(You Say You Want a) Resolution

Kwik Shoppe, Shoemakersville, PA from January 2014Kwik Shoppe, Shoemakersville, PA from January 2014

At the top of this year, as we do every year, we talked about the things we wanted to see and do in the next twelve months. The Big Picture. I suppose we’re no different from anybody else, and probably no different in this respect to anybody else in the results department: by February, the cares of life have worn us down to the point where we have completely forgotten any pending Resolutions, and by December we’re left wondering where the year has gone. And the Resolution starts over. Which begs the question, has anyone ever successfully followed through on a New Year’s Resolution?

Don’t answer that. I’d hate to think I’m the only one.

My favorite Resolution is the resolution of the sensor on my K-5. One of the things that I often try to do when I’m on a sign shoot is to haul out the longest lens I’ve got and take a few close-ups, put that Resolution to its fullest. Sometimes these are the most interesting shots I take. And it brought up an interesting thought come Resolution time. We focus in on such large things at New Year’s, the losing twenty pounds or finally finishing that novel or whatever it happens to be, and it does us a disservice. We can’t do it all in one sitting, and the Resolution fails us. The reality is, to make these changes, it takes much more, many small changes that change attitudes and lifestyles. Maybe the thing to do is to focus in on these small things.

Wright's Dairy-Rite, Staunton, VA from November 2013Wright’s Dairy-Rite, Staunton, VA from November 2013

Some of these shots, like the one above, capture a lot of the image, but what sets this one apart is the eyes, nose and arms of the chef holding the sign up. Some, like the one below from Won-Lee in Deland, Florida, distort the image completely, turning it into something completely different:

Won Lee Restaurant, Deland, FL, from November 2013Won Lee Restaurant, Deland, FL, from November 2013

In this, the bulbs of the cockeyed arrow are in reality one of the only straight lines.

Community Restaurant, Cortland, NY from October 2013Community Restaurant, Cortland, NY from October 2013

Sometimes I go far enough in to focus one thing that you never see what the full sign looks like, but again, it’s something new all in itself. In the case of this shot from the Community Restaurant in Cortland, the shadows of the bare branches from the trees that shade the sign are prominent and fascinating. These were by far my favorite shots of the day, shooting at 300mm from about twenty yards.

Sea Mist Apartments, Wildwood, NJ from October 2014Sea Mist Apartments, Wildwood, NJ from October 2014

If I have a Resolution this year, it’s to take more shots during the winter, when I’m usually hibernating, and to blog more (check). On top of that, I can’t forget to get more of these close-ups, because they have a wonderful transcendent quality to them. This year promises to have a few more road trips, including one to my old homestead of Chattanooga. Here’s to 2015 and the little things!

What Gets You Through the Winter


It was cold today, which officially makes the winter redundant. The Northeast has been brutal this year, with wind chills in to the negative degrees. I haven’t been as active as I would have liked in the last two months, due to one thing or another, but somehow when I do manage to find a good sign to shoot, I manage to choose the absolute coldest of cold days. Earlier on in January, I got shots of the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville. Beautiful sunshine, wind chills below freezing. The needle didn’t hit double digits (that’s Farenheit, metric system fans) until I got back home. It was so cold during this shoot, I was trying, with varying success, to hit the shutter button on my K-5 with my heavy winter gloves.

Kwik Shoppe, Shoemakersville, PAOh, was this a cold, cold day…

But I couldn’t argue with the results. There’s something about the winter sun that is noticeable in photographs. A harshness, hyper-contrast. Yesterday was such a day. Not a cloud in the sky, brutal sun, and the freezing point of the extremity of a female occultist’s mammary gland.

Check the picture below. I was just starting to take shots of signs in the summer of 2010 when I came across Schmoyer’s Dry Cleaners in the Mountainville area of Allentown. The building, I could tell, was closed, and in my mind I had to get a shot of it before the sign came down for good.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA

Nearly four years later and the sign still stands, despite the fact that the Dry Cleaners is all boarded up. I passed by a few days ago and noticed the tree that is in the above picture was no longer there. I figured it would be a good opportunity to get the other side of the sign, which is just as rusty and full of lovely neon bullet holes. And I also wanted to see what difference the winter sun made.

Of course, no one wants to go out into the cold, but I love taking shots that you don’t normally get. Different weather conditions, lighting scenarios, you name it. And I wanted to see if I could get the other side of Schmoyer’s, with the sun on it.

I headed down the hill on PA 145 and from a distance I could see it was going to be a challenge. There was still part of a tree obscuring that side, and the early afternoon sun was projecting shadows of that tree on to the sign. I parked and took a few shots, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be the result I wanted.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaning, Allentown, PA front side

So, not wanting to admit defeat, I stepped through the snow to the other side. The winter sun was blasting away in vain against the cold, right behind the tree, imposing itself into my shot. I made the best of it and worked with it and not against it. I popped the flash on to augment the light on the face of the sign, and the results here were much better:

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA back side

And for good measure, I tried it out in black and white, getting the bloom of the sun:

Schmoyer's in black and white

There’s a part of me that wants to hole up in the winter, but I see these things and I think, why? There’s so much that can be done out there, even though it’s difficult, even though the winds blow, even though the roads are still unplowed (you feeling me, Allentown?). And although the nasty bite of winter does its worst, it can’t stop the summer from coming. In the midst of all this, we press on. The longer we press on, the greater the chance that we capture something beautiful.