Photography Archives - Jim Dugan

Kaleidoscope experiments

Below are several experiments with making kaleidoscope images in Photoshop.

Yes, I know this is a bit of a gimmick. So sue me. There are plenty of gimmicks in photography these days. They’re all wonderful or terrible, depending on who is using them and what images result.

There’s lots of fun stuff in this process: choosing the photo, choosing how to slice it, what to do with the background.

I’m not sure where this will lead but for now, it’s satisfying.

Rockland Breakwater

Apples In Snow, an old favorite

I took this picture years ago and it continues to be a favorite, for me and others. My mother has asked me to print another round of notecards with it for her. And she’s just heard from an old friend who bought a print of it, which the friend still treasures.

Behind every picture there’s a story but this one is pretty simple: I was walking in Camden in an early snow, turned into the park and walked along, enjoying the view. I saw this apple tree above the harbor and shot a couple of pictures, all the while feeling that there was some Zen or Hokusai quality to it.

Normally, a photographer takes LOTS of pictures and I’m usually no exception. But in this case, I just had a feeling that this was enough. I couldn’t improve on it, those reds and yellows, the jumble of branches. I do wish I’d tasted one of the apples though.

Apples In Snow, Camden, Maine

Slushing the Mast

The Camden Harbormaster posted on Facebook:

Daily Def: “SLUSH FUND”-slush was the unpromising name for fat scraped off the top of the barrels of meat. The crew found it perfect for greasing masts to make sail hoisting easier and for preserving leather fittings. The cook, unhappy about this, would secret it in his ‘slush fund’. It was a prerequisite so far as he was concerned. He sold it ashore, mostly to candle makers and people in the fish and chip trade.

Who knew? Well, I did, sorta. The schooner Mary Day gets her masts slushed a couple times a year. Usually, it’s the youngest (lightest) member of the crew who gets outfitted head to toe in disposable gear, then strapped into a boatswain’s chair (boson’s chair, really just a board strung between some rope). Then this person is hoisted to the top of the mast with a bucket full of slush. These days, slush is not meat grease but Vaseline petroleum jelly. They start at the top, smearing Vaseline all over the mast. When a section is finished, they yell to the deck, where someone standing by lowers them a few feet.

Here’s Madeline slushing the mast:

Madeline slushing the mast of the Mary Day.

Acadia Sunday Afternoon

I prefer Acadia in the off season. From October to about May, it can feel like I have it all to myself. Wandering that magical mile from Otter Cliffs to Thunder Hole with almost nobody else around is a real privilege, thrilling and relaxing at the same time.

[slidepress gallery=’acadia’]

Ghost Ship: How to paint with light

This picture is the wallpaper on my computer screen and almost everyone who sees it wants to know how it was made.

The word photography means, literally, drawing with light. But “painting with light” is a technique to add a light source during a long exposure. Here’s an example:


This is a picture made aboard the schooner Mary Day. We were at anchor in Blue Hill Bay, had just come back from the lobster bake on an island, and everyone was just chilling on deck.

I set up my camera on a tripod, composed carefully, then set the aperture to (I think) about f/16. Then I locked the shutter open.

So the shutter is locked open for several minutes, I’m guessing about five to seven. If I did nothing, I’d get almost no exposure except for the kerosene lanterns and a little of the sunset. It was actually a bit after sunset, so the horizon was pretty dark.

But what I did was: I took out my LED headlamp and turned it on. I shined it on the sail and boom, moving it around to illuminate it more or less evenly. Then I hopped down on the deck and walked around to the people, stopping at each and telling them to stand still while I “painted” them with light. I’d shine the light on their faces, making sure not to let the camera see the light source.

The two men on the left were the first to get painted. As soon as I had finished with them, they moved away, so their legs don’t show up. If they had stayed, they would have blocked a lot of the light of the kerosene lantern on the deck. The third person from the left moved before I could paint him, so mostly, he shows up as just a shadow.

You can see the shadow of a tripod leg on the box with the star on it. I’m not sure what light was casting that shadow.

There’s very little Photoshop work done after the fact, though I did clean up a few light streaks where the light source turned toward the camera.

My one regret is that I didn’t take the cover off the boat’s steering wheel. It’s a pretty wheel, varnished and bright. Next year.

Glacial Erratic

I mentioned to my friend Ann Marie the other day that I’d paddled to Mark Island.

“What’s that rock?” she asked me.

I asked her which rock, but I sort of knew. I had stopped to photograph the rock. It’s so obvious because it’s stark white against a bunch of darker rock around it. Seems out of place, and it is, sorta.

Here’s a picture.


That’s a “glacial erratic” and we see them all the time in Maine. Not all of them are so obvious.

It’s a kind of rock that is not indigenous, not part of the local bedrock, “from away” as we say in Maine.

Thousands of years ago, it was broken off some mountain to the north by a glacier. It tumbled around under the glacier for a while, being smoothed and ground down. Then the glacier melted and this was left where it lay, on top of a hump that, eventually, became Mark Island in the middle of Penobscot Bay.

Maine’s geology constantly fascinates me and I told Ann Marie about it. It can be roughly summarized by three processes, each taking considerable lengths of time:

  1. 400 million years ago (or thereabouts) silt and diatoms settled out of an ocean onto the ocean floor, creating mud. This happened for a long time and made a really thick bunch of mud and sand that eventually compressed into rock. This “sedimentary” rock was then slid westward until it bumped into what would become North America. Under pressure and heat, it buckled and smushed, all the while keeping its layers mostly intact. This is our “sedimentary metamorphic” rock. It started its life as sediment and has layers to prove it, but the layers go in all different directions, are curved and mashed, with intrusions of quartz (where things got really hot). This is pretty typical in places like Casco Bay and Muscongus Bay. But the sedimentary rock also explains the limestone around Rockland and Rockport (both named for the “limerock” found there).
  2. Then much later, some earthly indigestion got going. Great gobs of molten magma bubbled up from within the earth in huge domes called “plutons.” The plutons pushed the other rock out of the way in some places and hardened into what are now mountains and islands, mostly granite with, here and there, a bit of basalt. Monhegan is mostly basalt, as is Mark Island and some of the islands of western Penobscot Bay. The Camden Hills and Acadia are various granites.
  3. Then even later, it got cold. Snow fell and fell and fell, until Maine was covered with a layer of ice a mile thick. And the ice was moving, crushing everything under it and pushing great piles of rock. All that stuff acted like sandpaper, smoothing the bedrock below and scraping away millions of tons of rock. When the glaciers finally melted, they left behind fairly smooth mountains and islands and loads of stuff that had been dragged many miles from where it started.

That’s the ten-cent, seat-of-the-pants, amateur summary of Maine geology but it explains the vast majority of what you see here. Knowing the above, you can usually decode what kind of rock you are walking on. And you’ll start to see things differently. Hiking up Cadillac a few weeks ago, I could clearly see the scratches of rocks being dragged over the mountain by glaciers.

Loon blur

Loon flapping its wings
Loon flapping its wings

I guess I should not confess that this is a mistake. I did not intend for the shutter speed to be so slow. But there’s something to be said for realizing that a mistake can make something nice, too.

“Do you ever use film anymore?”

Golly, I sure wish I could say yes. But that’s really only a nostalgic response, not a practical one. I haven’t shot any film in, probably, two years, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.

I loved film, I really did, especially formats larger than 35mm. Every now and then, I put a 4×5 inch transparency on a light table and put a loupe on it and I’m astonished by the quality.

The problem is that it’s more quality than I ever need. My commercial photography is almost entirely for either web sites (where high resolution is completely wasted) and printed materials where 15 megapixels is almost always way more than is needed.

Working with a digital camera makes it possible to see exactly what you have as you shoot and deliver the finished job the day of the shoot, in a form that the client can just plug into a page without developing, shipping, and scanning. It’s faster and more efficient for everyone involved. Add to that the expense and the karma of dealing with all that icky chemistry and trying to find a good way to get rid of it.

I have friends and clients who continue to shoot film and I applaud them for that, mostly. Tillman Crane is shooting very large format black-and-white and printing on platinum and palladium paper. It’s gorgeous work that never gets run through a digital filter (until it gets scanned for the web site). There are some (you know who you are) who are just dragging their feet, resisting the digital world out of fear, laziness, inertia. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of fear, laziness and inertia myself and they’re not entirely bad. Just make sure you choose your medium for the right reasons.

Against the Grain

I’ve gotten to the point where film grain looks bad to me. Old-fashioned in a not-good way. Lumpy, bumpy textures where there should be none.

I have another friend (anonymous unless she wants to fess up in the comments) who loves the grain of Kodak’s Tri-X film. She’s been resistant to shooting digital because the tones are too smooth for her. Finally, someone showed her the Photoshop filters that approximate various film grains. One of them was even called “Tri-X.” It worked. Then she found a place that prints digital files to silver paper (black-and-white prints used to be printed on a paper coated with silver halide salts). So now she shoots digitally and makes it look like Tri-X. People think she’s still shooting film. It’s great.