John Batdorff. Book Review, “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”

February 6, 2012 - photography

There have been a few perks to writing this blog. Many connections have been made with individuals that are interesting, talented, and sometimes inspirational.  The people perks are the best but there have been a few damned fine freebies in the way of software (Lightroom for instance) and books. Some of the people connections have been with authors who realized I could write a halfway decent review for them if they comped me an autographed copy.  A few were right in that presumption, but mostly the books never escaped the box before getting the boot to Goodwill (of which I’m a huge fan).

 John Batdorff's Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Self-help books have a difficult time clamoring into my reading stack. It’s not that I don’t want to improve. I do. But it’s hard to execute from a recliner. Or with my ass bolted to a truck on some American backroad. 

A friend astutely summed it up, “improvement takes a lot of energy.” No shit. It’s one of those ply you in the face truths whose full impact is only grasped when enough birthdays have passed.

The friend, a baker, had worked herself into the landing gears up position for a rant. “It’s simply a truth like fruit isn’t a real dessert. Or church is not church unless someone thrusts a stick of gum at you.” 

My last conversation with John Batdorff, one of the interesting, talented, AND inspirational connections I’ve made, went like this: “I’ve got to photograph the wedding of a nephew as a favor and there’s no natural light. I don’t even own a flash. Any tips?”  John replied “rent the flash, speak to the Pastor about positioning during the ceremony, and remember to turn the flash back on after you’ve turned it off.”  He’s a lot like my baker friend – they speak in truths that slash right to the good stuff. 


When I opened John’s autographed book “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”, it was three months before I worked up the energy to flip the pages. But only one evening of page turning and highlighting to complete it.

You shouldn’t bother with this book unless you really do want to expend the energy to improve your black and whites or pry your butt from the recliner over and over. It’s not a read-and-put-away book. It’s one of those rare outputs from a pro photographer that shares not only useful insights and tips but plops you in the action of their workflow – which I’ve struggled with; oh how I’ve struggled. 


John begins with a peek into his equipment bag. Real pictures of the crap he hauls around. An order with B&H was the first reason I left the recliner. Something must be crooked on me because my horizons are always askew. The bubble level pictured in the book solved my problem. I didn’t know such a thing existed. And The LensPen – you need one of these too. The order halted when I got to the ND filter. Geez I’ve experimented with long exposures with very few satisfactory results. Okay none. Now I know why. The neutral density filter is another must have. But not cheap. It’ll have to wait.

Back in the recliner I get to the part about post-processing software – namely Lightroom.  I’ve got Lightroom! Still in the freebie box however because I just can’t make myself learn yet another software program (or social networking site), I get out of the recliner again to open the damned box. John raves about the program, convincing me finally that it’ll be the last major workflow change I make. Even before I load the software I know he’s right. I’ve fought against moving away from Camera Raw/Bridge. It was a gallant fight but if I want my photography to reach the next rung, Lightroom must be conquered.

Histograms?!  Shit. Another rocking back and forth to extract myself from the recliner to fetch of all things, my camera. I could feel the strain in my thighs that time.

Histograms smack of bell curves, financial analysis – things I know something about. Yuck. So I’ve steered clear of them almost as vehemently as Lightroom. He takes you step by step through a histogram. It’s a rather useful thing.  Looking for a U-curve is something I’ll be doing from now on. It’s the opposite of a bell curve. Which makes me a fan.

And shooting with intent. Well that’s a biggie. You know it is. Although John doesn’t say a pro shoots with intent and an amateur doesn’t, that’s exactly what he means. And even if you have no goal to become a pro in the sense of money exchanged for services, if you’re serious about your photography you’ve got to have enough knowledge about the photographic process to shoot with intent. The only way to shoot with intent is to know what the hell a histogram indicates. Okay and a few other things like exposure, composition, framing, contrast. All of which he covers in a very readable voice. 

John’s a rule breaker, which contributes to my being a fan of his work. He refers to keeping all the rules in your head as “paralysis of analysis”.  I agree. And that paralysis hits me in the “darkroom” as well as on site. I begin viewing a likeable image and mentally start breaking down over what should be lighter, darker, what shadow detail I should worry about, the highlight details that may be blown out, etc. A lot of great shots never get the deserved attention because I’m too overwhelmed with analyzing the image. He takes us by the hand and walks through all of that utilizing Lightroom – all the way through printing and/or sharing the image online.

What about watermarks? I said in the beginning that this is a book for those photographers desirous of taking the craft to the next level.  That means branding our images.

I want to deter theft.  I’m not a pro but nothing makes me angrier than to see one of my images used elsewhere without credit. If I got the image to the point I was willing to share it, that means I put some time into it and thieving assholes should be lashed for lifting it. In order to save myself from a stroke at the next infraction, I read the part in the book about watermarks, lifted my trembling thighs once again from the recliner, became a Digimarc customer, and followed John’s directions for use. 

There are assignments at the end of every chapter. But geez that would have meant a full work-out.

Fun things in the book I didn’t know but should have: 1) photographing the sun or other lighting sources with a high f-stop will result in a starburst effect and 2) since I shoot in RAW, I can have my camera display in monochrome and still capture all the color information too.  Very cool.

You’re ready for the truth and someone worthy of delivering it in a way that makes you want to pry from the recliner? Then get John Batdorff’s book: Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots (click here for link to Amazon page). 

Can you say Virtual Copies??


John Batdorff is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer who splits his time between Chicago and Montana. His black and white images have been featured in the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  See his work and read his popular photography blog at: John Batdorff Photography Blog

John, thank you for the wedding photography advise. I followed it. And I’ll never photograph another wedding. Ever.  — Tammie


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Persimmon Prediction Winter 2011-2012

Before it dumps a foot or more of snow, rendering my prediction moot, you should know the persimmon seeds indicate another white winter even though we didn’t have a white Christmas AND today’s temp may reach 60 degrees. Ignore those facts and pull out the snow melt, shovel, and Yukon-duty boots.  According to these we’re going to need them…

All Spoons

2011 Persimmon Seed Sample

Eighteen seeds from six fruit were split and nothing but spoons showed themselves. It’s also interesting to note only one utensil was found in each fruit. In other words regardless how many seeds a particular fruit held, the same utensil was in all of them.

2011 Persimmon Seed

The Farmer’s Almanac Blog gives the possible utensil discoveries and their prediction for the coming winter: “A knife shape will indicate a cold, icy winter (wind cuts through you like a knife). A fork shape indicates a mild winter. A spoon shape stands for a shovel to dig out all the snow.”

Naysayer?  Don’t believe a wet head or bare feet will make you catch cold or that Vicks rubbed somewhere on your body can’t cure winter ills?  Check out this scientific data before you laugh too loud: But First, Persimmons.

Other persimmon related posts:

A Spoon In My Persimmon

A Big Fat Persimmon Lie

Panforte and Persimmons: Road Trip Discoveries

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

But First, Persimmons

This is not the post I expected to write. It’s been awhile and maybe the cogs really do get rusty with abstinence. The reacquaintance with the keyboard brought visions of words that would convey the hum of warmth from the low slung New Mexican sun, the scrubbed clean scent of the juniper warmed by it, and the exaltation at the long shadowed, iconic Western images favored by it.  But it all became abstract and elusive when I sat down.

I did take the long-awaited solo road trip. You know the favored Fall one that starts with a bit of fear my running away may be permanent and ends with a proud shot of the trip odometer? It was a stellar trip from beginning to the 2,500+ mile end. And Arizona got into the mix this time.

But first, persimmons.  They’re the fruit of the gods you know.  I love the twig cross bar – beautiful and reminiscent of Asian pottery jars (the fruit originated in China).

There are several varieties, but most have this distinctive (and very memorable) quality – the unripened fruit is so high in tannins, your mouth will be welded shut upon the slightest nibble of the unripened fruit (technically a berry). It’s a common joke pulled on unsuspecting southern children, who will in almost all instances eat anything. Captain John Smith described them best: “If it not be ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awire with much torment. But when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.”  What’s not to love about a fruit this complex?

Wild Persimmon

The seeds – about the size of a watermelon seed – are hard as a hammer and slick as black ice (I compared this characteristic to snot last year). They protect a translucent white center that cradles a very distinct cooler-than-cool utensil.

If you manage to split one perfectly without blood tainting the lucite center and an ensuing trip to the emergency room, you’ll see something like this:

A Spoon In My Persimmon.

This was from two years ago, but it’s onehelluva perfect split (thank you Dooley McGyver). And not a bad shot.  Great light will do that.

The Farmer’s Almanac Blog gives the possible utensil discoveries and their prediction for the coming winter: “A knife shape will indicate a cold, icy winter (wind cuts through you like a knife). A fork shape indicates a mild winter. A spoon shape stands for a shovel to dig out all the snow.”

I’ve wondered about finding a spork.

This is last year’s seed samples.  There were several spoons as well, but none worth photographing. And these were hard earned so if you don’t clearly see a knife, use your imagination.

Accuracy so far?  Here’s the winter associated with the perfect spoon above:

Winter 2009-2010

And here’s the winter associated with last year’s knife:

Winter 2010-2011

So far for the two years I’ve been tracking this older than Methuselah harbinger, there have been only spoons and knives. Not a single fork (mild winter predictor) have my eyes seen.

So how about this year?  The wild persimmons are abundant on my parents’ ranch. The tree was a real beauty dripping with the unripened fruit – a color I mentioned in a previous post that was so glorious fashion designers would need a brown paper bag.  Deer were camping out around it waiting for the fruit to ripen and fall. Not really.

Here’s my “take” from the recent persimmon gathering treasure hunt – a turtle shell and a fossil.  Almost as thrilling as the year I found a perfect arrowhead.

the annual persimmon sample

The seed you ask?  What’s the cute little utensil in the seeds of this year’s crop?  The turtle shell has protected them until this weekend. I’ll be splitting and photoing and baking a new recipe with them, so you’ll just have to check back.

Want to read more about this ancient compact jewel?  Here are three previous posts.

A Spoon In My Persimmon

A Big Fat Persimmon Lie

Panforte and Persimmons: Road Trip Discoveries


Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.


I promise

September 19, 2011 - Personal Journal

Dear God,

It’s been a very long hot oppressive (expletive deleted) summer. Which of course I [mostly] don’t blame You for despite the slips of tongue I committed over the summer that might have included Your name.

Based on centuries of precedence, relief is just around the corner in the form of cooler temperatures at which time any hard feelings for the horrid summer will be completely forgotten – I promise. And with those dreamy breezes that tickle my skin causing the giddy thought of a jacket, my annual long-as-I-want-to-roam SRT that rejuvenates, liberates, and solidly reconnects me to life’s priorities comes as a bonus. At which time I will thank You profusely and attempt once again to refrain from the bad language I’m so given to. I swear it’s genetic if that helps any.

Looking forward to our special reconnect,


Beyond Hot

August 3, 2011 -- Beyond Hot

August 31, 2011 - the 45th day over 100 degrees


Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

An Interview of SRT by Smart Computing Magazine

Blaine Flamig, a writer for Smart Computing Magazine is a SRT fan. I realize the magazine is an unlikely one to feature road trips but there’s a rule that says never turn down an opportunity to spread the word, assuming you have one. I do. So I did. Besides, geeks and nerds drive don’t they??

When I’d worn thin the pages with my interview and got enough coffee rings on the first copy to need the second copy, I finally turned over a few other pages and was pleasantly surprised at the usefulness of the content For instance, the article “What To Do When Your PC is Slow” resulted in my trashing the Sony PC and getting a Mac. “Cloud Backup – How it Works, Why It’s Safe”, saw Carbonite becoming my new best friend. Although I have to add, they are slow slow slow. The initial backup of the new Mac took several weeks – no kidding. I no longer needed the article “Sync Your PC & Mac”, because I no longer had a PC, but “Erase Your Hard Drive”, stepped up in importance for the PC that now sat sullen on the floor,  haughtily held all my secrets in the world. There were more articles that dead-eyed ‘inquiring minds want to know’, but I never got past the titles – figured one more unusual charge and the credit card company would be calling to see what the hell I was up to.

Either I’m a sucker and extremely susceptible to suggestion or the magazine is a mind reader for those of us who know just enough to be dangerous with everything IT, but have lingering questions that no one else seems to address.

SRT in Smart Computing Magazine

The interview:

Smart Computing – Tell us about the blog’s origins.

SRT: I’ve always wanted to call myself a writer and not laugh and stutter while saying it. So I figured a blog would give me reason enough to finally apply the description with a straight face.   Having spent 40 years dreaming about travel and exploration, I married a man with some means and realized the road trip travel style I thought had been a necessity due to limited funds, was instead my preference.  When that nugget of truth surfaced, the blog gained a platform and I, a voice.  I must confess however that I did upgrade my travel vehicle from a front wheel drive 1993 Mazda MX-6 (just enough clearance to not be a turtle killer), to a new Onstar equipped, heated seats, 4-wheel drive Yukon.  It doesn’t shudder when I take it places we really shouldn’t be.

Smart Computing – What draws you to traveling and to solo road trips in particular?

SRT: Dreams. And an early understanding the people who lived just down our dirt road lived much different lives (and I wanted to know how and why).  Well that’s what drew me to travel in general. The solo road trips were born during the hard charging years of 60+ hour weeks in the financial services industry – retail with an ego.  What initially began as a way to cope and survive evolved into a passion.  Heaped on top of the high stress work, I’m a people pleaser. I think some of us are predisposed to be people pleasers and that’s not something you can escape by leaving a career. And I don’t think that label is reserved to women. The only way to escape the cursed fussing over others is to separate ourselves completely.

Short of becoming a hermit, a periodic unplugging from that predisposition is an intoxicating, rejuvenating breath of air that no amount of money can buy. Blog readers have asked me about taking a dog for a companion because they can’t fathom being totally alone.  Of course I couldn’t care less if you want to take a dog. But I will tell you the experience will be completely different. The liberation of making decisions on the fly, as fast as the brain can process, unfettered by the diplomatic process of asking what someone/something wants to eat, see, do, and when, is something everyone should experience once.

About the whole you-go-on-solo-road-trips-so-you-can-do-things-you-wouldn’t-do-at-home, you know the ‘what happens on the road stays on the road’?  Afraid not. Diane Arbus, the famed photographer took that tact, and she wasn’t a very happy person. I’m a fan of her work, but if I’d ever had the opportunity to speak with her I would have strongly advised against the sex with strangers on Greyhound buses. I go on SRTs as a release from being gracious and interested (always sincerely – it’s part of the curse of being a people pleaser).  I don’t want to create any new ties, have any appointments, no one to see on the return trip, lunches with friends, time targets to meet, some strange someone knowing where I’m headed, who I am, etc.. I go to shed myself if only for a tiny, but perfect slice of time.

Smart Computing – Has the blog turned out to be what you originally intended?

SRT: Of course not. I had no original intention anyway, really.  It’s become more impassioned towards road trip travel than I’d originally foreseen. My own beliefs toward travel, road trips, solitude, discovery, have been not surprisingly, honed by the exercise of writing down my thoughts.  The blog has gained focus over time. I’ve become the purveyor of the road trip revolution, at least in my own mind. I believe it’s possible to travel on a walk to the local grocery store. I don’t subscribe to the notion there’s a difference between travelers and tourists and personally feel that entire argument arose from the arrogance of those travelers looking down their noses at those on tour coaches, exiting en masse with cameras in hand. Those who gag on the word tourist couldn’t travel down their own street and do it well.

Smart Computing – What has the reaction been in general to the blog?

SRT: Excellent. Surprising. Unexpected. I’ve been published because of the blog. Had a book deal and movie rights purchased.  NOT. Writing opportunities have however come my way. Being a writer? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Hard work, low pay, nothing glamorous.  It’s interesting to hear the comments about how afraid people are to travel alone, to be alone, to drive off into the sunset alone.  Again, I’m not talking solely about women. The “I really want to do this but I’m afraid to do this alone” is something I hear more from men than women.  It surprised me too.

We’ve become so plugged-in the connections have morphed into chains. Now we don’t know what to do with the gorgeous sunset when there’s no one to text, no one to email, no one to speak to next to us. The power to self entertain may be the greatest death of our technological advancements.


Here’s the full blurb about SRT that appeared in the magazine’s monthly feature: “That’s News to You.”


Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

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The Grand Climb


Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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