Well, the 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo comes to a close tonight and I’m sure more than a few cowboys and cowgirls will be headed home nursing sore and bruised limbs after a rough ride.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Houston Rodeo personally. Held at NRG stadium where the Houston Texans play NFL football, I’ve never gotten a seat close to the action.

Two weeks before the Houston show, the Katy ISD and FFA (Future Farmers of America) put on the largest school district livestock show and rodeo in Texas. And, since everything is bigger in Texas, it must also be the largest school district rodeo in the world!

The advantage of the small rodeo is you can get close to the action. The Katy ISD rodeo action occurs at night, though, so lighting is always a challenge for photographers who have to wrangle ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the best images. Of course, more modern gear accommodates higher ISO values with lower noise so low-light photography is certainly an area where the gear you have does make a difference.

Rough Ride was a photo I took back in 2011 and it’s pushing the boundaries of the camera I had back then.

The rodeo part of the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo is sanctioned by the CPRA – Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association. Their season runs from mid-October through late September with over 90 events on the calendar (some weekends have more than one event).

I don’t recall how the cowboy depicted in Rough Ride did in the competition and the prize purse is different at different events but this year. The winner would have taken home less than $1,000 and only the top three took home any winnings so it’s certainly a tough way to earn a living.

Rough Ride - a cowboy competes at bronco riding at the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Rough Ride – a cowboy competes at bronco riding at the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo.

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A couple of weeks ago Super Bowl 51 was played at NRG Park in Houston. In the years I’ve lived in the area, the Houston skyline has changed quite a bit. Despite the downturn in the local economy caused by the collapse of the oil price in late 2014, construction has continued across the city and more glass towers have recently been completed downtown.

Houston is a classic western US city with a (mostly) grid-based street layout and a massive sprawl, enabled by the automobile and the air conditioner. In the 70 years since the end of WWII, the population of Houston has grown from 300,000 to nearly 2.5 million and become the fourth largest city in the US in the process.

The glass tower on the left was the former headquarters of Enron at 1400 Smith Street. Enron built a very similar tower (in the middle of the photo) across the street and joined the two with a circular walkway. 1400 Smith Street used to be called 4 Allen Landing after the Allen brothers who founded Houston in 1836. The original Allen’s Landing is about 14 blocks up the street on the left and five blocks over to the right. Of course, the Allen brothers wouldn’t recognize it today.

This particular view is poised to disappear in the not too distant future. Chevron plans to construct a 52-story tower between my vantage point and this view. Meanwhile, Exxon recently vacated the building at far right to move 25 miles north to a purpose build campus in The Woodlands.

The Chevron Towers (formerly Enron Towers) in downtown Houston at night.

The Chevron Towers (formerly Enron Towers) in downtown Houston at night.

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Last week I needed to figure out which of my photos I had published and which I had still waiting to go. I did some Google research but didn’t find exactly what I was looking for so I decided to figure it out myself using Lightroom Smart Collections.

At the end of my workflow, I generate a full-size jpeg image that I move into a specific folder. From there I publish to my store on SmugMug. But since I process in batches and post singly, I needed to figure out the difference between the contents of my published collection and my pre-publish folder.

Lightroom Smart Collections

Adobe has created a powerful database that underpins Lightroom. This has become more powerful as Lightroom has been elaborated over the years. The database doesn’t just cover all the EXIF data and the metadata you can enter into the tool, it also keeps its own metadata about where images are located on your computer and, if you use publish services, which services you’ve published an image to.

This power can be exploited through Smart Collections. Once you’ve built a smart collection, Lightroom then continues to maintain it. So through using Lightroom Smart Collections you can build very complex queries and save those queries to use again in the future.

The video below takes you through the particular problems I had but you can see how you can use this tool to find duplicated images on your hard drive or any number of other queries to help you sort through a growing archive of your images. Or if you have two folders or collections, that you think might have duplicated or partially duplicated contents you can use smart collections to identify the duplicates or unique images in each folder or collections.

Using Lightroom Smart Collections to find images not yet published

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Growing up in rural, southern England, I got used to narrow, winding roads. My first exposure to long, dead straight roads was in Libya, but I would usually fly deep into the desert so it was during my time in South Africa that I really started to become conscious of them.

The long, straight road was at first liberating. Free from the twists and turns I could see just where I was going. But they soon became tedious, because I couldn’t get where I wanted to go fast enough. I could literally see where I was going to be in 15 or 20 minutes (when towing a trailer or driving the speed limit).

I soon grew to hate them, longing again for the narrow twists and turns of the single-lane roads around my home where each curve in the road brought excitement tinged with the danger of encountering an approaching vehicle.

To drive the narrow, single-lane roads of Wiltshire I needed to be alive, tuned in to the vehicle I was driving and the world around me. I soon found when driving the long straight roads in South Africa I tuned out and I constantly had to find things to do with my mind to protect myself from the crushing boredom and monotony.

Roads, be they straight or winding, enable us to get from A to B, but at the same time, they constrain us to a vision set by someone else, to travel a path blazed by others.

When people ask me where I most enjoyed working my immediate response is, “Libya”. Most are stunned at this response but for the vast majority of my time in Libya, I worked in the desert where there were no roads. There were no fences hemming me in. I was free to travel in any direction I wanted to.

January is usually the time when people set out on a new path with the best of intentions. But by the end of January, most resolutions lie in tatters. Perhaps that’s because our goals are really someone else’s. The roads we have embarked upon are long, straight, and boring, laid out before us by some forgotten surveyor whose motivation was completely different to our own.

So if you find your resolutions unfulfilling, take a moment to stop and look around you. You’ll likely find a different destination or a more interesting route is close at hand.

The Open Road BW

The open road stretches straight into the distance, yet the road tempts us to follow someone else’s path rather than our own.

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Well, 2016 is behind us at last, now on to 2017!

2016 was not my personal favorite year, with my mother passing away, my incurring a significant reduction in income, my finding out I need both knees replaced because of arthritis and then, the final kick in the teeth, my refrigerator failing about an hour after the appliance spares shops closed for the holiday. Come back on Tuesday. Yeah, right.

But there were highs as well. The most uplifting being my becoming a Great Uncle on December 30th. No longer just an uncle, and not a grand uncle, but a Great Uncle. My Dad, of course, goes from being a mere grandfather to a Great Grandfather. And the best bit of this feat is it took no effort on our part at all! In fact, I was fast asleep at the time. That my niece included my mother’s name in the name of her first daughter makes the event all the more special.

January 1st is often a time of reflection, a hope for renewal, a time to draft a list of resolutions that rarely survive into February. It’s a time of contemplation.

When I used to live in England, I’d often find myself driving over to the Uffington White Horse where I’d sit on the hillside, gaze across the Vales of the White Horse and wonder (O.K. veg out).

The Uffington White Horse is a curious, stylized, figure. You can’t even see it all from the ground. Only the birds get to see the full shape. It’s been dated to the Bronze Age, perhaps as old as 1000 BC. I wonder what the original carvers of the figure would make of it now, and would make of the world today. Perhaps they’d want to change the design since they can’t have actually seen the whole of the finished work. I do know they wouldn’t have been frustrated that their refrigerator had just quit working.

Perhaps more remarkable is that the figure needs to be scraped roughly every seven years as the grass grows over the chalk. That means it’s been scraped about 430 times over its history. So, long after the original carvers had moved on, other people took it upon themselves to keep the figure visible to the skies. I guess they were anticipating the invention of the airplane, the helicopter, and now the drone, so future people would be able to see what it really looked like.

The white horse featured on the cover of the album ‘English Settlement’ by the Swindon band XTC. The third track on that album was titled, ‘Senses Working Overtime’. Just the other day I heard that very track playing in my local Whole Foods Market, here in good old Katy, Texas. The carvers of the white horse wouldn’t comprehend just how small our world is today. That’s something to contemplate!

View north across the Vale of the White Horse from Uffington

View north across the Vale of the White Horse from Uffington

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