a few thousand more practice shots. Woo hoo!

5

Cyberspace Open Spring 2011: Scooter’s Balls

As usual, I’m posting the work I entered in this iteration of the Cyberspace Open. This time around my process was a little different — not by design, but by sloth. In the past I’ve tried to spend the first day playing with several ideas that touch on the prompt in very different ways, then take my favorite rough draft and polish it on Sunday.

This year I mulled things over quite a bit on Saturday, but didn’t start typing until Sunday afternoon. I only ever came up with one idea, which my home consulting service improved dramatically.

I tried to follow my own advice and keep the scene dynamic and flowing; hopefully it’s not too confused. I thought over ways to sneak a little more of the broader story context into the scene, but in the end I just managed to work a few clues in. After that the as-you-know-Bobishness started to grate on me.

Anyway, without further ado, I bring you: Scooter’s Balls.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

HELEN (28, pretty, several locks of hair escaping from her pony tail) jumps when the phone rings. She scans the disrupted living room and locates the phone on the couch.

SCOOTER (dog, big, a mix of Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, and god knows what else) takes the play position and barks with excitement. Crossing to the couch Helen steps on a squeaky toy, which just excites him more.

HELEN

Hello?

JAKE (OVER PHONE)

(loud, agitated)

Helen?

HELEN

Jake! Where are you?

Scooter perks up at the mention of Jake’s name and watches the phone intently.

INTERCUT PHONE CONVERSATION

EXT. LAS VEGAS BACK STREET – DAY

JAKE (30, wiry, disheveled) is in his car, the convertible top down and obviously damaged. The windshield has a spider web of cracks centered in front of the passenger seat, where it appears someone’s forehead hit the glass very hard.

JAKE

I… better not say.

HELEN

Jake, what the hell is going on? The FBI was here, for Christ’s sake.

JAKE

Is Scooter there with you?

HELEN

Of course he’s —

JAKE

(shouting into the phone)

Hey! Scooter! How’s my buddy?

Jake whistles over the phone, low, high, then medium pitch. A prostitute leaning against a lamp post nearby looks up.

Scooter hears the whistle over the phone and goes ballistic, simultaneously running in circles and jumping into the air, barking madly. He slams into a coffee table but Helen drops the phone and catches the lamp before it hits the floor, then dives to recover the phone before Scooter can grab it. She puts it to her ear to hear Jake laughing.

JAKE (CONT’D)

That’s my boy!

HELEN

Jake, Mrs. Simms came by. Scooter’s been peeing on her stupid lawn gnomes again.

JAKE

He’s just marking his territory. That’s what dogs do.

The prostitute approaches Jake’s car, her cheap blonde wig askew. Twenty years of meth have taken their toll. Jake looks at the hooker, then back at the traffic light.

JAKE (CONT’D)

(under his breath)

Hurry up, hurry up…

HELEN

Yeah, well, she doesn’t like it.

JAKE

She should be glad. That means he’ll protect her yard too.

PROSTITUTE

Hi, honey. You want to have a little fun?

Jake looks back at the light. Still red. He shakes his head quickly and returns the phone to his ear.

HELEN

Oh, yeah, I’m sure she sleeps better at night knowing her urine-stained statuary is protected by Scooter’s unwavering vigilance.

The prostitute leans over Jake’s car door, showing withered cleavage.

PROSTITUTE

You know what you need? A blowjob.

The light has changed, but the car in front of him is not moving. Jake honks his horn.

HELEN

Listen, Jake — I made an appointment with the vet.

JAKE

What? Why?

HELEN

You know why. Maybe if he’s neutered he won’t be so much of a… problem.

JAKE

He’s not a problem, he’s a dog!

HELEN

We’re supposed to be a family now. How can we be a family if I can’t trust him?

JAKE

You can trust him, honey! Scooter would die for you!

The prostitute leans in even closer.

PROSTITUTE

Blow. Job.

HELEN

Who is that? Did someone say blowjob? Where are you?

Finally the car in front moves and Jake lurches forward in the convertible — about ten feet. The car in front of him stalls again.

JAKE

It’s no one! Jesus!

HELEN

What about when we have children? What’s he going to do then?

JAKE

Scooter loves kids!

HELEN

That doesn’t mean he should have any of his own.

The prostitute is back, standing by the car with a bony hip cocked, smiling with yellow teeth. Jake honks his horn. He puts his hand over the phone.

JAKE

Go away!

PROSTITUTE

(cackling)

Blow job!

HELEN

I heard that! Who’s there?

JAKE

I don’t know. Some crazy lady.

He takes the phone from his ear but doesn’t cover it.

JAKE (CONT’D)

Go away! Please!

(into phone)

Honey, that’s just how Scooter is.

HELEN

Well, that’s not good enough. He’s going to have to shape up if we’re going to have a family.

JAKE

He’ll be better. I swear. Give him a chance before you chop his balls off.

Scooter is up on the sofa now, pushing his head through the blinds, barking madly, coating the glass with slobber.

HELEN

I don’t — You hear that? I can’t take any more of this.

JAKE

Why’s he barking?

HELEN

Why is he ever barking? I don’t know.

She looks out the window.

HELEN (CONT’D)

Huh.

JAKE

What?

HELEN

It’s your friend with the limp. It looks like his nose is broken.

JAKE

Shit! Helen! Get out of the house! Go out the back RIGHT NOW. Take Scooter with you. Do it!

Helen is still looking out the window.

HELEN

Holy shit they have guns!

She turns and runs toward the back of the house.

HELEN (CONT’D)

Scooter! Come!

Scooter gallops after her, tongue flopping in the wind.

JAKE

Helen!

HELEN

What?! What else have you done? Set the house on fire?

JAKE

I love you.

She hesitates a moment.

HELEN

I love you too. And… I have something to tell you, so get home safe, OK?

Helen throws down the phone and dashes out the back door.

Jake flips his phone closed. A horn honks. He’s blocking traffic. He hits the gas but just then the light turns red. He pounds his head on the steering wheel.

PROSTITUTE

So they gonna chop his balls off or not?

4

Cyberspace Open 2011 Under Way!

Here we go, writing a pivotal scene over the weekend! My history in the contest isn’t great but I keep doing it for two reasons: first, it’s good practice for the crucial moments in a story, and second, because it’s damn fun. This is a habit I enjoy.

As always, I encourage everyone to play along, even if they’re not formally registered. It’s good practice dealing with the moments that the audience will always remember. In previous contests I’ve given more advance warning, but this time, there were so many “This is the deadline for registering! We really mean it!” followed by “Deadline extended! But this time it’s the absolute last deadline!” that I wasn’t really confident the contest would actually happen even at the revised time.

But it has. It’s on, baby!

For those who aren’t paid participants, there’s nothing stopping you from using this as a writing exercise. As usual, the prompt is for one of those key moments in a drama that will make a story float in the starry heavens of genius or wash up on the shore of mediocrity, where it will be used as kindling by natives. The natives on the island of mediocrity have no shortage of fuel.

So, here’s the prompt:

Your PROTAGONIST and his or her LOVE INTEREST are at odds. One of the protagonist’s schemes has gone terribly awry, and the love interest has had it. Write a scene in which they have it out – but in an unconventional way. Their words seem measured and reasonable; but the subtext says another thing entirely. You may use additional characters other than the ones specified.

The prompt also comes with this note:

This is going to take some crafty, non-on the nose writing here. For example, they can talk about boiling water, but it’s clear they’re really talking about something else. Use sarcasm or body language or timing or other means to convey your true meaning.

If past history is any guide, I’d not get too caught up in the note. What they say they want and what wins are not the same thing. What wins is a scene that kicks ass. If you can kick ass and achieve the secondary challenge, great. But it is better to never have been crafty at all, than to be crafty and not kick ass.

So, go forth, nascent screenwriters, and kick ass! I shall endeavor to do the same. As always, I will post my effort here. As always, I will write to the round 2 prompt even if I’m not officially a contender any longer. This whole exercise is about recognizing the key turning points in a story and rendering them well. You can’t practice that too often.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction) and I have entered photos in a couple of contests this month. One is based on popular votes, while the other… might be, but it’s hard to tell.

First, the Photobucket contest. It’s a Valentine’s sort of thing, featuring happy couples. It’s hard to tell who that shaggy guy is that’s with her, but they sure do make a cute couple. We’ve moved up smartly to 263rd place as of this writing. VOTE NOW! Voting ends tomorrow… unless it doesn’t.

Next, the Pinup Lifestyle contest. The theme this month is “on the phone” and the contest has more entries than ever — some are good, others not-so, but there’s only so many permutations of the same damn pose you can do. I’m happy to say that in this cluttered field my shot of Harlean shines like a beacon of creativity and humor in an otherwise homogeneous field.

You can vote for up to five images in that contest, and there are some others that are pretty good, if variations on the same theme. Depending on where you work, you might want to wait until you get home to look through the entries.

From an execution standpoint, our primitive lights made things particularly challenging for the technicians in the lab on this shoot. Our intrepid editor did an excellent job pulling the photo from the noise, as it were, but soon all this will be changing. Yep, we’re buying gear. Just tonight I got the shipping confirmation on a pair of pretty darn good studio strobes, stands, and those crazy umbrella-things. Light boxes will be following shortly.

I’ve been looking at a lot of professional photography lately, and an amazing amount of it seems pretty damn boring. That’s the great thing about a model like Harlean. As a fiction created to create fiction, she knows the value of a good story. I hope I can master the new equipment and harness it to help her tell her tales.

One thing for sure, I won’t be able to blame the lights anymore.

For my Sweetie

For My Sweetie

birthday tradition
visit to the candy aisle
heart-shaped box half off

3

Rocket Scientists Should Know Better

A while back I posted a little rant about false precision in measurements (though it turns out a chose a poor specific example). Today I was perusing the list of exoplanets discovered to date (how cool is that?), and I noticed another source of ridiculous artificial precision. For instance, according to the table planet tau Gem b is 299.8125 light-years away — which is simply ridiculous. They are claiming to know the distance to the planet to a precision of less than one light-hour, which could well be less than the orbital radius of the planet. (It has a mass eighteen times that of Jupiter.) So even if the distance were exactly 299.8125 light years when tau Gem b was found, that’s not the distance now.

I looked a little more at the table, and saw a pattern. Many of the ridiculously precise numbers were conversions of fractions. 13/16 (itself suspect in my book) becomes 0.8125; a measurement rounded to the nearest sixteenth of a light year is suddenly represented as being accurate to 0.0001 light years.

Way to set an example, Jet Propulsion Laboratory! I hope the guys in charge of this table aren’t expected to do any actual science over there — although surely the guys who discovered the planets drop by to check the list now and then. Someone should have said something by now, you’d think.

The public-facing aspect of the scientific community needs to be careful what example they set. If the rocket scientists at JPL don’t care enough to get it right, no wonder the public accepts advertising claims with ridiculous precision. (51% of your fiber for the day!)

1

Memo to Bay Area Radio Stations

Apparently at some time Monday afternoon a rumor began that it was no longer acceptable for a radio station to rock. (I suspect the Chinese and that Internet they have are somehow to blame.) Since that time there has been little but Enya and Yanni in slightly more electrified renditions. There has been no rocking of the airwaves.

Rest assured, Radio World, it is still acceptable to rock. Any assertion that rocking is unacceptable is the work of terrorists or at the very least individuals who wish ill for our nation.

Give me something to listen to on my commute this morning. DO IT FOR AMERICA!