Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reflections of 2014

Reflections of 2014


Well here we are approaching the end of another year and I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of my experiences this year. First of all I assumed a teaching/mentoring roll, which is something I thought I would never do but glad I did.  A mentor is meant to provide information. They share their experiences, knowledge and wisdom with the person being mentored. This helps others to stay on a path that will keep them focused and understand and relate to situations and think of ways to solve problems on their own.

I had struck up a friendship on a social media website where I post a lot of my photographs and was asked if I would be willing to share some of my photography skills. At first I was a little reluctant mainly because I am self-taught and can only speak from experience rather than having attended a college and received a degree in photography.  Technique is the foundation of photography while the creative eye is your signature as an artist. Technique can be taught I am not sure about the other. Some have it some don’t. I know what I bring to the table……so trust me when I say I’m not afraid to eat alone.

The Journey

I am a firm believer in OJT (On The Job Training). I can’t teach experience you have to earn it. I can help evaluate the errors and how to correct them. My teaching method could be called “The Fail Fast Mode” –it’s ok to fail, but make corrections and move on.
It’s a matter of mastering all of the tools that you have available.  You can think of a digital camera as a master mixer – it combines all the lines, shapes, colors, tones, exposure, speed, and depth of field and creates a response. The camera is this huge toolbox and one must learn to use all the tools in the toolbox.

The Student

My student was a middle-aged lady with a lot of distractions; social media, zoo activist, dowser, rock hound, custom jewelry designer, bird watcher, writer, photography enthusiast, not to mention huge K-State fan.  The challenge was how do I focus her energy on photography. The creative part was already there so I needed to focus on her technical skills. If I could elevate her technical skills it would be a huge step forward and she would be on her way. Her main interest was nature and wildlife so where do I start?

Starting Point

She had invited me to attend a trip to the local zoo, which I accepted. I had already decided that this trip would be a getting too know the student and observe her techniques.  At the end of the day I think I had a good handle on what I could do to help her hone her technical skills.  I would like to take a moment and explain a couple of pitfalls with the new and modern digital cameras.  Part of there marketing is that the camera has five or so auto programing settings; landscape, portrait, night photos, dusk/dawn, silhouette, sunset, action etc.  For the casual photographer or person wanting to document a moment with a photograph these settings work fine.
For the creative photographer they fall way short of using the camera as a creative tool.  I would describe it as a camera on cruise control.  I needed to have her explore a new level of photography.

The Professional Modes

I needed her to understand there are a few selective modes on her camera that would give her a greater amount of control over her photography.  Enter the professional modes.

P: Program Mode – Will not spend much time here as I would only recommend this mode for a casual environment where quick adjustments are needed a party or gathering.

S: Shutter Priority – Here, as the name implies, the major emphasis is on the shutter speed.

A: Aperture Priority – When you want to control depth of field this is the mode.

M: Manual Mode – This is my favorite mode. This mode allows the photographer to have full control of shutter speed and aperture.  This mode can be challenging at first, but after a while you will have complete understanding of how each change affects your exposure.

Introducing her to these modes opened up a whole new world for her as an aspiring photographer.  The last thing was convincing her to shoot in RAW mode. This would give her much more control over any post processing she did.


We have now made several field trips together with great progress and improvements.  Her main interest - nature and wildlife - had created a new problem.  She had limited lens capabilities.  I had to convince her that she needed to invest in a good telephoto lens if she wanted to pursue wildlife photography. Getting close to a wildlife subject is an art in its self. I wanted to build her confidence and the quickest way to do that was a telephoto lens. 
After long consideration she made the big step and purchased a new telephoto lens. I don’t think she has any regrets at all. Her wildlife photographs have came alive and her moon photographs are spectacular. I can see and feel the confidence that has grown in her.
There are still some tools in the toolbox but she now knows how to reach for the right tool and experiment in its use.  She can now grow through experience. I can’t teach that.


It’s been a fun journey and rewarding. I think I surprised myself and learned that we can help others learn if we just take the time and use some patients.  As for her future efforts she will need to consider a good wide-angle lens for her trips out west but one thing at a time the fire is there and she will do great. 

Bill L. Coulter

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Radio Man Needed a Job

By: Bill L. Cou;lter

My dad-well he had this problem, he could not pronounce electricity, he would say “lectwistdy so he would not use the word unless he had to. All my Dad knew about electricity was that it could kill you and the fact he didn’t understand it scared the hell out of him. Later in life when I became more knowledgeable about electricity I helped him understand it even to the point he could change a light switch.

I had grown up fooling around with old radios, knob twisting, tube pulling and just plain experimenting. I had this big old wooden cabinet multiband radio and could pickup overseas broadcast and yes it would pop and crack whenever we had a thunderstorm and lightening. Damn near drove my Dad nuts tuning through the bands at night and I’d tune in one of those beat-frequency oscillators going from a low frequency pitch to a very high frequency pitch which I thought was pretty damn cool. Made me think I was some kind of science wizard. I remember my first experience with a McIntosh Amplifier that used mercury vapor rectifier vacuum tubes. When you turned on the amp the mercury vapor rectifier tubes would glow purple and when you would speak into the microphone the purple glow would flicker. It was called modulation.  No need to explain it here, as I did not understand it all back than but one day in the future I would be making mercury vapor rectifier tubes at Western Electric.

One of my many turning points was when I built my first Jacob’s ladder. You know where you take two pieces of metal coat hanger and hook them to the output of a transformer and bend them to where they are parallel to one another, plug in the transformer and a nice blue spark walks up the wires. I loved the smell of ozone in the morning.  I was getting pretty close to putting Igor out of a job down there in the Frankenstein Lab. I didn’t know crap about electronics at the time. Wonder I didn’t electrocute myself but I thought it was cool stuff. The last straw was a little trick that I played on my sister. I learned that I could take a ignition capacitor from a car touch the body to the car’s engine block and the end of the wire to a spark plug it would charge up the capacitor. I charged up one of those capacitors and laid it on the coffee table in the living room and went to my room. I than called to my sister to pick up the capacitor and bring it to me. When she picked it up an arc jumped about an inch and it shocked her pretty good which started a bawling fit. My Dad was not amused and I was severely punished.  All this stuff with electricity was growing short on my Dad he thought I was more of a wise guy than a wizard.

I was just getting out of high school and Dad made it clear he was not going to pay for me to go to some college and party. My dad was very conservative to say the least, went to work every day, eight hours work for eight hours pay and doing the job right. Not going to work made Jack a dull boy and that was my dad’s first name Jack. I was working with him at the time he had gotten me a job as a laborer on a job he was working on.  We were on the last phase. Forming and installing rebar for a concrete drive when the contractor - we’ll call JR - stopped by to check our progress.  The location was on the corner along one of the main streets in town.  JR, after looking over our work, called my Dad over and said “Jack we don’t need to dig this out as deep as you are digging.  We can save a lot on concrete cost JR told my Dad”. Now it was not in my Dad’s principles to take short cuts for the almighty dollar.  I saw my Dad unbuckle his tool belt and toss it in the back of his truck and he said to me “Son pick up the tools and put them in the truck”. I was familiar with the tone of my Dad’s voice and there was no hesitation on my part I was picking up tools. I heard JR say “jack what are you doing”? My Dad looked at JR and said, “I have been out here on this job for almost three months and a lot of people that I know in this town have driven by this job and when all this concrete begins to breakup because it was not poured thick enough they will say “that’s a job that Jack did”. My Dad looked JR straight in the eyes and said, “Send my check or drop it by, oh by the way, if you have a job you want done right call me”. There you have it that was my Dad in a nutshell. I needed an education and I needed a job – enter the military.

 In the late 50’s Army Recruiters had quotas and were more persistent then a 21st century telemarketer. The recruiter explained that I could have a paying job plus I could go to school. Sounded good to me just what I wanted to hear. So I was looking at entering the military service voluntarily.  If I volunteered the Army would let me choose a military occupation status (MOS) that could lead to a career. I was thinking about electronics and the Army Recruiter suggested either radio operator or radio repairman. I had chosen MOS-296.1, which was Field Radio Repair. The electronic Gods must have been watching over me at the time. I was to learn later that radio operators where referred to as ditty-dumb-dumb operators, you know that Morse code stuff, and I had already had a hard time learning pig Latin so no more code stuff for me. Yes sir, as a field radio repairman I was going to be a technician. Technician sounded pretty important when I was eighteen years old. I was later to learn that a field radio repairman was an infantryman with a Simpson 260 voltmeter strapped to his butt. That’s right we were going to learn how to troubleshoot, repair and fine-tune electronic equipment under combat conditions.

I signed all the necessary papers in exchange for a train ticket to St. Louis and a bus ride to Fort Leonard Wood where I would get eight weeks of basic training. After basic training I was taken by bus to Springfield, Missouri Airport and boarded  a twin engine tail dragger for Newark, New Jersey and than another bus ride to Fort Mammoth, New Jersey US Army Signal School. The US Army had made good on their promise I was working and going to school.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Three Legged Dog and Buckaroos

By: Bill L. Coulter

My photographic journeys sometimes takes me through a local horse stable where I am greeted by the owner – we’ll call him Buck - with a big smile and firm hand shake.  I would describe Buck as a hard working friendly cowboy. He loves horses and animals, loving animals places him close to my heart. I never met an animal I didn’t like, but there are some I highly respect and keep my distance. I will leave it at that.

As I visited with Buck on this particular day, I observed a three legged dog run past us. I asked Buck, “is that your dog?” He said, “no its my sons dog.” “Really”, I said, “what happened to him?” Well Buck said, “that when the dog was young he was full of piss and vinegar like most pups, he got to running really hard in the back yard and his foot got caught in a crack in the ground and it snapped his leg. The vet recommended that they amputate the leg and assured them that he would adapt and be just fine and the vet was right.” This dog had all the spirit in the world and ran with two other dogs, one maybe about the same age and the other a pup. I think I will give the dog an Indian name and call him Three Legs. Three Legs never missed a beat all the time I was there which brings me to the heart of this story. Enter the Buckaroos.

Recently I had the opportunity to photograph a local rodeo at a county fair. For you city slickers a Buckaroo is what cowboys that ride bareback broncos, saddle broncos and bulls prefer to be called. I had arrived early as this was my first attempt at Rodeo photography, and wanted to scope out the best spots for taking photographs.
The rodeo area is comprised of a series of wooden and metal fence corrals that surround a large riding arena. I set up so I could get some photographs of the Buckaroos getting ready for their events. There are no locker rooms, just a space between the starting gates and the corrals like a long hallway with a dirt floor and very little space. There was a set of stairs going up to the announcer’s booth. The Buckaroos carried their gear in duffle bags and tossed them in the dirt and began their preparations for their events.  These guys were used to dirt, believe me. Some were young, some were middle – aged, and all seem to have a lot of grit. Before this rodeo was over, I came to understand where the word grit originated.

Some were filing on spurs, others were applying rosin to their grips and one had his saddle and stirrups on the ground and was setting in the saddle with his feet in the stirrups out in front of him. He was holding on and going through the motions of what was to come. I guess you might call it getting in the zone but each Buckaroo seems to have their own system of preparation.

I remember one Buckaroo in particular, hard as a rock, sweat pouring down as he rosined up his glove and grip. Didn’t seem to have a care in the world. He wore
hand - stitched jeans, old jeans, dirty jeans - perhaps the ones worn at the time of his last win, not wanting to change.  I think there is a lot of superstition among the buckaroos.

Just before their event they began to put on their gear. Some were taping on splints, donning flack jackets, and back braces, all to help reduce the pain of old injuries and to prevent new injuries.  All of a sudden it dawned on me what was really happening. The real life and woes of a Buckaroo became apparent. Most seemed to be just getting by, looking for their first win or just a win because the last win was just a distant memory.

I wondered why someone would put himself through all the pain agony and it came to me.  All the events last for 8 seconds. I am thinking it has become a mind set. The buckaroos think that no matter how many broken bones or how bad the pain is, they can suck it up and do anything for 8 seconds.  Chasing their dream – Let the cowboys ride……………

This story is dedicated to all the Buckaroos and to Three Legs of course.