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Category Archives: Photography

Customer Photo Winners

two wallets by mr lentz photographed by a customer

Every year I put on a little contest of sorts with all of my customers. The idea is to photograph your Mr. Lentz leather goods purchase and show how it’s ageing over time. This year we had quite a few submissions and I decided to hand out a free luggage tag to those who participated, plus – I wanted to pick the five best shots to receive a free new wallet of their choice. Well… here are this years winners. Above is a great shot of a nicely aged card wallet on the left and a fairly new one (different style) on the right. The patina that develops on this leather is quite amazing. Thanks Mrs. SPO! I cut no corners here and only buy the best Full-Grain Vegetable Tanned leather produced in the U.S.

customer photo of his wallet

I love the manliness of this shot above – can’t beat showing off your wallet with a bunch of socket wrenches! Thanks WL !

a mr lentz wallet from a customer

This wallet above apparently took quite a bit of abuse in combat training…but it still looks to be in great shape. Thanks Liam! Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t use stitching in my wallets…there’s really nothing to wear out.

Customer shot of mr lentz wallet

Here’s a nice close-up where you can really see the grain of the leather. When you use Full-Grain wallets a lot the become polished smooth and can become a little shiny. Thanks Ben!

Mr Lentz Customer photo of wallet and belt

Here’s a nice ‘pocket dump’ from Andrew, plus a belt he’s been using for a few years now. Looks like things are working well for ya – thanks Andrew!

All winners will be announced daily on Instagram. If you have purchased something from my shop and would like to submit a photo, just post it to Instagram, tag @MrLentzShop and #MrLentzCustomer   and write about something you liked about the item.

Cheers to everyone and have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Calming Effect of the Woods

bark of a large tree in the woods

One of the most incredible parts of moving the workshop up to the Pacific Northwest is of course – being closer to nature. Being surrounded by forests gives the opportunity to escape out on a hike during a break or after the workday ends.

single tree in the woods

I really don’t know of anything else that has a more calming effect than walking through the woods. Maybe it’s the quiet, or the green, or smell of damp soil. What ever it is that’s out there has the same effect on me every time.

fall color explosion in the woods

Even after a stressful day (yep leatherworkers have those too sometimes!), a walk through these woods will put the mind at ease. I think that was the hardest part about living in the Southwest for several years – it’s getting crowded down there and you have to travel further and further to get out into the peaceful outdoors. I think a lot of people get used to that and may not realize how incredible it is to be out on a quiet trail, whether in the desert, mountains, forest or coast.

calm ferns growing ona treeIt’s also nice to stop more often on a hike and try to take a closer look at what’s around me. There’s a lot of life out here growing on every imaginable inch. The closer you look, the more you see.

path through the wods in the pacific northwestWe are currently approaching the holiday season here in the U.S. and all I can say is – if you can, try to get out onto a quiet trail whenever you can. It’s the best medicine for the mind and it’ll reset you in a way that nothing else can.

pacific northwest forest

 

mushroom varieties in the pacific northwest

still lake at sunset in the forest

fall leaves color changing

glass smooth lake in the fall

ducks swimming in a small lake in the forest

Building a Workshop – Updates

propane tanks on side of workshop buildingI thought I should throw a shop update on the blog here to keep you all in the loop as to our progress since moving in. I believe I last left off when we were getting insulation put in. That took a solid week or so and now the walls and ceiling are looking good. So good in fact that it was time to get the furnace up and running before the cold winds started blowing from up north. This area of Washington is technically a ‘temperate’ climate, but winter daytime averages are in the low 40s. Add to that the fact that we are out in the woods, and things tend to cool down quite a bit, especially in the shade. About 3 weeks ago we had a couple of propane tanks dropped off in preparation for getting the furnace in place.

furnace for workshop building

A Workshop Furnace

I decided to move it into the loft space to keep it away from the work areas and thus help keep it quieter inside. The silence in here is deafening, you can hear a butterfly fart. So I wanted to keep it that way as much as possible and by placing things up in the loft I can now wall it off to further dampen the noise. As you can see, the return is built right onto the unit with minimal duct work since it’s near the top of the building. When things get really cold I can keep the blower on just to keep warm air circulating.

gas shutoff for furnace in workshop

fresh air vent for workshop heater

I also had the guys put in a fresh air return with shutoff, I think it will help during cold days if there’s a bit too much humidity in the shop due to drying hides out after we hand dye them. It also helps if you need to flush the shop with fresh air, but this isn’t as likely since we don’t work with toxic chemicals. All of our dye, conditioner and wax is handmade right here in the workshop from natural materials. So natural in fact – that we don’t use gloves!

metal tube duct for heating in workshop

To help spread the heat in the entire shop we had a line of duct put in place. It kind of has that grocery store look, but it works quite well.

heating duct for workshop

regulator for propane

After clearing inspection with the county, we were finally able to get things hooked up and tested out. This heater certainly does the trick, and now I can walk into the shop on those busy pre-holiday mornings and have it ready and toasty.

Safety Railings for the Loft

american made leather workshop

While all of that with the heater was going on I set to work building a safety railing in the loft. It’s a little over 10 feet off the ground up there and felt a bit precarious. The last thing I needed was a camera to go rolling off the edge…or better yet – my feet! Well, technically anything can roll off that edge still as there is no toe board (inspector pointed that out). So I still have more work to do up there, but it’ll be quick. I installed the posts by myself on a ladder and to accomplish this feat of magic I did two things first. One – I measured twice…everything. Two, once I knew where the post would be attached I then screwed in two 9 inch deck screws to act as a platform to rest the post on.   hand rail on safety railing in workshop

I used a fairly simple construction method – just 4×4 posts and 2×4 railing and intermittent pieces.guard rail on loft of workshop     wood railing for stairs in workshop

The stairway has a railing now too and it feels much better with one!  wood railing on workshop stairs4x4 wood posts for railing on stairway

This may be too muchinfo – but thought I would share the very easy method I used to connect the posts to both the beam and on the stairway. For the beam I used the above ‘Timberlok’ 8″ screw with a large faced washer. This combo allowed me to drive the screw in using a hammer drill and no pre-drilling needed. This was extremely useful.connecting 4x4 posts to stairway

For the stairway I used these ‘Thrulok’ screws at 6 1/4″. These also are driven through the 4×4 and through the stairway stringer. Just long enough to reach out the other side and screw right into the included nut cap. Also a great alternative to the through bolt method.wood debris in leather workshop

sanding a wood floor in workshop

Up on the loft…soon to be the photography area… the OSB wood floor had quite a few oil stains on it from previous owners. I went to work with a belt sander and did what I could to make it feel a bit cleaner up there.     sanding wood floor in workshop building

Here’s the floor pretty much complete – it’s bare bones, but efficient!

Plywood Wallsplywood for walls inworkshop

As if that weren’t enough going on around here, I also had a stack of plywood delivered. I decided to start putting this up for my shop walls. In the end it was either plywood or drywall, and everyone knows what a giant pain drywall is. Plywood is very simple to install and is extremely useful for a workshop since you can build off of it and attach things to it at any point. workshop walls of plywoodplywood cutout for walls

Over the next few weeks I will be posting a short tutorial for anyone interested in the simple techniques I used to get the plywood walls up. I will make sure to cover a few of the handy tools I ended up with that are making the job much easier.

Work Shop Lightingworkshop lighting

One final part of our update is lighting for the workshop. I have high ceilings now…and no ladder that can reach them. This meant coming up with a solution where I could hang the lights without hiring a professional…and have them be moveable to areas where work stations would move. Right now my floorplan is workingout…but in a year who knows! I might change the layout to work better for me and I will need to move my lights as well. So – I decided on using cable attached between the beams 10 feet up. In this shot there is only one row of lights hung, but it is working quite well. The cable will hold a ton of weight and I can place them spaced out across the shop to help me hang lights practically anywhere. The shop lights plug in at the end of the cable where outlets were installed. This will show up again in a tutorial as well in case anyone out there faces the same issue.outline of tree tops in forest

And with that, it’s Friday and time to relax. There’s a lot to do to get this workshop all put together but it can all wait until after a nice walk through the woods. Make sure to get out side on the weekends and enjoy nature!

All Moved In

It’s been a few weeks now since the moving truck arrived and things are finally starting to fall back in place. It took a while but the workshop is fairly put together at this point. I can’t fully unbox things quite yet as we will be doing a little electrical work to get a lot of the outlets into a safe working condition. After that it’ll be time to insulate…glad I moved up here in the summer though as that bought me a bit of time to get this all done. As of this week we have caught up with orders, thanks to my lovely girlfriend Kristen. She’s been helping out quite a bit and I am training her up to be another wallet wrangler. I should do a little introductory post on her in a short bit here.

A few of my footpresses ready for action.

I set up the wood workbench near a window…finally get a view while I work. The last shop didn’t quite have that appeal, with no real windows it was like working out of a cave. The shop needs a bit of work though – I have to figure out how to light from a 20 foot ceiling. Not quite sure what the best method is yet since I may be re-arranging the space again at some point. It’s not like I have a giant A-frame ladder to make adjustments at ceiling height either. I’ll have to think about that one!

Outside the shop is pure beauty. We live on a few acres out in the woods and if I don’t keep things trimmed back…perhaps the workshop itself will get swallowed up.

 

As anyone from the Pacific Northwest may know – these blackberry bushes have basically overtaken the area. They grow faster than you can cut them down and kind of take over everything if you don’t manage them. This summer we might let them be and enjoy the fruit, but pretty soon it’ll be chopping time.

Here’s an old logging bridge on the property. It too is slowly being swallowed by the forest. I have plans to outfit it with some wood planks and make a nicer looking footbridge.

I still can’t get over how beautiful it is up here. So green, lush and sunny (at least for now!). It has been a good change of pace too – the post office where I make my dropoff is happy to receive mail! Something I had yet to experience in bigger cities. Life seems a little bit better up here, I will keep y’all posted on my projects both in the shop and on the land. Coming up next…the final installment on the Moccasin DIY, Part 3!

A Look Back at 2017

I kind of like this time of year. The holiday order rush has dwindled, the New Year is upon us, and there’s finally a bit of time to sit back and reflect over the happenings of this past year. It’s interesting how the feeling of today will vastly differentiate itself from that of tomorrow, Jan. 1 2018. A single day change, and suddenly we will all be off to the races to improve, modify and hopefully make our lives better in more ways. I too am like this, and admittedly I too also falter on quite a few of those changes after a few weeks! That said, I think change should be thought of more as a continual process that has no beginning date or end date. Just a constant modification to improve our lives and those of others as well.

Alright – that’s enough philosophical rambling for now, so here’s a peek at the actual changes in the workshop this past year:

New Designs

The most obvious thing to start with are the new leather goods designs created this past year. I initially spent a significant amount of time looking into stitching a line of bags, even came out with one design for a few weeks as a test sale. Alas – I decided I am not quite yet ready to stray from my trusty rivets.

I still do like that design above, perhaps it’ll reappear at some point in the future. After that bag, came a whole slew of new ones here:

A few new wallets and accessories were built:

Even a few updated designs for the ladies, with a snap closure for the Tote, and anew handbag:

Then I decided to make an entire line for gear suited for all your doggies. This involved months of research into the best type of leather and hardware to be used on items that will undoubtedly see extremely rough treatment. It turns out, U.S. Latigo leather (highly resistant to weather and wear) and a new style of solid drilled brass rivet (near impossible to separate without ungodly amounts of force), and stainless steel hardware (the toughest you can get), all make for fine quality collars and leashes built to last:

A lot was learned in running my small workshop as a business this year. Namely – you really can’t sit back and just enjoy the spot you’re at too much. I mean you can, but as a business owner you really need to keep innovating and pushing the load uphill. If you relax too much, that load will push back on you and run ya over! Each year I learn little lessons like that, this year the lesson was, simply put, today’s world changes incredibly fast. Marketplaces can change from one month to the next so you got to be on your toes and change with it!

Another thing I learned is that running a business can be all-consuming. It’ll eat up all your time if you let it. Truth is, there is always something to be doing or working on next. For the next year I aim to come to peace with that and know that at the same time, it all doesn’t have to be done right now. Perhaps some gets done after a nice long walk, or after a full weekend has been spent with the computer off, or maybe sometimes that work will wait until after a short trip through the desert with my backpack.

Trips and R&R

Speaking of which, quite a few fun trips were made this year:

Backpacking into the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho for the Total Eclipse

A bit of Oregon and its endless beauty.

And a lot of Desert, to quench the soul’s need for some peace and quiet.

Tutorials

The year before I may have over-promised on my ability to post many more tutorials for y’all. As it turns out it takes a long time to build a tutorial for the site that I feel merits sharing with everyone. Ever notice how on other tutorial sites here and there, the stuff is shoddily built, corners are cut, or it’s just not a product made to last? Well, I only post techniques and builds that I am proud of and of sufficient quality. This means that for some things it can take over a month for me to finish. Heck, I don’t usually have all the skills myself to complete the project, but it is certainly worth taking the time to learn the new skill and build it the right way, so that you can have a handmade item for a long time to come. Here are a few from this year:

Well, ok this one above was technically from the very end of last year, but it’s worth posting up here. The Leather Keychain Tutorial.

I’m not sure this one above counts completely, but there’s some good info in there. I hand stamped a leather belt with a scene from the desert. I have worn it every day since. Stamped Leather Belt.

I know there wont be too many people with a need to make the above western style gun holster, but for me I have been working on some items to use as decoration in the shop. In the above tutorial quite a few new skills are passed on to you the reader. In-depth saddle stitching included. Leather Gun Holster Tutorial.

Sneak Peak

Coming into the new year I am working on some new moccasins to keep my feet warm. Now, technically I started these an entire year ago and gave up due to several technical complications. Well, I am happy to say that I finally figure out a way around those issues and have the right foot down below. I am photographing the entire process of making the left foot, so it will be a tutorial on the site within a few weeks time.

As for a look into what’s to come next year, well a lot really! I am planning a ton of new items for the shop. Look forward to several new wallets and accessories and perhaps even a few more bags too. I have quite a few in the works, so keep an eye out. Also – for those who enjoy the tutorial section of my blog, I will have a couple more scattered throughout the year depending on the time I have for it. Something even bigger may be happening this year, as once again I am looking into moving the workshop. Greener pastures await!

Thank you to all my readers out there and those of you who spent your hard earned cash on my leather goods. As a very very small business I truly appreciate you and your support, I wouldn’t be able to do it without ya!

Cheers to all of you in the New Year and good luck to you in your endeavors!

Sincerely,

Mr. Lentz

Getting Out

For all the misery that a mosquito can cause, it sure can keep you in the present. Have you ever been lost in thought about the future? Or maybe a bit stuck overthinking an event in the past? My advice – go find some mosquitoes, they will make you forget all that.

Mosquitoes will limit your thoughts to only what is happening right now. You see, this little bug has an endless urge to land on any of your exposed skin and take your blood. It’s in our nature to keep that from happening, so when 100’s or even 1,000’s descend on you when you’re out in the woods – you have no choice but to fight them off. Everything else goes out the window and an intense focus ensues, you must avoid their needles. You must move, swat and sway constantly. You divert their paths, dodge them, and blow them away, but one thing you do not do is think about anything else.

That’s the conclusion I have come to while out in the Sawtooth Wilderness of central Idaho this past week – enjoying the eclipse with my girlfriend. Yep – mosquitoes do have a point in life after all, and it’s a positive one. So the next time you find yourself frustrated, annoyed and overwhelmed by their persistence… remember the subtle rejuvenating effect that they are having on you. They take you away from all worries and keep you there as long as you can stand them. It’s nature at its best and it’s how I have slowly been growing my understanding of why I love being outdoors so much. It’s the suffering as much as the views and isolation. It’s learning to appreciate nature from all angles.

While backpacking I am usually wholly involved in the route, the terrain, cooking meals, treating drinking water, setting up camp, hanging bear bags, and a lot of other simple and rewarding tasks. I’ve always loved all that for what it is, simple things that while keeping me busy are also fairly important for a successful journey. I tend to feel more human when I am out there, perhaps it’s just being in the sunlight and the wind. Maybe it’s waking up in the middle of the night and walking out under the stars. You tend to get this feeling of being more connected with the earth itself, like you belong here. That feeling was well-amplified during the eclipse this trip. It’s almost kind of weird to feel more, well – human.

That said – I am back in the shop. There was a short delay there in orders, but we should be all caught up now. In the works over the next week or so – a brand new bag design, the biggest yet! It’s kind of like a large briefcase, plenty of room to fit it all. Also – some new interior storage options for all of my bag designs. It’s an optional addon to help keep the interiors organized. Come on back towards the end of next week and I should have some more news on that end. Cheers!

Salton Sea

the salton sea dead fish
Oh the desert, always revealing another surprise around every corner. You can walk through it for days, out in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly come upon some strange artifact from a hundred and fifty years ago. These past few months I have been taking some time on the weekends to explore a bit in this harsh southwestern landscape.

I wrote about it in a previous post in 2012 here. This past weekend was a trip with my lady out to the Salton Sea. Hardly the middle of nowhere, but strange nonetheless. Its most recent form having been created in 1905 by mistake. The Colorado river broke through a farming levee and flooded the basin for 16 months straight.

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For an incredibly quirky history – checkout the netflix documentary Plagues and PLeasures on the Salton Sea. There’s ghost towns, abandoned railways, dead decaying mounds of fish, beaches made entirely of barnacles, and a stench that comes and goes. Definitely worth a look.

How to Photograph Stars in the Night Sky

astro photography of stars in the milky way

Every few months or so I walk out into the desert with nothing but a backpack and the bare essentials for camping it alone. It’s an essential part of balancing out my days as a leatherworker. The desert is a great place to find solitude, the kind you need when you are looking to recharge a little. There are many many places you can go in the Southwestern U.S. where you will not see another soul for your entire pack trip. I usually head off-trail after a few miles to get to more interesting features in the landscape and find a nice quiet setting to make camp.

desert silouette night shot
This trip out into the desert I decided to bring along my better camera and some simple gear to help take decent night shots. If you want to learn how to take some great star shots, you can follow my simple advice by reading on below. There really ain’t much to it, 75% of the work is just finding a good spot with low light pollution. I found this handy light pollution map so you can get a good idea of where you need to head: Dark Sky Map. From my use it seems fairly accurate.

star photography camera gear
Above is the camera gear I packed into my backpack for this trip. It’s an attempt at sticking with a minimal amount of gear without sacrificing my options when shooting. From left to right starting at the top: Canon 5D Mark iii with a Canon 50mm 1.4 prime lens attached, a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 prime lens (a great hobbyist lens for wide night shots), a Lowepro case that’s just big enough to fit the 5D with 50mm lens attached, two 64GB compact flash cards, two Canon batteries, a mini tripod from Cowboy Studio, a neoprene padded lens sack to carry whichever lens was off the camera, a small cuben fiber stuff sack to hold rocks if I wanted to weigh down the tripod against the wind, a plastic bag in case a sand storm or rain whipped up and I needed to protect the camera. It’s a simple setup and really, it’s all you need to get started.

Quick Tips

  • Find a comfy spot as far from cities and towns as possible
  • Use a decent tripod that can lock firmly in position
  • Weigh your tripod down with weights or rocks
  • Keep out of the wind
  • Use the feature on your camera called ‘Mirror Lockup’
  • Use a camera trigger, or set the timer on your camera for a 2 second delay
  • Try a lens with a nice wide aperture allowing for lower ISO shots
  • Try to keep ISO at or below 3200
  • Pick a cloudless night
  • Pick a moonless night (or not, depending on your shot)
  • Experiment with all types of exposure settings
  • Take a few shots in each exposure/position – then pick the best later on
  • Use manual focus and take a few shots adjusting around the infinity setting.
  • You’d better be a patient person

desert night sky photograph

How To Photograph Stars… or How I Shoot:

Here’s how I typically set up a star shot while out in the desert. First I usually forget to check whether there is a full moon or not and by the time I get out there I realize there’s still a half moon in the sky until 11pm. That means the best time for a good dark sky is a few hours past 11pm on that day. As I am hiking out in the day time I also realize I forgot to check the weather…and there’s a haze of thin clouds above me. Basically the first night of shooting didn’t go so well, so I had to scrap most of the shots, except the one at the end of this post.

On night 2 I waited until about an hour after sunset and placed my camera on the mini tripod (see all camera gear below). I set it in the sand, but a solid platform would be better, like a rock! Luckily for me there was no wind, but this is a big factor to consider when taking longer exposures as the slightest bit can shake the camera/tripod and result in blurry shots. If there’s a breeze, try to put the tripod in a spot out of the wind.

If you look close at the shot above you can see another galaxy 2/3 the way down on the left hand side. I am no astronomer so I can’t tell you what it is, but if you happen to have your iPhone with you while shooting – you can download all kinds of star map apps that make it easy to figure out the night sky. Of course if you are camping you should definitely leave the phone at home!

night shots in the desert

Certain things are only noticed after you bring the images home and process them. Above I captured a glimpse of a meteor. Don’t be confused by every line in your shots though – a lot of the night sky has planes passing through. You can identify those easily as the flashing lights will leave a trail with dots across it.

I used the Rokinon 14mm lens first as it is a very wide angle and I wanted to experiment with a bit of the ground in the shot. The moon was still fairly high, so I started taking shots of it in the frame as well. I set my aperture to 2.0 – which is a decent aperture to avoid lens blur I have found. I set the ISO to about 3200 or one stop below, and the exposure length to about 13 seconds. On my camera there is an option in the menu to use Mirror Lockup, in layman’s terms – you need to use this to get a sharper image. Google it if you want to know why!

I then set my camera to use the timer, and set the timer to 2 seconds. This helps if you don’t have a trigger, it allows for 2 seconds after you push the button for the camera shake to settle down, resulting in a sharper image. On the Canon 5D Mark iii, you can use the live view screen and zoom in 10x to help with manual focusing. This is a huge help since the Rokinon lens will not autofocus (and you wouldn’t want to use autofocus anyways for stars). I found that a hair back from infinity worked the best for a sharp photo of the stars.

star and planet photography at night

In my case I had the camera set up right next to my camp chair and cooking gear. This way I could keep setting up the shot and retaking the photos while I was waiting for my dinner to cook. Of course this also meant I could not use my headlamp as it would ruin the shot, but with a half moon – things were pretty visible and I narrowly avoided several burns. The shots were looking ok, but I knew I could get better if I waited for that moon to set. So at some point I gave up and went to sleep, waking at 3 am to use nature’s toilet and set up another hour’s worth of shooting.

One benefit of being up at 3 am to photograph the stars… there’s a lot fewer red-eye flights in the sky to ruin your shot! Of course shooting at 3 am will cause the user themselves to get red-eye. At some point I switched lenses to the 50mm just to see the difference. What you get is a bit more detail in the shot and you may be able to spot a galaxy or other phenomena. Try out different lenses to get the feel of what works for ya.

Different parts of the sky tend to have different densities of stars. It’s not always easy to identify with the naked eye, so just point your camera in different directions and see what you can get as a first pass. I do know that if you are shooting the Milky Way, that cloudy mass of stars in a lot of these shots, your best bet for brightness and density occurs early spring to early summer. This is because the Earth at night is facing what they call the galactic core, or center of the galaxy. Astronomy sites will have more detailed info on that subject though.stars in the desert night sky

For me when I am taking a star shot, I tend to like to include some of the ground for scale. The shot above had to be taken around 3 am, several hours after the moon had set, so I could get a nice silhouette. You’ll notice that if you try and shoot with a moon in the sky – it can tend to light up the ground almost as if it were daylight, depending on how long your exposure is.

Time-lapse night star photography can make for some very interesting pieces to watch. I only made a few this trip as they can take quite a while to capture. The way I did it with the Canon 5D Mark iii is to load a program called Magic Lantern on to an SD card and insert it into the camera. The program allows for all kinds of extra camera shooting features, and automated time lapse shooting is one of the benefits. Here’s a (very) short clip I made from some time-lapse photography, above.

The first star time-lapse shot was taken with Rokinon 14mm lens at f2.0, 3.2 second exposures, 12 seconds apart, ISO 3200, and there are 120 shots there – meaning it took about 30 minutes to capture. The second star time-lapse shot was also taken with the Rokinon 14mm lens at f2.0, 15 second exposures, 2 seconds apart, ISO 3200, and there are about 53 shots to make that part – so it took around 15 minutes to make.

One trick I learned to help with the monotony of time-lapse shooting, is to wait until you are ready to start your shot before beginning to cook dinner. Seriously. I set up the first star shot, then went about 10 yards away and heated up my meal in the dark. Careful not to use your headlamp unless you know it wont make it into the shot!

photographing stars in the night sky

Light pollution is pretty much everywhere these days. Above you can see it on the horizon, as the small orange area. Below it lights up the backdrop of the rocky hill.desert night sky with stars

Even after waiting for the moon to fully set (I went to sleep until 3 am) the night sky was still partially aglow in certain directions. This is due to towns and cities on the horizon.milky way photography example

To really see the Milky Way in your photos, you will need to do a bit of processing after the fact. I use Adobe Lightroom and will say that that is by far the best choice. I wont go into detail about the processing part, but I will point you in the right direction. You just need to know that the camera is not a perfect instrument, so it will not necessarily be able to get an image looking just like how your eye may have seen it. You will need to adjust the contrast, black levels, and give the right spectrum of light a little help in popping out a bit. Here’s one perspective on the editing side (and believe me there are many more).

star photography example

The shot above was taken with the moon still in the sky, thus lighting up the ground. I was lucky enough not to capture any planes in this photo – are rare occurrence in today’s world! Rokinon lens, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.moon setting in the desert night sky

This is the moon setting, right next to the Milky Way. I had to overexpose the moon in order to get more detail in the sky. This shot did need a bit of processing before the right look came to. Some photographers will take this shot as two exposures, one to get detail in the moon, and one to get the stars to show up. Then they edit the two shots together in photoshop. For me at this point I feel that’s going a bit too much into creating a ‘fabricated’ shot, though in their defense – that is typically how the eye would see it, so it’s not that far from what it naturally looks like.

star photography in the desert

Make sure to get out into the night for some of your own shots, it certainly is a peaceful way to spend the evening! Feel free to share your star shooting experience in the comments below.

Wallet Selfies in the Woods

leather wallet selfie

Wallets tend to travel as much as we do. I took mine on a quick backpacking trip in the high Sierra mountains. Not exactly the most practical thing to carry, but I thought it might make for a few fun shots. Here are the most scenic spots, of course the Minimal Leather Wallet – Extra is at center focus.

Leather Wallet over lake

That really is the color of the lake, no joke. It felt like a tropical ocean in the middle of the mountains. And nope, I ain’t givin’ away the location!

Leather wallet and lake

This area wasn’t quite as tropical, more apocalyptic. Up near Mammoth, CA there is a lake or two that suffers from high levels of carbon dioxide off-gassing from an earthquake years ago. Aparently it causes the lake to drain and vegetation around it to die off. Well, the wallet went there too.

Leather wallet with Aspen Trees

Aspen trees are one of my favorite parts of getting into the back-country. They make this soft relaxing noise as the wind passes through their leaves. They usually grow in large clusters and it’s easy to see through the forest when you’re under them, in case – you know – a stray cow comes barreling down the path towards ya. Happy summer, go enjoy the last few days while you can.

A Vast and Empty Space

BackPackJTree03__0024The Desert is a vast and empty space, capable of absorbing all thought going in and expelling the visitor with a mindless sense of calm. It stretches its broad and parched plains outward in all directions, seemingly without end. Silence prevails here, not a drop nor tweet nor howl of the wind. A silence so stark the heartbeat can deafen. A silence broken only in the night by the packs of roaming coyotes out on their nightly prowl.

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The desert is a place I go to recapture my sense of primal humanity. Over the last year I have journeyed out into the arid lands once every few months. It clears out my thoughts, and reminds me of how incredible and serene the natural world truly is. Significant thoughts of a few days earlier become meaningless as I press on gaining miles and searching for spots to sleep before nightfall.

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BackPackJTree03__0001When backpacking, the basic daily needs of back-country life take over your focus, and all that is left are a few stray thoughts from your city life well beyond the horizon.

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In hiking through the wild, I try to step off the trail for at least half the journey. Breaking my own path narrows my focus down to only a few key thoughts: watch out for rattlers, keep track of time – pace – heading – and approximate position, dodge the thorny plants, keep an eye out 15 yards ahead for the best route through the brush, and find a spot to settle for the night out of the prevailing winds.

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When I head off the trail I typically get vast distances all to myself without a single person in sight. I generally pay for it though by having to work my way through unexpected obstacles not apparent on the map. A simple ridge descent can turn into a long and slippery slope sliding down loose rocks and having to push through thorny brush while keeping from going over either edge.

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But no complaint is ever made when campsites like those above are found. The views are endless. The night is quiet.

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I now travel fairly light. It helps in getting me further into the wild. Above is my entire cook kit. A light titanium mug, a tin foil lid, and beneath is a small container that holds a bit of 180 proof liquor used as fuel.

BackPackJTree03__0069As I have always said, try to take a break yourself and get out into nature. It’ll cure you of some of those city-borne ailments in no time.

 

A Week’s Journey: The Desert Part 1

joshua-tree-wilderness_0100Out there lies an endless desert. Stretching to the horizon. The air crisp and dry. The sun steadily beating down all life. joshua-tree-wilderness_0092No real way to go but through the thorny brush. Dust rising on my trail, the wind picks up and I saunter onward. joshua-tree-wilderness_0111This is no land for man. Peak after lonely peak reveals the enormity of the path ahead.joshua-tree-wilderness_0138-2Careful foot placement avoids pain from below. Everything out here is sharp, protective and hostile – fighting for every last drop of life.joshua-tree-wilderness_0120At the end of the day, when the sun drops below the horizon and the scorching air makes peace with night a sense of comfort is found out here in the Southwestern Desert. Have a great weekend and remember to get out and enjoy some nature.

How To Make a Small Drawer

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It’s back into the woodshop for the annual ‘Make My Girlfriend Something By Hand for Her Birthday’ extravaganza. It has been a while since I have been able to do this – in the past year I had to move twice. Twice, yes both the home and the workshop. It drained the energy from my lifeblood and contributed to a period of inactivity here on the blog…but then again – I always have an excuse!

Well, this time I am going to be making a small desktop drawer that will also function as a stand to hold up her computer screen at an ergonomic height. I am by no means a well-trained woodworker, so most of my projects inevitably end up being large lessons in redoing everything from scratch. I am still learning proper wood joinery techniques, so this project will focus on a few different applications – the rabbet joint and groove, and possibly a mortise and tenon as icing on the cake.

Here’s a photo of my first mortise and tenon joint project – a small cabinet extension to make grabbing those spices nice and easy:

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The first step? Measure what’s already there to get an idea of the size this drawer needs to be. Here’s what is being used as the screen stand right now:

small-wood-drawer_0006small-wood-drawer_0007Yes, that’s a clay pig.

Measuring out the minimum size needed tells me that I need a base of 9 inches x 9 inches and height of 3.5 inches. This partially affects the size of wood I will use, since I want a functional drawer, but also need this thing to be sturdy enough to hold 20 + pounds of Apple.

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Checking my vast reserves of wood inventory – lots of scraps from the past, I found two sheets of dimensionally cut walnut a .5 x 6.75 x 69 incher for the outer box/frame, and a .25 x 5 x 48 inch for the drawer itself. Since the bigger piece doesn’t reach the full 9 inches needed for the base, I will need to add in another wood joint to connect two pieces and maintain the strength. Here goes!

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Proper footwear first! Don’t want that drill bit falling on your toe.

Of course, before I make any cuts I sketched out an overview of the piece and rudimentary measurements of the different parts including an idea of how the joints will work…all on tiny purple sticky notes. Probably not the best idea, but I am trying to get this project movin’!

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I marked my cuts, adding in about 1/8 inch between for the kerf (amount of wood removed by the blade). Got my eye protection, hearing protection (some Howard Leight ear muffs) and off to the miter saw for the first round of cross cuts.

small-wood-drawer_0018Click the link below to read the entire post…

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