Santa Lost a Cylinder

Sorry folks, but this post is not for the squeamish (or for kids with Elf on a Shelf “narcing” on their every move to Santa).  Over the years, I’ve made a few posts that might have concerned some people and assuredly typed out  a few sentences that might have made a few readers raise their eyebrows.  Some of that is by accident, or more likely intentional (always keep your readers guessing).  Most of the time someone will call me on it and make some clever comment…. and then there are those times it just kind of slide by apparently unnoticed.  Those are the situations that are most intriguing to me.  Has my reader base defected? maybe it was too subtle or worse, readers are starting to associate these situations as “normal” for me (eesh).  As prime example, take a previous post on the Halloween decorations (link here).  In that post I was recounting how difficult it was to get ready for our annual Halloween party due to all the activities that were swirling around at the time.  Let’s recall the following sentence from that post, “Oh, on Tuesday I had to dispose of a body… but more on that in an upcoming post.”  I distinctly remember hashing over that sentence a couple of times and was kind of feeling bad since it was an obvious ploy to generate more comments to pad the year end summary – that is due shortly.  Guess how many comments I received as a result of that specific line?  20? 10? 5?  NOPE  – NADA.  Apparently disposing of a body is less controversial than letting my wife become a Peter Lik groupie.  The good news is this post is the referred to “upcoming post” and therefore I can set the record straight.

I’m not kidding about the queasy nature of this post so if you can’t stand a little bit of gore I recommend shielding your eyes – maybe read it through your fingers to cut d0wn on the exposure – don’t forget to hold your nose at the same time.  Proceed whenever you feel comfortable.

This all started when I was scouting out the woods for the Haunted Trail.  Everything was in fairly good shape.  There were a few trees down that had to be moved to the side, branches that had to be trimmed of their summer growth over the walkway and of course a mowing and weed whacking session to make it easier to navigate.  While mowing the last section of the trail I noticed a foul stench emanating from the direction of the stream.  There are some smells that immediately trigger memories (some good.. some bad … some veeerrry bad).  In this case, the olfactory perception was triggering the latter.  My mind immediately went to the dreaded coyote incident (link here).  A week before the party and there’s a dead coyote on the property.  The mind started clicking away – could I get by with just saying it was part of the Haunted Trail – added realism?  Maybe it will just dry out before the party and go away on its own.  As much as I wanted to believe the first option, the thought of horrifying children who might stumble on the dead carcass eliminated it.  The second option was debated some, but the fact was the dead coyote from before lasted quite a while and it was staying pretty warm out.   Crap, only option left was to deal with it – so off I went looking for it.  The coyote assumption had improperly prepared me for what I found.  20 feet off the path I was mowing and directly on the banks of the stream was THIS:

If you have a strong stomach, feel free to hit the jump to read how this all turns out

Continue reading Santa Lost a Cylinder

A Day in the Land of Odd

Happy Holidays everyone!  With all the activities as of late it has been difficult to find time to get out the remaining posts of the year. .. and by activities that includes tonight’s accomplishment of finally drumming through every single song on my Xbox for Rock Band 3 on pro-drums – including all three cores (RB1/2/3)  expansion packs (LEGO, AC/DC) and too many downloaded songs to admit in public.  Since I had a few minutes to spare while resting the arms, I thought I’d crank one out that I did the prep work on just a few days ago.  While going through my list of ideas I noticed one that has been on there for a looooong time.  To be specific, that would be like 1 year and 7 months.  This is actually a mixture of shots taken by both myself and Linda although not entirely sure which is which so for the most part assume equal credit.

So, back in May of 2011, Linda and I had the opportunity to visit an old friend of mine called Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello IL (link here).  If you were fortunate to attend the University of Illinois, it is likely you are familiar with this location as it is a nice place to get out and away from the grind.  My brother Ron first introduced me to this place while he was going to school there.  The best thing about this place is that it’s more than just a place for some peace and quite – it is also a rich environment for creativity and a godsend if you are in to “photographing the odd”.  The site was the estate of one Robert Allerton who was heir to his father Samuel’s fortunes from his association with the First National Bank of Chicago and many stockyards including the Union Stockyards of Chicago.  Robert was passionate about art becoming an avid collector and philanthropist.  This passion resulted in his estate becoming  full of eccentric sculptures collected during his worldly travels.  Robert was also heavily involved with the University of Illinois along with his adopted son John Gregg.  I was not aware of this before reading up on Wikipedia and their official site, but it was actually deeded to the university back in 1946 (one of the largest gifts to date to the university).  I’ll let you read up on the history of this place, but hands down, if you are looking to spend the day behind the camera .. this is an excellent place to start.

First of all, there are statues all over the property that are stunning in both their size and subject.  Take for example this one.

I believe it is called Death of the Last Centaur.  Guess this is a good time to mention that a large majority of these images were SHOPPED.  I admit it (unlike Peter Lik) but the digital darkroom is one of my favorite parts of photography.  Unlike with wildlife photography I take a little more liberty in landscape shots – the animal world is a little more picky on maintaining the “natural” coloring of the species.  I wanted to learn some advanced techniques and the shots from Allerton provided a fertile ground for that.  I’m guessing from the wide angle shot that Linda actually took the one above – otherwise I would have had to hiked about 1/4 mile away to get that coverage with Beast.   The shot below shows the tighter ones I was shooting.  My goal was to fade out the background so the statue would pop a little more.  A lot of work with masks and filter brushes in Lightroom got me here.

Not bad, the sharpness of the status stands out better than in the first shot.  Some color manipulation accelerated the timing about 5 months into the fall.  The next task was to try my hand at some B&W and tone manipulation.  This is harder than initially thought.

The background did not lighten up as much as desired – need to read up a little more on the Dodging and Burning in the tool but the statue’s coloring came out close to expectations – it would have popped a lot more on a lighter background.  Maybe next time I’ll see if there is an angle that takes some of the trees out.

Hit the jump to see other shots from Allerton…

Continue reading A Day in the Land of Odd