Alps Ride - Bikes and Gear

BMW F800GS: my ride for the next couple of weeks. Less grunt than the ride at home, but lighter and more nimble, making it a great steed for Alps twisty's. Super-wide panniers are mounted, a hazard to pedestrians, oncoming traffic, and me. 'Can carry a lot, and knock a lot down if I ride too close to the lane edges. 

Switched from Harley to BMW this year, which means the old riding gear visited eBay, and new riding gear from BMW appeared on my credit card...waterproof leather, how cool is that? Motorcyclists, as a group, I think, are a vain bunch, lookin' good is important.   Full-face helmet, something I haven't worn since college. 

Camera is 'gear' too...Canon S95, works great, and most importantly: fits in my pocket.  Takes pocket-sized photos.  

Next up: the crew. 



Alps Ride - Prequel

5:30 am, rain's stopped, riding 185 km/h up the A8 on a borrowed BMW K1200RT- yeehaw!  In-and-around Munich for a few days.  The Porsche factory tour in Zuffenhausen was more fun than playing with Tonka Toys as a kid, and the Porsche Museum was a curatorial masterpiece, beautiful cars in appropriate settings.  

The Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart was a mishmash, as if a sample of everything ever made was mixed up and dumped on the floor (several floors) like the game 'jacks that I never played. They did have a very cool elevator-cocoon-thing, though.  

Back in Munich, BMW factory tour was an interesting contrast of high-volume robotics automation vs Porsche's low-volume hand-built production line. The BMW Museum was great, with an astounding three-story wall of motorcycles behind glass, and lots of beautiful cars. At the exit turnstile, I pressed the red button, which actuated an emergency exit system...'was supposed to push the green button :-)  I've not been invited back.



Biblio-postpartum Funk

'So, the book's done; what are you working on now?'

I'm hearing that, or a reasonable facsimile, a lot.  Aaargh!  The inhumanity!  May I not wallow in self-approval and complacency, if for only a moment? Apparently not.  It's strikingly similar to computer industry sales; the 'what's your next deal?' question that immediately follows a successful transaction.

I'm beginning to suspect that marketing - what I'm supposed to be doing now - may be comparable in effort to writing the book in the first place.  Email, web pages, facebook, word-of-mouth, begging, and the goodwill of friends, family and strangers, have gotten me started, but getting beyond a few hundred in book sales will take a lot more.

One week after the book launched, I panicked: it appeared that I had sold zero books.  Did the 25-page online preview - and by logical extension, the entire book - suck? After grazing through the metrics, I learned that final book sales are posted only after the book prints and ships, which can take 10 days or so after the order is placed.  Yes, there's a pending book sales metric that shows all books ordered, but I didn't discover that jewel until a month later.

Fulfilling a purpose - in my case, the Sword of Damocles of a book to write - can be a bit disorienting.  The unfinished book was a convenient excuse for not doing other things, and I'm now uncomfortably short of excuses.  Ah, so that's why I'm thin-skinned about well-intentioned queries about my next project…

New projects are under way, but I'm not committing to them, publicly, yet, because then the interrogation reverts to:

'So, when will [the project] be finished?'


Dolls as Models - Part III of III

Plan A.  Shooting models with foredrops(?) and backdrops presents interesting challenges: scale, perspective, matching angles of light between models and previously-shot backgrounds, and death from boredom.  The images were way too busy, and wouldn't look good printed on text paper anyway.

Plan B.  Eliminate the backgrounds, shoot Ken, Barbie, Harley-Davidson and a few props against a plain white or black background.  The images are cleaner, but it's tedious extracting the subjects from white and black backgrounds (via Photoshop).  Hey, I'll do what they do in the movies: use a chroma key background!

Plan C.  A week later, my green chroma key background arrives.  Now I'll be able to do magic like they do in the movies.  What's chroma key?  Typically a green or blue background used to composite two images together.  Remember when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon dueled Darth Maul?  [You do remember, but won't admit it, because you'll look like a geek].  That action was shot in front of a chroma key background, the characters then extracted from the background, and placed over a new background of something astonishing that they couldn't afford to actually build a set for.  My plan is to shoot action over a chroma key background, then extract the characters so I can insert them cleanly into the book, in some cases beneath the text.  Well, Harley-Davidson's chrome reflects all the chroma green, which looks unnatural, even when converted to black and white.  It wasn't any easier for me to extract Ken, Barbie and Harley-Davidson from chroma key green than it was from white or black backgrounds.  Next…

Plan D.  Revisit Plan B.  White background.  Nikon D3S, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR autofocus lens, (2) Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlights, SU-800 Wireless Flash Commander, Nikon MC-30 Remote Trigger Release, Gitzo GT1540T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead.  Three weeks later, I have ~1,200 images, various vignettes with Ken and Barbie, and I've knocked the tripod over - camera mounted - twice; I caught it the first time, almost caught it the second time, thank God I have carpet.  Another month of editing, and I've inserted double truck images - means the image stretches across both (opposing) pages; I think the Playboy Magazine pin-up would be a triple truck - on every page of the book.  By the time I've looked at each image, my eyes are too tired to read the text.  Next…

Plan E.  A pragmatic approach: insert images at chapter start pages, and on chapter end pages that contain lots of blank space.  Now I can read the book without my eyes crossing.  Send up for first printing, wait two weeks, and book's back, and…the images look horrible on the text paper.  Various experimentation with b&w conversion settings, contrast, lightness, a few incantations, and I think I've got something that will work.  Send the book up for second printing, but I'm too impatient to wait another two weeks to verify that it worked - it only took six years to write the book - so I launch with fingers crossed that it will turn out ok: if it doesn't, I'll post an apology on fb, blog site and personal web site, requesting that the early adopters wait a month, then re-order the book once I've worked out the bugs.  I think the images turned out okay, but my email spam filter is programmed to delete hate-mail, so I could be mistaken.


Dolls as Models - Part II

This isn't just any Barbie and Ken - they're part of the Pink Label Collection, which I guess makes them special.  I believe they're supposed to remain in the see-thru box, as it took me 10 minutes and a pair of snips to extricate them from their cardboard desert diorama.

Ken's looking a little on the feminine side - which doesn't make me happy, since he's going to represent me in the book - so he gets silver hair, mustache, goatee, and sideburns.  I don't really wear sideburns, but Ken needed to be manned-up as much as possible.  Barbie's ok right out of the box.

Web search via Bing - I'm boycotting the most popular search engine - tells me Barbie and Ken are 1/6 scale, though Barbie's proportions are hardly human.  Another web search results in a 1/6 scale model of the bike I rode - a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic - which I order.  A week later, the model arrives, in 186 pieces.  Thirty tedious (and unplanned for) hours of labor latter, I've a five lb. metal and plastic model, ready for doll riding.  I Super Glue'd my thumb, index- and middle-fingers together a couple of dozen times, and lost many brain cells to cyanoacrylate fumes.

The big moment - Ken mounts the bike, and…he doesn't fit.  He's inflexible, legs won't bend enough for him to sit in the saddle and reach the handlebars.  So off come the pants: this feels weird, but at moments like this, I can always fall back on: 'hey, I'm an artist!'  I didn't know dolls were androgynous.  Even with no pants, Ken still can't bend as far as needed.  Do I cut the elastic band that holds legs to body?  Then he wouldn't be able to stand up.  After three days of deliberation, I perform major orthopedic surgery, with a hack saw, to Ken's thighs, cutting out the front so his legs will bend up into the thorax.  Now he fits on the bike when not wearing pants, but the pants bunch up and inhibit flexibility when he's wearing them.  So I cut out the front of the pants.  Now his white, mutilated legs show through the pants, so I paint Ken's surgical scars black.  Barbie's complaining, but she avoids surgery, as sitting on the back of the bike doesn't require much flexibility.

The next two days are spent as a pedestrian, at personal risk, photographing pavement and background flora along Hwy 1 and Carmel Valley Road.  I'll make some large prints, use them as backdrops for the model and dolls.

I'm ready to shoot.  Set up a table, light tent, my two-and-only Nikon Speedlight flashes, and build out the set with pavement, background flora, the motorcycle, and Ken.  The initial test shots look like crap:  this set-up is not going to work for the book.