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Spearfish Lake Tales
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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Creating Photos

Sometimes when the desire to write has gone away for a while, I'll spend some time creating photos, usually in an older program, Paint Shop Pro 7. I've had this program for years and am familiar with it, so I use it. I'm not opposed to using old software if it works and does the job, and sometimes it works better than the newer stuff.

A lot of my creating photos involves making covers for my books. It's not quite as easy as it sounds, since covers have to be composed specially to allow room for the lettering. Very often the photos I need for covers aren't cropped right and I have to massage them a little -- it's going to happen in the book after next, for example.

For my purposes, it's necessary to find public domain photos that I can legally re-use. Very often I can take the photo myself, but sometimes I can't. If needed, I can often find the photo I want for a cover, like Bird In the Hand, but not always. When that happens, I have to create a photo, like I did for Bird On the Field, which has pieces of six different photos in it, four of which I took myself; the other two are public domain images.

Over the years I've gotten fairly good at creating such photos. Sometimes it doesn't work well -- I'm not very happy with the cover for Stray Kitten, for example. It's not easy -- the lighting and the resolution have to be right, and sometimes they aren't and other tricks are necessary. It's usually possible for an expert or a trained eye to see the little errors and inconsistencies that are inherent in a created photo, but at least when I create a photo it carries the message I want it to carry.

Which leads to an interesting question: Is it right to use a "fictional" photo to illustrate a book of fiction? I think so. To quote someone in an upcoming book: "Photos lie. In fact, they lie all the time, from the moment they're taken. They're isolating a view from what is going on around them. It's just that in the digital age, it's easier to lie with them."

Now, most of you know that I publish a small weekly newspaper. Our rule is that we do not massage photos in such a way as to change the meaning. We may fiddle with things like cropping, lightening or darkening, and such things. I have been known to wipe out a prominent and embarrassing zit on a kid's face because it doesn't change the meaning of a photo that might have been taken because the kid won an award or something, but I don't go very far beyond that.

All of that said, sometimes it's just fun to create an "impossible" photo -- something that never existed in the first place, or something that happened where no one was around to take the photo. I'm going to share a couple of recent ones with you, and will give you links to high resolution versions suitable for computer backdrops.

Debbie's Spirit Elk

Recently I discovered a trick in my paint program I never had learned to use. It was always there, I just didn't know about it. On my way home from work one evening it struck me that it could be used to do the cover photo of Debbie Elkstalker and her spirit elk that I always wanted to use for a cover for Square One but didn't know how to make. Well, that little trick opened the door to do it. There are parts of fourteen different photos in this photo compilation, and I made a version of it for a cover. I'm using the new version of the cover on the website, but I'm not planning on changing the cover on the hardcopy or download versions.

Clicking on the large photo will take you to a relatively high-resolution version you can use as a backdrop; clicking on the small photo will take you to a high-res version of the cover.

The cover for Square One was a pain in the butt when I did it the first time. At the time there wasn't the collection of stuff available online that there is today and I had a heck of a time finding the elk photo that I used -- I finally had to buy it from a service, which was a pain in the neck. Then, I got a complaint from the gal who had taken the photo claiming I stole it. Fortunately I could do a screen grab of my bill of sale and emailed it back to her. We wound up having a pretty friendly and wide-ranging exchange of emails for a couple of months.

The Hurry Home Burn

Back when I was doing amateur astronomy I spent some time with a number of people who did astronomical and space based paintings, but I never found anyone who was willing to do this one, even for a reasonable price. I have visualized it for, oh, thirty years or more -- the docked DPS burn on Apollo 13, aka the "hurry home burn," that cut something like 36 hours off their return.

I don't know why it took me so long to think of it, but there are plenty of photos in existence that could be used for one of my photocompilations -- it took me less time to find what I needed than it took me for "Debbie's Spirit Elk." The CSM is Apollo 17, the LEM is in the Marshall Space Flight Center, and the exhaust flame is the afterburner from an F-16. I thought about using a service module photo from Apollo 13, but the best photos of the damaged module are poor and out of focus. The guys were using Hasselblads, possibly the best hand-held cameras in existence at the time, but they were so frazzed they couldn't get the focus right, I guess. Those photos showed they really needed that hurry home burn.

Clicking on the photo will take you to a relatively high-resolution version you can use as a backdrop.

Some years ago I did a column for the paper about "the most famous person you ever met." Mine is Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

I've also made the comment that if someone went back and time and submitted stories of the Apollo program to John W. Campbell in, oh, 1945, the story of Apollo 13 would have been the only one he would have been tempted to buy for Astounding Science Fiction as it was then. Kipling had it right -- "If you can keep your head while all about are losing theirs . . ." then there's the basis for a story. I just hope Kelly Freas, the long-time cover artist for Astounding Science Fiction/Analog would have approved.

I have another couple of "impossible" photos from various Spearfish Lake Tales stories I may decide to build sometime when the mood strikes me.

-- Wes

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