The Only One


She looked like the only person in town.

Two blocks away an entire society was living, walking, driving, and buying on a Sunday afternoon. And yet, on NE 10th Street between 102nd and Bellevue Way, she was alone.

But it was break time, and that’s probably what she wanted.

Photo taken in Bellevue WA, November 2013 / Bellevue Photo Imagery


Replacing The Sky

E9 Final

Located in Deer Lodge Montana, this EMD E9 was a locomotive that pulled passenger trains for the once-mighty Milwaukee Road.

Bankrupt in 1985 and ultimately absorbed into the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Milwaukee left behind the legacy of a scrappy continental railroad that chose to do things their own way – along with miles of artifacts across the Western landscape. Depending on who you talk with, the demise of the Milwaukee Road was due to bad management or changing times.

Probably a lot of both.

In 2012 I read a blog post about editing interesting photos that had uninteresting elements (tried to find the article again but no luck). The case in point was a picture that the writer had taken of the Cyclone Roller Coaster on Coney Island; it had an interesting perspective, but because of overall lighting the sky was mostly blown out and had no detail. In the post he talked about how he could edit out the sky and replace it with something with more character, like dramatic clouds. The project got me thinking that in my archives there had to be a few shots that could be edited in the same way.

And the E9 shot was the first one I thought of.

The reason was this: the original photo was well exposed on the nose of the locomotive, but suffered from a very bright sky behind it. Not surprising, since the photo was taken with my camera phone. In any case it seemed like a good candidate to merge a couple of photos and make a good one. Adding to the fire was a fundraising campaign being conducted by the Cascade Rail Foundation, to bring a historic Milwaukee Road locomotive to their restored railroad depot in South Cle Elum WA.

I thought maybe I could create something to donate, so they could sell and benefit from the proceeds.

The biggest hurdle I had was trying to get rid of the old sky. Initially I first tried by changing the sky color to one hue and then setting the color to transparency; that didn’t work, mainly because it only made the locomotive transparent while preserving the color I wanted to remoe. I also watched a tutorial video on Youtube, where the person used the equivalent of an eraser to get rid of the stuff he didn’t want. That technique seemed to work for him but didn’t allow me enough control around the edges between the sky and the locomotive. I tried different file types and two different editors. Each tool had a different hurdle to overcome. Help Files for each program – GIMP and Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 – weren’t much help at all. I was either using the wrong verbage to search solutions, or didn’t know what I was doing.

But I sure knew what I wanted.

In the end – after nearly a full afternoon of trial and error – I was finally successful with the following steps:

  1. Change sky in train picture to a single color
  2. Open the cloud picture in GIMP
  3. Open train picture as a “Layer” over the cloud picture
  4. Use the GIMP “Fuzzy Selection Tool” to select the entire sky in the train picture.
  5. Choose “Color To Alpha” to remove the color from the train picture.
  6. “Flatten” image to merge the two layers together

After that I converted the photo to black and white using Pixlr-O-Matic, using one of the filters with extra contrast. The resulting image was then saved as a JPEG file at 360 dots per inch (dpi) to allow for larger prints.

Sure, if someone looks really close at the outline of the locomotive, a trace can be seen between the train and the sky. I mentioned it to a couple of people; one person said, “I see it, and notice that kind of thing in edited photos, but yours doesn’t bug me.” Phew. In a later revision I went in and softened the line.

16x20s of this improved train picture were ordered and looked great!

Thank You Chess Club

Thank you Junior High Chess Club, for making me a better photographer.

I came to the club after school twice a week – with diligence because I loved Chess. I never won a game. In fact, Chess Club, you would typically beat me in a mere  handful of moves. Over and over. Each one of you. I was the newbie punching bag. Never able to move past that point. And through all the beatings and smug checkmates, you also said a total of 8 words to me in the weeks I attended. Eight words from no fewer than six other kids. No effort to teach, engage or encourage.

And because of that I quit Chess Club and joined the Annual Staff.

Using my Mom’s camera and unlimited black & white film supplied by the school, I took pictures of everything and got feedback from the the staff advisor. She pointed me towards what looked good and what needed to go away. She trained, engaged, and encouraged.

Her actions carried value for a lifetime.

So thank you Chess Club, for being pompous self-righteous gamers. If you hadn’t been so, I would still be stuck at a board losing my back line to a checkmate. Because of you I’m capturing life as it happens with a camera.

And I am much better off.

Old Photos Revisited


February 2011 – Olympus Stylus 410 Point & Shoot

Going through the archives this morning – while looking for a photo to use on my Facebook wall, I came across this 2011 picture of my son playing pool.

There was no special reason for the capture, other than to get a picture of him.  I never intended to make “something artsy.”  What I ended up with however was unexpected and looked kind of cool, showing the track of his shot in slow motion.  The whole scene was captured in half a second, with a simple hand-held 4MP point & shoot camera purchased off Craigslist for $35:


At the time this Olympus Stylus 410 was my only digital camera; my higher-end Olympus C4040 had died in 2009 and this one was procured to fill the void until I could find something better.  The pictures taken with the 410 weren’t the best quality, but they were something.  It documented our family times, and was always reliable.  I did have plenty of film cameras, but it was pretty hard to beat the convenience of this little silver bullet.  The camera itself was small, light, and still handy to have around for pictures that don’t need to be 850 Magoogapixels (we still have it, and it still works).  A couple months later I bought a Canon Powershot S70, and then replaced them both with a Canon 20D DSLR a year later.

The pictures taken with the Stylus 410 were mostly forgotten.

But because I’m a visual guy, I could never completely leave them alone.  The picture I ended up posting on Facebook this morning was taken on the same vacation with the same point & shoot, depicting an ocean scene at sundown that cleaned up pretty well using simple editing tools. It was testament to what I’ve learned about post editing in the last couple years, as I was able to use some tricks I didn’t know about back then.  Composition also makes a huge difference, even with point & shoot photos.  The results were so satisfying in fact, that I revisited the rest of the file folder from February 2011 to see if I could work some edits into another photo.

This billiards shot popped out at me.

In its original format, the colors were overly warm – due to the indoor lighting and slow shutter speed.  But the ball track and the existence of one red ball in the middle drew me in.  Although it was a big fuzzy and discolored, the image to me was still compelling.  Making it black & white would have been too simple and, quite frankly, would take delicate detail out of the image.  No, a “toning” was needed.  So I clarified the picture a bit, then added some contrast and vignetting, before cooling off the colors and desaturating it just a tad.  The resulting work was more interesting than the original:

Ball Track

Same shot edited and filtered

I love going through the older stuff.

Often I find images I had forgotten about or discarded mentally due to the image quality. Sometimes, not all times, I can edit them using my current skill levels and make something decent out of them. Others remain untouched longer, possibly waiting for better tools or better skills. The key is to always learn and always have fun!

Under The Surface


Sometimes reality is hidden, ever so faintly, under a veil of quiet solace.  Maybe that reality is good.  Maybe that reality is something which should remain hidden.  It might bring comfort. Or cause shame.  What’s below the skin is a compilation of mind, body, and past experience.

What’s your reality?

Photo: Canon Rebel G film SLR with 28-90mm lens – April 2012