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07 September 2011

Pending changes

Badger sculpture at Francis Street Mall on
State Street, Madison, Wisconsin
This is an exhausting and exciting time for me:

1) I've finally got the basics of doing a work flow of my digital pictures so that I don't lose them in the process. Now to process the previous six years or so of digitally rendered pictures on CDs stored in boxes below this desk.

2) I'm taking a new class at Edgewood College: Photojournalism taught by Linda Friend, a veteran freelance photographer. Already, in spite of the class mostly starting from scratch, I've learned a lot.

3) As I've mentioned, I've taken part of the DeForest Area Photographers' group. Hey, it's free and they fuel the creative juices. The picture at left is from the current project: State Street. I'll find out next week what the others saw and photographed.

There's more blog to come! I have to stop procrastinating and get my homework done.

07 August 2011

Quick Thoughts

Enjoying a staple of the Wisconsin State Fair:
Cream Puffs!
There is something that everyone should make time for: Going to your County and/or State Fair. My wife and I made the trek to West Allis more times than not during our married life. Usually on the years we can't we go to the Dane County Fair. Every time we take in the talents and genius of young people from all over the state in the Arts and Crafts exhibits.
A resident Turkey Vulture from the Schlitz Audoubon Center
spreads her wings to take in the summer sunshine.
We also like to wander the vendors to see what is "new" and "exciting". Sometimes we'll buy it (like some spiffy brushes that clean out our dryer vent), but usually not (Multi-use scarves, anyone?). There are also safety exhibits and birds of prey, a nature preserve with a self-guided trail, and tons of entertainers from street dancers and musicians, to big name acts on the stages.

A team of the Budwiser Clydesdales usually makes an appearance. It's fun just to watch them hitch up.
Lest I forget, there are also some of the cutest farm animals in the state, exhibited by 4-H youth.
There is also every conceivable food you can think of (and some I hadn't ever dreamed of) skewered on a stick. For instance, two years ago I was introduced to chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. It wasn't half bad, but way too rich for one person. My wife and I shared one. We didn't go for the deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick. The new one this year was deep-fried butter (it was battered to hold it together). We decided to pass on that one, too. We never pass up the cream puffs, the grilled cheese sandwiches, milk (of course it's Wisconsin!) and the baked potatoes.
Grapevine at Weggy Vineyard.
The State Fair is a place where just about the whole state comes to you. Most times, you have go yourself to see stuff that special in your home state. Today, my wife and I took in a wine tour at a small winery near Muscoda. We learned some basic vineculture that I'll be using for my own grapes and a lot about this delightful winery. We had so much fun there, we decided to visit two other (relatively close) wineries and taste a few (OK, over two dozen) of the local vin. We brought home eight bottles of different types. We were happy campers!
One should experience Life. You can only do so much staring at the TV or computer screen. It's hard to savor the iridesence of a vulture's feathers, the taste of a cranberry apple wine, the soft fur of a rabbit, the rumble of 16 one-ton horses in harness, or get the smell of a cow barn from pictures that flicker before you. Go out and see/smell/hear/touch/taste it!
Portrait of me is by Mary A. Hoffman. Other photographs are Copyright 2011 by W. Clinton Hotaling

04 August 2011


Liquid Golden Sunshine - Honey!
Some of you may have noticed that I've been using a walking stick of some kind since spring. Most of the folks who know me know of my arthritis and assume the cane/walking stick is for my knees. If it were so simple.

A pinched nerve in my lower back creates phantom pain in my left leg usually far greater than the grinding pain in my knees. Fortunately, using a walking stick or cane in my left hand will take the pressure off the nerve so that I can walk long distances or stand for long periods of time on concrete--that wonderful stuff so many retail floors are made of.

Get me on turf or wooden floors, my back is much happier. I also have to remember to sit correctly: that is, straight and upright in a chair or car seat. Failure to do so results in pain, that fine teacher.

I do have to remind folks that just because I use a cane, doesn't mean I can't lift things, walk or even jog. The stick is there to let me have less pain. I don't need it for balance or to take weight off of one leg or another. In fact, I fence fine without the cane (although it can be useful as a rigid parrying device....). It helps me keep from wondering how long until my next break at work so I can get off my feet. It is most importantly a crutch to help me through my day at work.

Some crutches are better than others. Mine is just a stick I have to manage and keep track of. An annoyance (for me) at worst. It's just more annoying for me if I don't have it.  Some escape to their phones or rumor swapping. Some people resort to chemical help in the form of a pill or liquid that "makes the day go smoother". Those last are a menace to themselves and others. Fortunately, a very rare few of my co-workers are that stupid.

One crutch I rely more heavily on is coffee. Must. Have. Coffee. I don't care too much about quality unless it's truly awful. I do prefer light roasts. To me french roast tastes burnt. A little cream/creamer/whitener makes it go down smoother, but I don't otherwise sweeten my coffee. I inherited my father's ability to consume caffeine with few side effects. Like Papa, I can literally have a cup of coffee and go straight to sleep. Not having coffee results in caffeine withdrawal-manifested as a killer headache that lasts a couple days if I don't get some caffeine in me.
Morning Fog over the DeForest Bike Trail
Some crutches are truly useful. A monopod or tripod is that often overlooked piece of equipment in an amateur photographer's kit. Steadiness is one of the easiest ways to acheive sharp photographs. If you can't use a tripod (like in the conservatory), a monopod may do the trick. Anything to hold the camera still while it takes the picture. The photo on the left was taken with my phone, but I held it steady against my bike to get the shot. I used my bicycle as a crutch. The photograph of honey bottles was made at the Madison Farmers' Market. I could have only got there to see the picture and take the shot because I had my walking stick.

I'm also reminded of the adage: Good photographs are 5% the camera and 95% the photographer. Know the limits and capabilities of your equipment, and work with them to produce your magic.

All photographs copyright 2011 W. Clinton Hotaling

18 July 2011

Summer Breeze

Full Moon Over Fog in DeForest
"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." - Ansel Adams

How that observation opened up possibilities to me. The photo to the left was literally as I dropped off a friend after an evening of rapier practice. I was still parked in his driveway! After that, I dashed home, downloaded it to my computer, tweaked it a bit in Photoshop to look like the way I remember it. Viola! Here is a haunting night shot for you to enjoy.

The Fencing Lesson
A couple of the previous weeks, we've been travelling, but not very far. OK, Upper Michigan is a hike, but we'd do that trip again. We met a bunch of folks from our history club at a township campground in Gwinn, Michigan.

It turned out I was the only rapier safety officer at the event. They only had one fencer other than me there, ready to work out. She hadn't passed her safety test yet, but I was game to teach her a few basics. I also tried not to thrash her. New fencers need to have SOME successes. But why do these new fencers have to have such garish pants? By the way, that's me on the right in the plain blue pants. We can thank my lovely bride for the pictures of me and my student. It's hard to simultaneously control a camera and monitor a sword that's trying to poke me.
Miller's Castle, Pictured Rocks
National Lakeshore
After a couple of nights in Gwinn, we ducked over to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, because I'd heard it was worth the trip. It was and is. Next year, we're adding an extra day to the trip to include more of this lovely out-of-the-way national Treasure. We took advantage of the couple hours we had, and then made our way back home.

Tried Moose Drool beer, just to see what it was like. To quote what I sent my friend, Moose: "Conclusion: Moose Drool is an adequate, if potent, beer. The flavor is nothing special. It shure, strike that, sure has a kisk, strike that, kisk, strike that again, kisck, Really strike that, kick." Moose feels the stuff is best used as bratwurst marinade. None of his friends wanted to drink it.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is how much I value the trust given to me by another person. This last week we traveled again, but to the bustling metropolis of Boscobel, Wisconsin, for my local history club's annual event, affectionately named "WW" or "Dub-Dub". The last couple years, I've been on the set-up crew helping in various ways. One of the biggest projects for set-up is the assembly of the shower building. This structure occupies a 30' trailer and the 8' bed of a full size pickup truck. When assembled, it's about 10' by 45' with two 10' x 20' carports as roofs. Each half has its own water heater and it all drains into the Village's sewer. Ten shower stalls with changing booths to help accomodate the needs of a thousand campers in the summer sun. On Sunday morning, we take the whole thing apart again so we can store it and use it the next year.

Night at Warriors and Warlords 2011
Our Project Leader (Strawboss), Ed, aims me at problems that need solving. He's fully capable of taking these on himself, but by having me do them, it frees his time for other projects/problems. He also trusts me to get it right before going on to the next thing. I like working this way, if only my day job treated me this way more. Recently though, it seems my supervisor at my day job is beginning to appreciate my ability to solve problems. Maybe things are looking up.
All photos, except as noted, Copyright 2011 by W. Clinton Hotaling

14 June 2011

Out and about

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Red Palisades, Badlands National Park
Copyright W. Clinton Hotaling
I will be the first to admit that I've been remiss in blogging this past few weeks. I have an explanation. Several in fact:

I travelled to the Black Hills area of South Dakota, including stops in Wall and the Badlands National Park. It rained A LOT during our trip. One benefit was that the Badlands greened up more than I ever saw it before. Photographing in the rain even enriched the color bands in the rocks.

My Mac CPU officially became a boat anchor. We found a new notebook at a bargain price, so I've been spending necessary time setting it up.

Our travel trailer just came back from the repair shop. Originally, we were just replacing the awning. The timing was fortunate, because we found some new roof leaks during our trip that the shop fixed for us while it was there.

All the wet weather speeds up the garden preparations. Plantings and cultivation cannot wait long before the mess gets away from us.

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Rapier scenario at White Lake Resort, Montello, Wisconsin
Copyright W. Clinton Hotaling

I've had two living history events this last month, one of them in the Black Hills, another in Montello. There was plenty of fencing to go around, in between the raindrops.

One thing that finally sunk into my brain: It really is the art of defence. I found that if I keep focused on preventing my opponent's blade from reaching me, I am suddenly a better fencer. People have noticed.

One of the good things I found out these past few weeks is the DeForest Photographers Group sponsored by the DeForest Library. Their next meeting is next week. I excited and a little apprehensive about meeting other photographers "in my back yard". That's almost literal, as the library is two blocks from my house. (Location! Location! Location!)

Oak Chair, Dragon Art Fair
W. Clinton Hotaling photo
I found this out at the Dragon Art Fair, also sponsored by the Library. Among the exhibitors was a wood carver that made this beautiful chair. It also had a beautiful price: $3000. As nice as it was, few people I know could afford it.

My wife and I found a great alternative to traditional bratwurst: chicken smoked sausage. High nutrition with little fat and plenty of flavor and texture. Yum! It also doesn't hurt that these are precooked and just need to be reheated.

Our community supported agriculture shares also started up this last month. Lots of veggies for the summer to supplement our garden.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned during this absence is the one of finding (or to refine) my vision and use that as I sort through my photographs to create my portfolios.  That will happen soon. Stay tuned.

18 May 2011


I received an inquiry about working as an assistant about two weeks from now. It seems a photographer is coming in from Virginia to do some work for a client in the Madison area and needs an assistant for a few days. Talk about nerves! First I was dismayed that my day job schedule was for a full week (unlike April and May), and second, I had to price myself! Assign a value to my time. I hopefully came up with something reasonable based on my experience, but still respectable for him.
Actually, it was my schedule that was off-putting. However, it it seems he likes the idea of me working with him, and things may change to allow me to assist him after all.
I'm excited, but we'll see....

10 May 2011


It's important, I've found, to have a real partner that can help you get things done. My partner is my lovely model and bride of ten years. She's actually the breadwinner in our household, and I can pursue my dreams and cross off items on my bucket list because of her. Of course, I help do the same for her.

One of the things that crops up in my portfolio (unfortunately not yet available on-line) is that she is the featured model. There are a few reasons for this: She's usually available when I need a model for a project. She's cheap (as in free). Most importantly, she trusts that I won't make her look bad. My wife also wants me to do well with this hobby-turned-profession, so she's willing to put herself out there to help us, our partnership, thrive.

Among the things we do to keep this going is negotiate for our respective "toys". For instance, when we were down south a couple years ago for a history club event, my bride saw how my hand kept getting hit through the guard on my rapier (heavy renaissance-style fencing sword). So we went sword shopping among some of the best vendors in the country. At one of them, my lady wife homed in on a lovely rig. Oh. My. It was very nice. It was also more than our entire budget for the week. We settled on a much more utilitarian, but still spiffy, one that does the job quite well. Now my hand gets hit because I did something stupid, rather than someone taking the opportunity of a hole.

For her part, we heard about a weaver that was getting rid of her folding 38" floor loom. A mutual friend vetted us, and I went up to Stevens Point to look it over. Yes, it was worn and needed a little work (One part needs to be replaced, and I can do that with little effort. We also needed to replace some rusted heddles.), but it also came with oodles of extras like a variety of shuttles, a warping frame, a huge assortment of tools and spools of fibers. Best of all, I could fold it up and put it in the back of my pickup without worrying about screwing up the warping. (If you've ever warped a loom, you'll understand how tedious and nerve-racking a job it is. It's often the longest part of the weaving process.) Not bad for the price. We gladly paid it.

We also divide the work of the household. I know how to cook, clean and do laundry (Thanks, Mom!), but tend to put such chores off. I'm not a multi-tasker. So I have to keep at a chore until done (like this blog), or I have to give myself reminders when the next part of the task needs taken care of. My wife does most of the kitchen work, mostly because she likes cooking and hates leaving a sinkful of dirty dishes to sit. (Which reminds me, I need to empty the dishwasher before lunch today....) I take care of most of the errands, like grocery shopping, fueling vehicles and other flitting that needs to be done from time to time. Most of the bull work falls to me, like bringing baskets of clothes from the downstairs laundry, starting and keeping control of the rototiller and driving various fasteners into various things. I can and do cook. Dishes are sometimes done because I did them, and I'm often part of the team that scubs the floors when they need it.

It works. Because it does, I can work towards perfection as a photographer. If I keep doing this right, I'll begin to earn what my wife calls, "the standard to which I'll be accustomed." Thanks, Love!

03 May 2011

The Nature of Business

I have a day job, since I'm just getting started in the photography business and still need to eat and keep a roof over my head. We can't afford to live on just my or my wife's income by themselves, so I need to keep working there. I'm also realistic about my expectations; my wife even more so. I like to dream a bit (and spend money on what she calls "toys"), while she reigns in my fantasies with conditions for making the purchases. There's a little friction here, but this arrangement keeps our debts manageable.
For example: While I'm well aware that good photography is 95% the photographer and 5% the equipment, I do want to upgrade my camera with the idea of getting the ability to compete or simply having the respect of my clients. I have a perfectly respectable film SLR camera, which is great for art photography, and I have usable digital cameras that can cover about 90% of the situations I envision using a camera. The problem with the film camera is turnaround time for the clients, something that digital processes have shortened considerably. Turnaround time for film was made worse by the dearth of local film processors in my area. I can still get them done, but not the same day anymore. My old processor now takes a week or more just to bring me back the negatives! For my own projects that isn't an issue since I take time to scan the negatives and manipulate them as I need to, and I seldom have hard deadlines for my own projects. Most clients aren't willing to wait a week for the finished product, much less proofs.
The DSLR in question will run me $1400-$1700, and that's just the body. I can get a lower quality one for around $900 (It's the immediate predecessor.), but the upgraded one shows more longevity in usability. Also with a good unit, I'll be able to turn around projects often the same or next day for a client. I can even shoot high definition video. Fortunately, I have a good set of lenses that will fit this body, which suit my style of shooting. (I prefer manual focus over autofocus because I've found the autofocus will often enough home in on something that isn't my subject. It's one less thing to fight.)  Having the lenses already will save me more money than the camera itself in the long run. Most professionals will say, "It's a good investment, why haven't you bought it already?"
Good question. The answer is the condition for purchase compromised between me and my wife: I must have a job in the photography field or I need it for a class. And I'd better REALLY need it for that class. Understand that we're self-financing this business plan, and any money I spend is to be relevant in the moment. So, it's good that my wife keeps me in check. Less debt and fewer expensive dust collecters that way.
So, back to the day job. Needless to say, it isn't as a photographer, photographer's assistant, nor photojournalist. Like most creative types (I do include myself in that select group.), I chafe a bit from time to time working for a corporation even though I own stock in that corporation. The stress is getting worse lately, with communication conflicts with my supervisor and staff reductions and added responsibilities. I understand that a great many companies are having to work this way, but with customer service oriented businesses like retail stores, you need enough people to be there for the customers, not just physically but without distractions as well. I can go on and on about balancing the needs of your customers with the abilities of your employees and the profits your executives and investors make, but I don't have time to write that tome.
Let's just say that the stress is giving me impetus to jump-start my own business.
I also realize that working as a photographer can be a difficult way to make not very much money. Ah, but there is the satisfaction of the well-crafted image. There is also the coolness factor of the positive feedback when I show my product. That helps pay my emotional bank account. I know I'll never be financially wealthy, but the riches of a good body of work, and the satisfaction of creation goes a long, long way.
For a while at least, I'll keep the day job. When business picks up, I'll go to part time with it.
Image: DeForest Tracks (c) 2011 W. Clinton Hotaling

26 April 2011


Routines, habits, compulsions or whatever you call them, they are behaviors that make sure we don't forget important things, such as actions (feeding the dog and fish) or actual things (the coffee mug or the cell phone). Everyone has a routine.
Even my dog has a routine for different situations. When we get up in the morning, she waits until both my wife and I are in the kitchen before dragging herself (OK, groggily walking) up the back door to be let out. If she doesn't see a squirrel or rabbit on the fence or in the yard as the case may be (In which case, all bets will be off.), she'll wander along the fence line with her nose working hard to learn who, or more importantly what, intruded into the yard before selecting spots to dump her overnight loads of liquid and solid waste. The only clear area is within about 20 feet of the door. Even she doesn't like to step in the lawn bombs, so she leaves an area of high traffic alone. When she's done, she'll trot up to the back door and give it a knock to let us know she's there. A yip lets us know that her patience is wearing thin. Once we deign to let her in, she'll go by the cupboard door where we keep her treats and sit oh, so patiently for us to get one out for her. The routine is broken by whether we toss her the treat (She'll catch it.), offer it directly (She'll demurely take it in her mouth.), or hold a particularly desirable (read: stinky) one (She'll crouch down for one of those!).
My morning routine when I have to be at work by 07:00 is a bit regimented. If I don't follow it, things I need during the day tend to be forgotten. The clock-radio pops on at 05:30, and I roll over to check with my wife whether she'll be riding her bike that morning. If yes, I'll get up and go around the bed to take her CPAP mask, turn off the machine and give her a kiss. If not, I'll snooze the radio and get up. This kiss will have to wait until she's up and not wearing the mask. Either way, the next stop is the kitchen where I start my coffee and take my before breakfast pills. Then it's time for my turn to remove the night's waste, wash my hands then my teeth. This get some hot water in the pipes so I don't have to wait and waste water to warm up the shower.
Even the shower has a routine. First I prepare and fill a neti pot, rinse my nose, and then I soap up. Next I shave with the suds available (Don't get me wrong, I buy the cheap razors. However, this way each one will last weeks before having to throw it out. Yes, I do shave every day.), wash my hair (That doesn't use much shampoo; I don't have much hair!) and rinse off. Out of the shower, it's a quick towel off, and then deodorant. I'll powder some crevices if I expect to be sweaty that day. Then it's time to collect my clothes and kiss my wife and get her up if she drowsed or meet her in the living room while she works out.
I have to wait until my legs are really dry before I can put on my stockings. Yes, I'm a guy and I said, "my stockings". These are special ones because I have varicose veins from standing and working on concrete floors for thirty years. They won't slide on when I have damp skin and are extremely tight. So, I have breakfast before putting the bottom part of my clothes on, as it saves time and frustration to do so.
Back into the kitchen I go. I pour my coffee, add creamer and set up my wife's decaffeinated brew. My blood sugar needs to be checked before I eat, so I do that next. I pull down a bowl and the cereal, use the scoop in the cereal to measure my ration of Cheerios(R) and add my dollop of milk. When I put the milk back in the refrigerator, a piece of cheese comes back with me. A side trip to the kitchen table gets my breakfast medications and a piece of fruit. Everything but the coffee comes with me to the living room where my pants, socks, stockings, knee braces and shoes await my attention. If you've ever had cold cereal, you know that it must be consumed before it gets soggy. So I shovel it in before it turns to mush, consume my fruit as appropriate, and unwrap and enjoy my cheese. The cheese is a bit of protein needed to moderate my blood sugars during the morning. That way, I'm not famished at 09:00 and can enjoy a more leisurely lunch.
With breakfast out of the way, the stockings can be slipped on, with the more normal socks and the less normal knee braces (darned arthritic knees!) over them. Pants and shoes go on next, but I needn't go in every detail, unless you want me to guide you literally step-by-step. (I can do that; it makes a good party game.)
If I'm lucky, or not distracted by a news article on TV, I'll have time to refresh the computer and log my breakfast in my food diary, check for important (yeah, right) emails or Facebook posts (as if!). If it's Wednesday, I'll gather and take the trash out to the curb.
Now it's decision time for lunch. We brown-bag (OK, grey cooler) lunch to save money and clear out leftovers. My wife (mostly) and I (sometimes) pack soup and casseroles left over from meals into tubs to be frozen for lunches. We're constantly experimenting with often delicious results, but some edible, but unusual side trips (Can you say habanero pea soup?). All this goes in the cooler with a bowl to heat the whatever in more fruit and a snack bar or two.
By now, it's time to leave for work. Here's when routine is real important: Put on the jacket and hat, kiss the wife one last time, gather coffee cup, cooler, cell phone, camera bag, meter bag, reading book and walking stick. Arrange all so that I can maneuver, and head out to the vehicle for work.
That is just the routine before I even make my way to work, but it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Hopefully, a good one.