The Changing Language of Photographs and the Mystery of HDR

In the last few years I’ve noticed photographs changing. They don’t reflect what is. From magazine shoots to real estate ads, there has been a change in how our world is expressed. Things are more luminescent and vibrant. More, evocative. I think what I’m seeing is HDR. That’s taking several exposures and combining them into a single image to get a better or different looking image than with one shot alone. There’s a technical definition.

“High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI) is a . . . technique used in imaging and photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than is possible with standard digital imaging or photographic techniques. The aim is to present a similar range of luminance to that experienced through the human visual system.”

So says Wikipedia. Am I alone in saying that an HDR photograph doesn’t exhibit a “similar range of luminance” to that experienced through our own eyes? Take the two photographs below. The first is what you might develop after some work on contrast and exposure in Photoshop. The second is just plain crazy. While it looks fantastic, in an over the top sort of way, it certainly doesn’t bear resemblance to what I see.

You may not have sensed this change in photography but I think its because HDR can be dialed in. It can be subtle. A photograph doesn’t have to look like a Thomas Kinkade painting, although many of them do. Check this site for some examples (external link). Although high end fashion photography can be considered a lie, what with all the processing done, as well as every copy of Playboy ever published, it’s a little disconcerting to see our everyday landscape changed.

Not every photograph has HDR, of course, perhaps just a small percentage, but enough photographers are incorporating it that I feel the earth unsteady. What is real? The photographs below are from Wikipedia, the Kinkade could have come from anywhere. At least I knew his landscapes weren’t reality.



Does this Kinkade look similar?

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Background On My Fifth Rock&Gem Article

My article on Quartzsite, Arizona is in the April issue of Rock&Gem Magazine. (external link) You can find it soon at most Barnes&Noble bookstores or you can order a copy online.

You might think I’m some sort of geologist or an advanced amateur to get published so often but I am not. I write from the standpoint of an interested, enthusiastic beginner. I learn about turquoise and garnet and mariposite as I write each article. I learn as I go and I invite the reader into what I find.

Do you have a hobby you’re interested in? If you like to write, you may want to investigate the hobby magazines that cover your field. Look what they’ve published before, develop an idea, then query the editor.

Quartzsite, Arizona is a mecca in winter for collectors of practically everything. It’s been called the World’s Largest Swap Meet. But it is particularly known to rock and gem collectors, along with people interested in fossils and jewelry. I write about the experience of spending three days there and wearing out a pair of shoes.

These young miners of High Desert Gem and Minerals (external link) sold California tourmaline, Oregon sunstone and blue chalcedony.

Exhibiting the best in organization, this vendor had all his wares arranged in alphabetical order. There were 21 items under “C” alone.

Boondocking is self-sustained camping practiced by people with recreational vehicles. These campers are at the Hi Jolly BLM camping area north of Quartzsite on I-95.

Fine artist Elizabeth Lauder (external link) created this work called Two Tree Huggers. The painting is oil on lizard skin marble.

Quartzsite is also about the stores and attractions away from the tents and temporary vendors. Look for Miners Depot when you get to town. A clearinghouse for all things related to desert prospecting.

There’s even a thousand year old tree in town. Ask any local for directions to this wonderful Ironwood tree.

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What Not to Write About

March 13th Update: I’ve decided on a word limit, probably 2,000 words, but I am also going to do a one page timeline. I’ve always liked timelines because they give you at a glance all the important parts of a story. A finished timeline may also give me a template for the actual article.


Original post below:

I’ve been reading a great deal about the Newlands Project. It was originally a Federal Reclamation Act project designed to use the waters of Lake Tahoe to irrigate north-central Nevada. I’ll need to write about it if my Nevada agriculture book goes forward.

But at every turn this writing assignment enlarges itself because the Newlands Project has been involved in controversy and courts since engineers first started moving dirt in 1903. I’ve never been faced with such a complicated story. It is an expanding balloon, seemingly limitless in size. What to do?

I think the thing to do is set a limit. Say, 2,000 words, even if that leaves the story lacking in important details. Four or five pages? The book I envision would be 200 pages, the word count perhaps 70,000 words. How much should I devote to a single story? Perhaps as I go on the problem will resolve itself. Right now I am wallowing in writing quicksand as each new detail threatens to suffocate me.

Leave me a comment below if you have ever been presented with a sidebar story so vast that it warrants its own book.

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Going to The Dogs

“And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs — and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it.” George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (external link)

So said George Orwell when he completely ran out of money. Orwell was tramping about Paris and London at the height of the Great Depression. For the vast majority of working class people there was no money left. I felt that way looking at Craigslist today.

This employer is offering one cent to three cents a word. When the goal of every writer is a dollar a word. I have worked for ten cents a word and I have been near sixty cents a word (internal link) but now?  The wage floor for writing has truly collapsed.

Note, too, that the job requires excellent research. And that they would prefer, if possible, 60 five hundred word articles each week. Perhaps if I were in Pakistan I would be happy for the work. But I’m not and I won’t work for these wages. I’ve written about the collapse of the wage floor before (internal link). And here we are again. Gone to the dogs.

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Keeping Up With the Literary Review World

I enjoy getting e-mail newsletters from Submishmash Weekly. They’re produced at These e-mail newsletters describe calls for entries, recommended reading and opportunities in the eclectic literary review community.

Topics in the most recent newsletter include deflating the cult of Shakespearean exceptionalism, the US/Mexico border as a site of artistic fruition, and poems to shiver over.

Despite the name, you’ll usually get a newsletter twice a week. I’m not sure if you need to register but if you plan to submit work to this market then signing up at Submittable is a necessary first step.

All links below are external:

“Submishmash Weekly is a weekly human-curated newsletter bringing news and opportunities in publishing and other creative industries to artists, filmmakers, and writers. If you have news you think we missed, send it to Got high-quality writing related to publishing or digital media? Consider submitting it to our blog. New readers can subscribe here. Thanks!”


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I’m not renewing my membership with (internal link). I did get some continuing work from them but for the last several months they have flooded me with e-mails about jobs I’m not qualified for.

No, I don’t speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or Tagalog. And, no, I don’t have a four year college degree. My membership profile does not list foreign language ability or any completion of college. Yet continued to send me notices about jobs requiring either one or both.

Despite this unhappiness, and this may sound contradictory, I still think they are the best freelance site out there. They curate their listings really well and the jobs listed there are legitimate.

If you have the time to manually search their listings every few days then you should consider their service. If you don’t have that time, if you need to rely on their e-mail referrals, save your money.

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The Background on My Fourth Rock&Gem Article

It’s out! My article “The Meaning of Mariposite” has been published by Rock&Gem Magazine. Available soon at booksellers like Barnes&Noble or you can order it in hardcopy here. (external link). A digital download is also available.

In late November last year I went back to California to help with horse sitting duties at an Amador County ranch. I traveled through the southern and central Mother Lode to get there. Along the way I investigated outcroppings and stories of mariposite, a rock said to sometimes contain gold.

As a longtime prospector I was eager to learn more about it, a potential ore I had no experience with. My prospecting has been confined to the northern Mother Lode and mariposite does not figure greatly there.

I found that mariposite could be ore, but it was most often lacking in gold. Instead, the green laced rock is principally used for lapidary work and as an ornamental stone in building projects.

I took several photographs and I also collected the story of a geologist who argues the California gold rush started with mariposite. But to find out more you’ll have to read the article.

Here are some photos that didn’t make the article:


Mariposite outcropping near Coulterville, CA.


Pig fashioned from mariposite. (My collection)


Polished slab of mariposite rock. (My collection)


Dials Rock Shop. 4006 State Highway 140 Catheys Valley, California. Talk to Mike. He’s good peoples.


Ebay photo showing gold in mariposite.



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