Friday, February 26, 2010

I've disappeard, but I'm not gone

I'm sorry for my little disappearing act over the past few days. Whether or not you are sorry, the fact remains that I am. :)

Here are some neat quotes from one of my favorite photographers (and a great pioneer in the field), to tide you over.

"Sometimes I get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter."
- Ansel Adams

"A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into." - Ansel Adams

"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer." - Ansel Adams

"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs." - Ansel Adams

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Covenant Ranch Day 2

The following is a continuation of Wednesday's post, and describes day 2 of my hunting trip down at Covenant Ranch last week.


The day started out leisurely. I got up around 9:30 a.m. (only 7 hours of sleep last night) and took a walk down by the lake to look for birds. It was colder than I had anticipated so my t-shirt soon felt very insufficient. I saw a Shrike (probably Loggerhead Shrike), some Meadowlarks, Turkey Vultures, a Crested Caracara, some Grebes (probably pied-billed or something), a pair of Wigeon, some sparrows and some shorebirds including Killdeer and what may have been Dowitcher (I need to brush up on my shorebirds before going down to the coast in April).

We had breakfast, relaxed for a while and around noon some of us went out to look for the pig Tyler shot last night. When we approached the general area where he shot the pig, we saw a coyote which seemed to indicate that the animal was nearby and that there would probably be very little left.

Tyler's first kill on the Ranch

Sure enough we found the pig, almost completely eaten by coyotes, yanked off it's lower jaw which housed some nice long tusks, and headed back for lunch. Some of the guys went out to the range to work on their rifles while the rest of us hung out at the lodge reading books and waiting for lunch. After we ate, I played some pool with my buddy Valor (who beat me this time), and then went out to the lake-side to search for arrowheads and spearheads with Daniel and Michael Fowl. We found a few chips of rock that looked like possibilities, but it's hard to tell.

Valor is definitely the best 7-year-old pool player I know! He and I really enjoyed our (numerous) games against one another.

The evening hunt began around 5:00 - a little bit later than the previous evening. Bradley Pierce and I were in a blind in the south side of the ranch. It was octagon-shaped and had a nice clear view of about 7 different shooting lanes. Mr. Turner dropped corn in two or three of those and then headed back to the lodge. We waited for at least 30 minutes without seeing too much besides two hungry Javelina that began rummaging around for corn, and a badger which crossed the road. Then, just before the sun set, I noticed a small deer in range. I was commenting how it looked really small and how I was hoping for something bigger, when a nice big doe stepped out behind it. At this point my heart was really pounding!

The pair were in plain view and within range, so I opened a window and got set with my rifle ready to take the shot when the deer was positioned just right. She was grazing and wouldn't stay very still, moving every few seconds across the road. And I was shaking with excitement and didn't have the confidence I could hit her if I shot. So I waited and passed up two potential opportunities to shoot (which I REALLY REALLY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN! *disciplinary slap on the cheek*). Then she ducked into the brush on the other side of the road and never reappeared. It was getting dark at that point and Brad said we probably had less than 40 minutes of possible hunting time left. We saw a buck and a few more deer far off, but it was too difficult to identify whether or not they were shooters, and it would have been even harder to hit one in the dwindling light. Eventually we had to call it quits and head back to the lodge. I was (and still am!) super disappointed in myself for not firing when I had the chance. That was my first and only opportunity to get a deer and I didn't take it. I won't let that happen again the next time I'm lined up on a nice deer (and believe me, there WILL be a next time!).

My good friend Daniel all geared up and ready to go get some varmints!

This evening (around 10:30 p.m.) we had another varmint hunt which produced almost no animals whatsoever. It was fun to hunt out the rack truck (essentially a F-250 with a big metal stand mounted in back which raised the hunters about 15 feet off the ground), but we only got a very brief glimpse of a bobcat running across the road, Mr. Gobart shot at a hog which we spotted but it ran off and we didn't pursue it far. It was a very uneventful hunt overall.

The "Rack Truck." This thing was really cool (I mean that literally, it got really really cold at night when we hunted out of it!).

My writing is probably getting less and less coherent since it's nearly 2:30 a.m. so I'm going to get some much-needed rest. Tomorrow we pack up and go home.

When I have the time I'll post a followup post with additional pictures and anything I missed in these very sketchy journal entries. And then there's still my camping trip at Enchanted Rock earlier this week - so much to write about lately!

Covenant Ranch Day 1

Each year, by the generosity of the Phillips family, the Vision Forum staff gets to enjoy a few days off work and go down to Covenant Ranch, an 8,888 acre game ranch about 2 hours south of San Antonio. Now that I'm on staff, I was able to go this year! It was my first time ever hunting white-tailed deer, but that wasn't all. There were wild hogs, badger, coyote, foxes, and even the slim possibility of seeing a mountain lion! (though we didn't see any). The following is a hastily-scribbled journal entry chronicling the first day, along with some photographs I took during the trip.

Monday, February 8

Tyler and I headed out from San Antonio around 8:45 a.m. after washing dishes and loading our things into his car. We listened to the classic P.G. Wodehouse story "The Code of the Woosters" on the way down, and had a fairly uneventful 2.5 hour drive. We arrived at the ranch around 11:00 - a bit early - and met our camp hosts and hunting guides (who happened to be very good friends and colleagues).

The lodge was a great place for some good ol' R&R (Rest & Relaxation), especially when there are babies to hold!

I have been to the southern part of TX on two other occasions (though not this exact area), and Covenant Ranch is pretty much what I expected in terms of scenery and terrain. There aren't any real trees, just lots of low brush, mesquite, cactus and other spiny things. I commented to Tyler that if I had to guess where the Garden of Eden was, I would probably guess Texas. Think about it. When God cursed the ground, he said it would produce thorns and I can't think of a place with more spiny things than Texas! Anyways, that's kind of beside the point.

A path leading up to the lodge. There were LOTS of prickly pear cactus as you can see.

Tyler brought a brand new Remington 270 deer rifle with a Redfield scope, and since he hadn't had a chance to sight it in yet, Mr. Hart (one of our guides and a really good friend) offered to help him get it set up. We spent about an hour out at the range making micro-adjustments and getting the alignment just right. Now he's ready to go hurt some animals.

This afternoon I went out to hunt whitetails with Mr. Gobart. Our camp host, Mr. Turner, drove us out to our blind and spread some corn in several of our firing paths. We spent several hours in the blind until the sun went down and there was no longer enough light to see. Altogether we saw one decent buck (but we could only shoot does), 7 or 8 Javelina (a southern hog), lots of rabbits and birds (including Green Jay and Pyrrhuloxia!) but nothing I was able to shoot at.

One of the blinds we hunted out of

Once it became too dark to see, we packed up and headed back to the lodge to get some dinner. After eating some of us gathered upstairs to play pool, pingpong and other things. At around 10:00 we headed out for the evening varmint hunt. I went with Mr. Gobart, Matt, and Emily. We hunted the same blind Mr. G. and I had been in earlier, and with four of us packed in there I'll tell ya, it was tight.

Mr. G's electronic call attracted a few different animals. We spotted a bobcat on my side of the blind only a few minutes into the hunt, but I was unable to get the rifle in hand before it had retreated into the brush. After that we had a brief glimpse of what appeared to be a fox, then later we saw another one which I could have taken a shot at had the spotlights been brighter. I had a steady stance, rifle at the ready, but the batteries in our spotlights were failing and the scope couldn't give me a clear enough image to take a shot confidently.

We eventually packed up around 12:20 a.m. and headed slowly back to the lodge to get some sleep. Along the way, we used a car-powered spotlight to search for varmints. Matt had the rifle as we scanned the brush, but nothing turned up so we decided to go get some sleep. Some are waking up for the 5:00 a.m. hunt tomorrow morning (I guess "tomorrow" is now "today").

Tyler shot a pig and is pretty sure he killed it, but he wasn't able to find it in the dark so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Can't resist - here's an HDR image of one awesome Texas truck!


To be continued....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stay Tuned

In the next day or two I will be posting some reviews on some of my photography gear (including my Canon 7D, 28-135mm lens, Lowepro backpack, tripod), as well some interesting tidbits on how I go about getting my photos and the software and methods I use to process them.

Also, stay tuned for a special anniversary post on Confronting Darwin to go up some time tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm Back!

Hello hello. I'm back from the ranch after 3 days of hunting and fellowship, and...I didn't bring a deer back with me.

There are quite a few stories and photos to share, but right now I need to unpack and then pack again to go house-sit for my boss who is out there hunting for the rest of the week.

Au revoire y'all!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Me, In Absentia

To my family, friends, followers, fans, stalkers, or any combination of the aforementioned.

I will be going south tomorrow morning. My destination?

My objective?

I'll be doing some hunting, and Lord willing I'll be getting a deer or two (maybe even a bobcat)! I don't expect there to be internet access, so you may not hear from me for a couple of days. But when I return you can expect plenty of pictures and commentary!

P.S. I didn't draw the cartoons...just pulled them from a quick internet search.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Photo of the Day

"University in Blue and Orange II"
35mm, HDR exposure, Canon 7D, processed in Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop

As a followup to yesterday's Photo of the Day here is another shot I took last night at the University of the Incarnate Word campus. I know this is really similar to yesterday's photo, but I like the way this shot isolates the tower and brings out the intensity of the blue-orange contrast.

I may have a fresher Photo of the Day this evening if I have time to get out and shoot today.

What do I do for a living?

I don't make a point of talking about work everywhere I go. In fact, many people I know very well sometimes ask me, "What do you do at Vision Forum?" even though we've known each other for at least a year and a half.

To be honest, I don't have a problem with that. I'm in a unique situation for my work and community life are very closely tied - the people I know are largely the people I work with and vice versa. For most people who have a corporate or "semi-corporate" job, work is often the only thing that ties them together. My colleagues aren't just "colleagues," they're my friends.

OK, with that aside, I realize that many of you really don't know what I do at Vision Forum. The goal of this post is to give you a window into my life as a graphic designer.

What does a graphic designer do?

That's a good question, and one with a lot of different answers. Some designers create websites, others design logos, some develop marketing campaigns with promotional materials...etc. Since I work for a retail business, my design work focuses primarily on products and advertising. Let me break that down and show you how it all works.

Working with products

Here at Vision Forum we are trying to propagate our message of family renewal and reformation through a variety of mediums, whether it be conferences, articles, personal interaction, books, CD messages, and more. We offer a variety of resources, some of which we produce here in San Antonio, others which we purchase from other companies and offer on our website.

As a designer, I work in both worlds. I have the opportunity to design CD artwork, DVD artwork, book covers...etc. for products that we produce, as well as work with products designed by someone else. In the course of my employment here I have been the primary designer for at least 1 CD cover, and 1 DVD cover, along with a variety of logos. So at this point, I don't play a key role in designing products which "go to press," but I do work with a lot of "third-party" products, preparing them to go on the website, in emails, in web ads and print ads.

That means I'm the guy with the scanner. For books, I scan the cover and the spine, then in Photoshop I create "mock-ups" using one of our pre-existing templates. CDs require basically the same process.

So when you look at a product image like "The Devolution of Law" DVD (a cover I designed by the way), you're not looking at a photograph. It was created using a Photoshop template.

I also scan and process artwork for our media download site This is quite a bit simpler than mocking up a product for, because the artwork is "flat."

In this particular case we decided to help out our vendor, Marc Leblanc, and I redesigned his artwork for him. We don't "tamper" with people's artwork very often (unless it's really really poor quality) because sometimes they get upset. :)

I used to design homepage banners for, but now this is handled by my good (and very capable) friend, Peter Serven. He does some really awesome work! Check out the homepage to see some of it.

I also function as the staff photographer (one of them). Certain products can't exactly be "scanned," so it's my job to set up a photo shoot in the back room, select the best image, and "cut it out" in Photoshop. This means I remove the background and a add a transparent shadow so we can use the image on different colored backgrounds (like in our annual catalog).

Working with advertising

This post is now officially LONG. I know you have a lot of (better) things to do today, so I won't keep you much longer.

In the Creative Media (aka Graphic Design) department we often joke that we are the "Email Department." If you subscribe to our email newsletter (and you should), you already know that we send out a whole bunch every week. Each of those emails is designed by someone in our department, and many times that someone is me.

Just like our products, each email is based on a pre-existing template. We create a custom banner and select a good color for the header and footer graphics, then save out those images as JPEGs. The second step is to set up the HTML code, which contains all of the text and governs the way the images are laid out.

When everything is ready, we put the images in a designated folder on our servers, plug the HTML into our mass-emailing service, test it a few times, make sure everything is approved by management and then send it off to you!

I also design web ads and homepage banners for

To summarize

As a designer at Vision Forum I:

1. Design CDs and DVDs and prepare them for printing
2. Scan and "mock up" products from other vendors
3. Photograph and "cut out" products that can't be scanned
4. Design emails
5. Design homepage banners for our website
6. Design web ads for products and promotionals
7. Design artwork for
8. Manage artwork from all our BlueBehemoth vendors
9. Have a lot of fun with the staff here at Vision Forum!
10. And much much more...


I occasionally work as a researcher and writer for Mr. Phillips and others on staff. For instance, I wrote an article on Darwin's finches for last years' Galapagos Expedition (my first published article!). My research was used in our new film The Mysterious Islands, and I got an award! There are a lot of perks in this job of mine.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Photo of the Day

"University in Orange and Blue"
30mm, HDR exposure, Canon 7D, processed in Photomatix Pro, Photoshop and Lightroom

Hooray! Today was our first sunny day in probably a week! When I drove to work it was cloudy and glum outside, but around noon it really brightened up. And that meant...there would be a real sunset again!

In Texas we occasionally get one of those really "stunner" sunsets with the billowing clouds, whipped cream and a cherry, but it doesn't happen that often. But, when you can't get a good shot of the sunset itself, think about what the sun is hitting. On a nice day, there is a short window of time where the sun is hanging just above the horizon and the light is simply AMAZING. Photographers often call this the "sweet spot" or some other sentimental silliness...

Anyways, I remembered being impressed by this structure on the University of the Incarnate Word campus near downtown San Antonio. The reddish brick and impressive architecture made this building a perfect candidate for my "Photo of the Day." And after running it through some mild HDR processing to bring out some detail in the shadows and sky, I really like the way it turned out.

What about you?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Photo of the Day

"Birds and Lines"
132mm, f6.7, 1/60, Canon 7D, processed in Lightroom

Well it's been rainy here in San Antonio for the past few days. Since everything looks so gloomy, my photographic opportunities are somewhat limited, but I've still been trying to get out and shoot for a few minutes on my way home from work. Tonight I was driving through a very familiar intersection and noticed the huge flock of grackles and starlings that gathers there every evening to hang out and party on the power lines. I almost didn't stop to get the shot, but reconsidered and took about 10 minutes trying to frame it right.

This photo had barely any color to begin with so I simply processed it in black and white, and decided to focus mainly on contrast and leading lines. I actually think it turned out kind of neat.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Photo of the Day

"Mt. St. Helens Sunset"
44mm, HDR exposure, Canon 7D, processed in Photomatix, Photoshop and Lightroom

Here's another HDR image. I don't know how the color depth will appear on your screen, but hopefully it looks ok.

I'm really enjoying HDR. As you can tell, I'm not the type to go "over the top" with it, but it's an incredibly useful technique regardless of how you like to use it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Photo of the Day

85mm, HDR exposure, Canon 7D, processed in Photomatix Pro and Lightroom

This photo may look "beyond real" at first glance. That's because it was created using a special technique known as HDR (high dynamic range) photography. It's my first HDR image processed with a licensed version of Photomatix HDR software, in combination with Lightroom, so even though I have more learning to do I'm officially a happy camper!

If you're interested in the technique and theory behind HDR, this article will do a far better job explaining it than I can. Believe me, I could ramble on and on...

I hope you enjoy the image!

Be Back Shortly!

Hey everyone, sorry that it's been a few days since my last post. I've been going through a lot of transitions in how I organize my harddrives and store my photos and other data, attempting to free up space and ensure that everything is well backed-up and secure.

I expect to have some time this evening to post another photo update and possibly a general update on how things are going down here in Texas. Stay tuned!