Friday, August 6, 2010

Ajax Saturdays

Pink Orchid on White
Most days begins like any other. I wake up and saunter slowly down the stairs to my beloved coffee pot where the caffeinated catalyst that jumpstarts my day awaits me. On weekdays, I’m out the door by the second cup of coffee and on my way to the office where I slowly finish waking up. But on the weekends, I generally find myself tooling around the house, wondering what I will do with the day. Here in Maine summers are short, which is the perfect excuse for getting out of the house. I could go down to the harbor, the beach, take a cool ride in the country, anything. It’s the weekend!!!

But as the coffee kicks in and the cobwebs in my head disappear, It dawns on me that all week long, no…strike that….all month long, parts of my house have been seriously neglected and are in need of a good cleaning. No problem! I’ll just tidy up around the house and let myself off the hook. With that thought, I gulp down the rest of my coffee, but as I do I see the reflection of my own eyes and nose glaring back at me from the inside the bottom of the cup. Seeing myself at the bottom of the coffee cup is like seeing my conscious, and it’s giving me a dirty look. Almost immediately I hear my mother’s fills my head, “if you’re going to do something, do it right” Rats!! I hate it when my sense of responsibility overrides my sense of ‘eh, who cares’. Welcome to Ajax Saturday!

I have many fond happy memories of my childhood. Ajax Saturdays are not amongst them. My dear mother, famous for her spontaneous and ambitious cleaning streaks, was and still is the best example I had when it came to cleaning house. Of course when your 15, you’ve got better things to do on a Saturday morning, or at least that’s what I would tell her. Sadly, that argument never did get me very far. Resistance was futile with mom, and if I complained, there was always the garage that needed cleaning. So with a half hearted smile and a murmur under my breath, I would accept my list of recently invented chores from mom, scribbled on the back of a half torn, coffee stained white envelope, or some piece other scrap of paper. Those days became known as Ajax Saturdays, the days when things didn’t just get cleaned, they got Ajax cleaned.

Let’s take the refrigerator for instance. Any other day of the week, one of us kids might wash down the outside of the fridge, or maybe wipe up some unidentified muck stuck to the shelves inside. But on Ajax Saturdays, this simple cleaning just would not do. Ajax Saturdays meant taking all the food out of the refrigerator, then all the shelves. Next, mom had us fetch a great big bucket of hot soapy water which would be used to douse the entire inside of the fridge. If there were parts that just wouldn’t come clean, out came a tall can of Ajax. The stains always came off. While all of this was going on, the glass shelves would be soaking in the bathtub, a combination of dish soap and Ajax in the hot water. Oh, and since the fridge was empty we might as well pull it out from the wall so we could vacuum and mop back behind it. Say your prayers dust bunnies! Mom’s got the ShopVac out and she’s not afraid to use it!

I don’t know where we came up with the term Ajax Saturday, or if we even came up with it at all. It’s just always ‘sorta been there, a part of my childhood. I guess it probably stems from how we approached household cleaning projects. It didn’t matter if it was the tub, the toilet, or the fridge; there was simply nothing a can of Ajax and some elbow grease couldn’t tackle. To this day, the smell of that cleaning agent always takes me back to bright sunny Saturday mornings as a kid. While my friends came and knocked on the door beckoning me to come out and play, I’d be checking items off my chore list, silently praying that the Ajax would run out before I got to the bottom of it. My mom took great pride in the appearance of her kitchen and her house, and she still does today.

This past weekend, with drier, cooler air moving into Maine, I found myself strangely invigorated, you might even say excited. I’ve been wanting to clean my front porch for months now. The weather was perfect, so out came the big bucket filled with steamy hot water, lots of soap and a couple of big brushes to get the job done. A couple hours later, water droplets still quietly dribbling off the freshly washed vinyl porch ceiling, a sense of accomplishment fell over me. The vinyl siding, once dingy and dirty from years of accumulated dust, now looked brand new.

Mission accomplished.

Perhaps this is the feeling my mom had when she put all the food back into the refrigerator. That feeling that comes from knowing you did a good job, a complete and thorough job. Now her entire family can enjoy the fruits of her labor; she knew for a fact that there are no science projects growing amongst the potato salad, no penicillin inside that two year old jar of applesauce. In fact, the slight smell of Ajax coming from the refrigerator meant it was clean, which also meant it was healthy.

I never did like Ajax Saturdays. I always knew that there would be some cleaning project waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs when I woke up on Saturday mornings, but in hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. It taught me doing a good job either at my secular job, or just cleaning my front porch, a job worth doing is worth doing well, a virtue I hope to instill in my kids. But over the years, I come to appreciate that once you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do; the relaxation you enjoy later seems sweeter, well deserved. So Saturday afternoon, after cleaning my porch I went into my studio, and worked on another project, this one more of a personal nature. I set out to create a portrait of some flowers on a clean white background, an image I would soon use for stock photography. The beautiful pink Orchid you see here was shot on a white background to isolate the subject (the flower and stem). In photography, it’s known as an isolated image.
For my mom, who instilled a good work ethic in me by setting the example of how to do things right, I love you, and thank you.

The clean white background of this image was possible due to the abundant amounts of studio lighting used, but I’d bet if I had to, a can of Ajax could accomplish the same thing.
Kevin Kratka

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wanna Ride Bikes?

I have this friend Garrett. Awesome guy, the kind of friend who would give you the shirt off his back. His last shirt.

One of the many things Garrett and I have in common is we both struggle with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (AADD). One day Garrett turns to me and asks:
hey Kev, how many ADD kids does it take to screw in a light bulb?’.
I pause for second to think of an answer, but I’ve hardly digested the question when Garrett abruptly blurts out the answer:
Wanna ride bikes? Bwwaaahahahahaha!!!’ 

Never before has a silly joke so perfectly described an aspect of my personality. My poor parents; to think, they had to put up with me as a child who thought and acted just like that.

As a father of three children, (two of which also have ADD) I think I can imagine what my mom and dad must have dealt with when I was a child. Yikes! I’m can’t believe I’m still alive! (kidding!)

Looking For Inspiration
I’m in the early stages of a project whereas I want to create a visual representation that conveys the impact the BP Gulf Disaster has had, is having and has yet to have on the environment, the economy and the people who live and work in the affected areas. 
As I poke around the ‘net looking for inspiration, I see something that catches my eye. It’s an image of a broken light bulb, and it’s smoking! How cool is that! Wait, even better…how did they do that? 

The ADD takes over.

Right away, I’m on the phone with my wife, who’s out doing errands. She agrees to bring home about 5 packages of light bulbs of various wattages, and some safety goggles.

That’s strange, she didn’t even inquire as to why I wanted those things. Hmmm…she’s either afraid to ask, or just assumes it’s for a photo project. Either way, I’m getting my stuff.

To The Bat Cave Robin!
This is clearly a project for the studio, but first it needs cleaning. I get that done just as my wife - and the bulbs - show up. About this time, the kids have become increasingly curious. Dad has light bulbs all lined up on the desk, and….he’s breaking them?

If you decide to try this, do so carefully. Sharp glass and human skin do not bode well together, and the bulbs break with a sudden ‘pop’, sending little fragments in different directions. Thus the goggles. <wink>
With broken light bulbs ready, I grab a clamp light and , uh, clamp it to a tripod. I connect the light to a switched outlet for safety, and start the job of pre focusing the camera, and wild guessing the settings. It’s trial and error at this stage as I’ve never attempted something like this.

Twenty minutes and four burned out bulbs later, I’m starting to finally get the idea of the best settings. The studio is starting to smell a little odd from all the smoke, and I start to wonder if that smoke is safe to be breathing. My ADD rescues me from that thought, and I’m ready to fire off some additional shots. These will be the ones that come out the best. I can just feel it.

The whole project takes me about an hour from start to finish, and I’m pleased with the results. Turns out, I neglected to make a note of which broken bulb was which wattage, so It’s just a guess that the 60 watt bulbs worked the best because they burned longer, allowing for more frames. There were some that burned very quickly, so I assume those were the 40 watt bulbs. Perhaps I will try 100 watt or even higher next time.

First off, I’m a closet pyromaniac. Well, at least I used to be until that last sentence. If something needs to be burned, I’m the first to volunteer. Add photography to the mix and I can hardly contain myself.  Purposely burning out light bulbs is strangely fun and fascinating. There’s no noise, and the smoke appears to dance above the glowing filament, if only for a few seconds, and then it’s gone.

The final image, (above) needed some color to make it more appealing visually, so I added the red hue in post. Other than that, the image you see came out of the camera that way. There, I did it: I got my picture of the burning bulb. Now I can put that project to rest. And while I’m still working on the visual-conceptual imagery for the BP disaster unfolding in the Gulf, I had fun going down the bunny trail that led me today’s image.

If you should try this project, I’d love to see your results. And if you do attempt to do this, please be careful around the electricity and the glass.

Thanks for stopping by, now go take some pictures!
Kevin Kratka

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Would you like fries with that?


 It was inevitable.

No matter how much I tried to ignore it, pretend it wasn’t happening, it was. My first born son was growing up. And today I have taken a picture that will help tell his story for years to come. He starts his new job at McDonalds on Wednesday, and this, as they say, is just the beginning. 

Austin, (left) was born premature, and came into this world a mere 2.8lbs. On the day of his birth, one of the doctors performing an emergency C-Section on my wife in an effort to save both of their lives was not keen on me bringing my camera into the operating room. Once he saw it, he told me to put it away. So I did, but not before taking a quick reading thru the built in light meter, pre focusing on (roughly) the area where I thought our baby would emerge, and then respectfully placing my 1968 Minolta SRT200 SLR on a small accessory table just behind me.

After what seemed like an eternity, all the voices in the operating room, the noises made from the equipment and the clanging of surgical tools being dropped into stainless steel bowls…all of that, slowly faded into silence as the words ‘it’s a boy’ came from the masked doctor, holding the baby in his hands.  This little miracle, a little boy, so tiny, so teeny, he was the reason why everybody was in the operating room that day. It was because he decided to come into this world 8 weeks ahead of schedule.

He was beautiful, and I just had to have my picture.

Like Jackie Chan reaching for a mop head and a broom to fend off the bad guys, I quickly and precisely reached for and grabbed my SLR, aimed, adjusted, and fired.

< CLICK! > The mechanical sound of the cameras shutter gave me away. The very doctor holding my newborn son was now yelling at me to put the camera down, and in the same sentence and breath, ordering the nearest nurse to put that camera out of reach of the over- excited new father. I heard him, but his voice was so distant. All I could think of was that our son was born, he was here, he was really here, and he was…squeaking (versus crying) because of his size. I got my son, I got my picture. Mission accomplished. I tried not to let the doctor see me smirking behind my surgical mask.

That was 15 years ago, and today my young man asked me to photograph him in his snazzy new McDonald’s Uniform. His first job, his first real pay check, his first of many firsts yet to come.

So out comes the camera, out comes the lights, the extension cords, the light stands and we start shooting. I later learned that his idea of me ‘taking his picture in his uniform’ was simple snapshot, nothing fancy. Yea right, like that’s going to happen!

But this got me thinking; sometimes there are things that we simply must do in our lives, and for those things, we have to do them ‘our way’

For starters, taking pictures of the ones we love. Those times with your family are precious, so take those pictures the best way you know how and own that moment.

Secondly, make every moment count with the ones you love, because each moment that passes is just another moment you can never relive. Like that day in October, 1994, when Austin was born. The doctor had told me not to take any pictures, but the way I saw it, it was not his moment, it was my moment, my wife’s moment, this was Austin’s moment. That’s 3 against 1. Sorry Doc, but I had to get my picture.

It was inevitable.


 Kevin Kratka

Monday, May 31, 2010

Photo Exercise: Showing the Sun who’s boss

I couldn’t believe the weather this morning; 52 degrees under nearly clear blue skies. I say nearly because there is a huge forest fire raging about 250 miles away, (somewhere called ‘Canada’) and copious amounts of smoke are drifting into Maine.
No matter. The skies, the (mostly) fresh air, the Sunshine….all perfect. This is spring time in Maine at it’s finest, and almost immediately, my mind turns to photography.
Generally speaking, the worst possible time to take an outside picture of a person is when the skies are clear, and Sun is overhead. Strong, sharp shadows develop under the nose and chin, people start squinting, blue skies can get washed out, the list goes on. In short, it ain’t pretty. 

Solution? Fill flash. But I know what your already thinking…’no problem! My camera has a built in flash!’
The problem(s) with your camera’s built in flash is that it’s not nearly powerful enough to overpower the Sun (unless your about an inch from your subjects face, and who wants to see that!) in addition, most onboard camera flashes are positioned either directly above your cameras lens, or slightly off center. Either way, it’s a prescription for an unflattering, flat lighting pattern. Besides, what’s the fun in a simple on board flash?
My thoughts exactly… 

Beating the Sun at it’s own game: Off Camera Strobes
Today was a perfect day to demonstrate how to use off-camera lighting to fill in those bad boy shadows. The basic idea was to front- light my subject enough so that, hopefully, the light falling on him would be balanced with the ambient light around him. As an added bonus, doing it right means  we won’t wash out the details in the background.  And speaking of backgrounds, today's background was the beautiful and picturesque Rockport Harbor, in  Rockport, Maine. My victim subject was my son Austin. And his guitar.
To light my subject, I placed two portable, battery powered strobes, mounted on light stands,  and  just off camera; one to the subjects left, and one almost directly in front of him. Each strobe is fired remotely using Cybersync Radio Triggers (which, by the way, are awesome). The lack of wires allows complete freedom of movement for both the photographer and the strobes. 

I instructed Austin to look at the strobe in front of him, which would guarantee his face was evenly illuminated, while the strobe to his left would help to fill in most or all of the shadows on that side of him. After a couple of test shots, we nailed it. Of course, I can’t leave things well enough alone, so the images were processed in Photoshop and then ran through a Topaz Labs filter to give it some style. I love the end results. So did Austin. And his guitar.

It should be mentioned that while portable strobes can be fired into bounce umbrellas or into ‘shoot-through’' white umbrellas, I decided to instead go with the ‘bare bulb’ approach. What this means is that there is nothing between the front of the flash head and the subject. No diffusers, no umbrellas, nothing. The reason for this was two fold. 

First, I actually tried the shoot thru umbrella at the start of the shoot. The light ended up being too soft, which, at least in my opinion, did not look right, at least not with my subject anyways. Now, had my subject been a pretty girl in a wedding dress, that would be an entirely different story. 

Secondly, let’s face it: the all powerful Sun rules the roost, and overpowering the Sun on a day like today requires tons of light. And since I’m a poor photographer who can’t afford the really fancy lights, the kind that are so bright you end up with a tan,  I,  uh, choose instead to use bare bulb portable strobes. 

Reason #154 for always having a camera with you
In the middle of all this, just off camera, two young men were making the most of the warm Spring  day by taking a dip in the Rockport Harbor’s clear waters. As soon as I heard the splash I knew I had to get a picture of these guys. They were all too happy to demonstrate their pier-diving skills, and with the help of the wireless radio triggers on my strobe, and while holding the light stand away from the pier and pointed up at the boys,  I was able to light them from below as they were freefalling into the cool Maine waters. Thanks guys!  

This overview was brief, and since we forgot the ‘docu-camera’ at home, I don’t have any ‘behind the scene’ shots showing the setup. (My bad. Next time, ‘k?)

If you should attempt this basic off-camera strobe technique, I’d love to see your results.
Thanks for stopping by…

Kevin Kratka

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer arrives with a splash (well…almost)

I had just pulled an ice-cold Shipyard Summer Ale out of the fridge in celebration of  the latest version of PC Linux that I was getting ready to install on the kids computer. When all of a sudden, like a couple of undersized ninjas, my 6 and 11 year olds show up out of nowhere. For a second, they stare at me, then, with voices in such unison that they would put a boys choir to shame, they say, ‘Dad, can you setup the Slip-N-Slide for us? PLEEEEAAAASSSSSEEEE?

How can I say no to that? Tux can wait.


And so it is in late spring here in Maine: the kids hear some birds singing, they notice a few buds on the Maple trees, and all of a sudden… Summer is here!!! 

Or is it? 

Living in Maine, one gets used to the fact that Summers are short. Too short. And even though the wireless thermometer on my dining room wall reads 72 degrees outside, that stiff ocean breeze makes it feel much cooler. And these kids want to do what? I guess I can’t blame them, I mean, after all, it was a long, cold winter. Long. And cold.

Did I mention it was a long and cold winter? Um…I digress..

So out comes the Slip-N-Slide. Brand new. Reny’s $5.00. In 10 minutes we have it laid out in the back yard, the garden hose hooked up and turned on, and I’m keep my distance ‘cause the last thing I want today is to get wet.

But wait! What am I think! There’s going to be ample picture opportunities here!!

Out comes the camera and the portable strobes and wireless triggers. Smile for daddy and make a big splash!

While the 6 and 11 year old quickly realized that cold water and a stiff breeze equals Brrrrrrrrrrrrr….my 15 year old didn’t seem to mind at all, and with a running start, he made his father proud by doing a face plant right into the little pool at the end of the Slip-N-Slide.

Perhaps this is a glimpse of what the rest of the summer season may hold; water, Sun, fun and tons of photo opportunities. However long (or short) your summer may be where you live, be sure to enjoy it, and whatever you do….don’t forget your camera!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving forward

It’s been 22 years since I picked up my first 35mm SLR. I remember it well, a Minolta SRT200. A well made, heavy, aluminum and die-cast metal workhorse. My parents had bought it used and gave it to me on graduation from high school. The camera was made in 1968, and had a dent in the aluminum housing.

That event changed my Horse HDR life. I didn’t know how to use it yet, but that simple no thrills camera and the humble 50/f1.8 lens that came with it taught me so much.

Because I could never afford a different lens, that first prime lens helped me to learn how to zoom with my feet, which forced me to get right into the scene with my subjects. I learned about exposure and shutter speed. I still had no concept of depth of field, and I had no idea that that simple 50mm lens was ideal for portraits.

This year, 2010, I move forward. Digital technology has taken the world of photography and turned it on its ear. No more wondering if that picture we just took will come out right. Instead, we shoot, review, delete it or keep it, and repeat. This year, I hope to turn my love for photography in a business. My hope is that I can produce beautiful pictures for people, enough so that they will actually pay me to do so. First and foremost, I’m in love with the final image, regardless of the subject matter. Well, mostly anyways.

If your a follower of this blog, you will see a wide range of imagery that I like to produce. Portraits, Experimental pictures, Stock imagery, Scenic, Light Painting, HDR, the list goes on. I’m not exactly interested in just one My First Cameratype of image, but rather, most of them. And just how many are there? That’s the best part….nobody really knows. The list keeps growing as does our creative nature.

My heartfelt thanks for being a reader of my blog. I love sharing what I do. This blog is kinda like that first SLR I had so many years ago; it’s new, it cool, and most of all,  it’s a start.

But unlike the dent in the aluminum housing of my first camera, I hope to make a virtual dent, so to speak, in my goals. A goal of expanding my creative nature and using it to benefit others and to benefit my family 

The natural question is, where will I be in the next 22 years? Only time will tell.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A new blog template calls for a new test post. Here we go.....

This is a test post. Juuuuuuuusssssst a test post. Had this been a real post, it would actually be interesting to read. Instead, it's painfully boring.

 Except for the pictures of course!

Exhibit 1. This beautiful girl is my daughter, Kaitlynn. She loves her daddy, but usually runs away when she see's him picking up his camera. Today was a good day, she actually posed for me. Thanks Kaitlynn!!! Love ya!!

Exhibit 2 - My oldest son, Austin. The man loves his guitar. This particular guitar he is holding is actually about 35 years old, and plays great. It was given to him by a friend of ours.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

A new year....a new look.

No. Your not lost. You have arrived at the new home page for Kratka Photography.

For 2010, I’ve decided to revamp my website to coincide with my new business model. Starting this year, Kratka Photography will now be offering both family and corporate photography services. It’s my hope that by expanding the types of services available, my business will grow in multiple directions, allowing me to apply my skills and creative talents in multiple arenas.
To summarize, the follow services are now available…

On location Family Portrait Session (we come to you!!)

What this means:

Do you live in Maine, or perhaps your visiting? Either way, your here, and you love the scenery that yells “Hello from Maine!!!” . Ever thought about a family portrait with your favorite vacation spot in the background? Kratka Photography will setup on location at your favorite destination and professionally capture you and your family with your favorite scene in the background. That’s right…your favorite location; your summer home, your camp. Make your next family portrait the best ever!

On location corporate imagery

What this means:
You need that perfect headshot picture for your business cards, and that picture of you that Uncle Bob took of you at your last family reunion just doesn’t cut no matter how much you photoshop it. Solution? Let Kratka Photography provide you with exactly what you need. Our professional photographer will work with you to help make your vision a reality. The next time someone looks at your business card, the image they see of you will convey that extra level of confidence and professionalism your clients expect from you. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Corporate imagery sessions tend to be shorter than conventional family portrait sessions. Therefore our prices are very competitive, we even offer group rates so you and your executive associates can cash in on the same session.

Journalistic & Photo Assignments

What this means:
Are you a magazine editor from ‘away’ (Maine speak for ‘visitor from out of state’) writing a story about Maine but don’t have or don’t want to spend the money to send a photographer up here to get those pictures to go along with your story? Kratka Photography already has their boots on the ground. We live here. We know the area. We know the people. This is our home.  We will work with you, your writers, or your advertising people to get you what you need. Forward us the subject you are writing about and what kind of images you would like to go with you story, and Kratka Photography will do the rest. Our freelance photographers have provided eye popping images for the newspaper and TV media here in Maine for years, and we can do the same for you and your article.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

70,000 Chickens Killed in Barn Fire

Belfast, Maine – It’s 2am, and I’ve been tossing and turning most of the night.  The familiar sound of a car pulling into my driveway and the red light from the brake lights gets my attention ‘Who’s here…and at 2 o’clock in the morning at that….

I raise the window shade from my second floor bedroom window in an effort to see who is there, and what I see makes my adrenaline race – the entire field next to my house, along with the surrounding trees – are glowing orange. At the exact same moment my brain yells ‘'Fire!’ in my head, a loud rap at the front door downstairs wakes up my wife, and a half a second later, a voice and flashlight both get my attention ‘Your barn is on fire sir!!’

My wife calls 911. The voice I heard from downstairs is a Deputy Sherriff. He had seen the glow on the horizon from two towns away, and drove until he found the source. Panic mode. Will the fire spread to the house? What about the woods? What about the chickens!!!

I can’t put on my shoes fast enough. I grab my camera gear, and I’m out the door in two minutes. What I see and what I hear next stop me in my tracks.

The sky is orange as high up as you can see. The entire area is orange...our house, the neighbors house, everything. Embers are floating gracefully up and over the trees and are being carried by a very light breeze. 
The only sound heard is the occasional crackle of the flames coming from the back of the barn. By now I’ve turned on my fire pager and I can hear multiple tones being set off to call multiple fire agencies and mutual support. To hear my own address on the radio, followed by the words ‘Fully engulfed chicken barn’ is something I won’t soon forget.
This is not your back yard hobby chicken barn. No sir. This is a 500 foot long, 40 foot wide, 60,000 sq. foot, aluminum sided, three floor chicken barn with 12 inches of sawdust in the roof for insulation. Huge commercial sized vent fans are used to draw fresh air thorough out the entire barn.
Inside are 70,000 helpless chickens.

The firefighters arrive by the droves. Now the stillness of the orange glow is punctuated by red strobe lights of the fire trucks. The eerie silence is now replaced with the sounds of diesel engines, fire radios and men yelling to grab the hoses and watch for live power lines.

One of the fire fighters claims to have seen a bald chicken making a run for it, last known direction was the woods. Perhaps he is the lone survivor. But this is Maine, and it’s winter, and if she had all her feathers, she might stand a chance of surviving
An hour has past, the barn and the chickens are now gone. The fire fighters tell me that there was no  sense in risking injury to fire personal when the barn was so far gone when they arrived. The best they could do was to make sure nothing else nearby caught fire, sit back, and watch.
As a former volunteer fire fighter, I knew the feeling of helplessness this can bring. Your there to do a job, but your hands are tied. It’s not worth the risk.
It’s 6:35 AM. The fire is still smoldering. The fire fighters are still standing watch over what remains of the barn.
The smoke…and the Sun…are now rising together.

Kevin Kratka is a freelance photographer and writer. He can be reached at
Image and text © Kratka Photography No part may be used without written consent. All Rights Reserved.