Archive for the Ojai Category

A busy place to be

Posted in Ojai on February 10, 2008 by lenscapremoved

Erin LaBelle has started a blog.

LaBelleland was started in an effort to keep up with friends and family. Since we all consider the LaBelles dear to our hearts, I figured I should share the site.

Erin’s first post:

“Hello Friends and Family!

This is our new effort in reaching you guys who are close in our hearts but far in mileage.
Hopefully you will check in regularly to see what we are up to.
Every day has been an adventure since we moved back to amazingly beautiful Ojai, California in late August.
We are insanely involved and are constantly adding wonderful new people to our community.
Fasten your seat belts and get on board!
The LaBelleland express has left the station.”

California Catchup

Posted in California, camping, Hess, luttrell, Matthews, Ojai, road trip, Santa Barbara, Sequoia, Snappers, Ventura, Yosemite on July 12, 2007 by Keith Smiley

By Keith Smiley
The guy that Brad tricked into writing

As far as road trips go, driving a few thousand miles across the country is just an appetizer. We could have spent our entire trip in Ventura County, splitting time between the beach and the hills of Ojai, and been happy with the experience. But we kept logging miles instead, taking side trips to places like Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Yosemite and Death Valley.

A park ranger at Glacier Point in Yosemite talks about the sunset at Half Dome as the sun sets on Half Dome in the background. Funny how that works.

But anyone who’s reading the blog already knows about our excursions because Brad works so hard on keeping the blog up to date. Before the trip to California started, Brad said he would try and update the blog “3-4 times a week.” But for at least the last month, there’s been a minimum of one post each day, and they rarely come from me.

All the blog’s regular readers and everyone who’s been following the progress of this trip online should thank Brad for his dedication to keeping the blog current. I’m sure he enjoys writing and sharing his photos; otherwise he wouldn’t have started this in the first place. But I’m sure there have been plenty of days when he’d rather be out doing things instead of writing about the things we’ve done.

So I hope everyone appreciates the effort Brad puts into his work, both on the blog and elsewhere. I certainly do; it’s a lot easier to point everyone that asks — all three of them — to the blog instead of trying to recount everything that’s happened on the trip.

Everyone likes feedback, so I’d encourage more people to post comments on Brad’s  posts; something like, “Hey, thanks for all the thought and effort you put into the blog. I use it to kill time at work but enjoy it so much that I read it at home, too.”

For reference, here’s who I’m talking about:

That’d Brad in the middle; he’s the one not made of wood.

The problem with Brad writing so often is that it I don’t usually have a reason to post; he’s already covered the best parts of each day with quality writing and awesome pictures, so there’s not much room for me to put anything up. But I’ve still taken a few pictures here and there, so I’m playing catchup and posting some photos from our road trips to Simi Valley, Santa Barbara, and Yosemite.

Not many words in this one, so if you’ve had to force yourself to read this far, it’s paid off: there are only a few words left in this post and I’ll totally understand if you don’t read them.

What’s unusual about this scene? It’s not the hairpin turn, the randomly placed traffic cones or the hundred-foot drop right off the side of the road. No, it’s the guardrail that’s a luxury California doesn’t usually bother with.

This railing protects the casual hiker from a three-thousand or so foot drop. If you choose to look over the edge anywhere else, well, you’re on your own.

The scene from around where the above railing is. It’s hard to tell at this size, but there’s a spot on that trail on the right. That’s a person.

Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley

Camera, Nalgene bottle, reporter’s notepad poking out of camera bag… what else do you need?

Santa Barbara

Sequoia National Forest
That’s a pretty good sized tree sitting in that pool of light, but the sequoias on either side probably just laugh at it and call it a pipsqueak.

Yosemite National Park


Goodbye to Oh, Hi (pronounced Ojai)!

Posted in Martha, Ojai on July 8, 2007 by lenscapremoved


Dave is always asking us how we feel. You can’t answer good, because he follows up with, “Well how do you feel about things? What’s going on?” He’s always interested in us and what we’re doing. I appreciate him not taking a cop out answer.  

He asked us if we wanted to go shooting with him the other day, since we usually shoot and then he critiques it. I was excited because I love seeing how excited he gets to make pictures. Once when Tucker was asking Dave to go with him to the Reagan Library Dave shushed him and said, “Honey, I like going places with you, but I like to take pictures too.” It’s truly a passion for him.

We started kind of late so we missed most of “good light hour”, but it was nice to work on other things. This is just what managed to squeeze out. I like it. If you like it, you can take it, or leave. If not, I’ll just keep moving along.

I really missed this picture, or didn’t nail it. I like it though, and with the crop I gave it I think it works.

Baby crickets? I guess. I don’t know. Heck, this isn’t even Ojai. This is Martha’s backyard. But I liked it so I thought I would post it.




Seeing the picture within the picture

Posted in Hess, luttrell, Matthews, Ojai, Smiley on July 7, 2007 by lenscapremoved

Greg Cooper critiques a photo at the Ojai Photo Club’s monthly photo contest.
Photo by Smiley

Wisdom may come with age, but it doesn’t have to. Greg Cooper is a testament to that.

When I first met Greg I was a bit too overwhelmed with my own arrival to Martha’s and California in general that I didn’t realize what a valuable tool he would be for me while I was here. While I wish I had gotten to shoot more with him, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot once with him at the beach, see his critique at the Ojai Photo Club and have him go through my portfolio along with Ed, Elliott and Keith, my traveling and shooting companions. While Greg may be young, he has the knowledge that seems like it should be coming from someone with 50 years in the business. If you still think it only comes with age, you can check out his degrees for proof.

Greg is a faculty member at Brooks Institute of Photography in the visual journalism department, but he’s teaching outside of the classroom too. When he was in Ojai to  judge, he brought one of his lessons from Brooks to show before going through the group’s photos. It was a basic photography class’ lesson, so most of the knowledge was basic. What was really interesting was his critique of the photos in the competition. Greg through out a few things I had never thought about in the lesson, like tips in using RAW, printing tips and overall I just like to hear people’s opinion of photos. It’s always helpful to get different opinions. Despite also being a student of Dave, Greg has a different view.

When we got the opportunity to get Greg to critique our portfolios we all jumped on this opportunity because too often we are limited to our critiques. When we were setting up Greg asked Elliott what he wanted to get out of this critique and Elliott said, “To know what I’m missing.” Greg didn’t baby him and didn’t hold back. Taking only a second to look at each picture, he read the pictures faster than anyone I’ve ever seen and wasn’t missing anything. He pointed out things in photos that I had never noticed, despite having seen these guys’ photos dozens of times.

When he got to Keith, Greg asked him what he wanted. I spoke up in the background and said, “Rip him.” He did. It may seem mean to push someone to be aggressive when looking at your photos, but the more they pick at you the more you know what to do or how other people see your work. Keith asked questions to compare to other people’s opinions, and even asked Greg if he would be happy with certain photos given the assignment.

When Greg got to mine, I realized I had more pictures to show because I had found my entire loose portfolio that I usually cut in half in most situations, but I realized how much I could learn from him so I threw it all in with my tighter edit of my pictures from this trip. He asked me what I wanted, I told him to rip me too. I wanted him to pick at me as much as possible. When I feel like I’m doing well I’m too likely to stick to what I’m doing, and I hope I’m never to a point to where I can stop learning.

As all good critiques go, we got the good with the bad. He complimented us all and followed up with the “I would have done’s” which are hard to sit through if you don’t understand they’re to help you be ready for next time, not make you hate your picture. He said Elliott was exploring compositions and color but needed to give himself more time to compose. Ed’s old portfolio was uninteresting to Greg because he said from the one time he shot with Ed he could tell that he had grown incredibly since the six months ago that it was updated. Greg complimented Keith on his use of color and light but said he needed to work on editing down his portfolio. Greg complimented my stories and ability to see the photos, but said I needed to work on my compositions. Micro-composing, which is something I’ve heard recently so I’ve been trying to work on it and rebuild my portfolio. He also let me know that my multimedia was OK, but not portfolio worthy. Which I agreed, and was happy with that critique because it had been so long since I had seen my projects that I hadn’t given them a critique myself. I was thinking everything that he said, so it was rewarding just to know I was catching things.

Before we left Elliott asked Greg the big question and butted heads with the intimidating question of the night. “Where do we stand against your students at Brooks.”

Greg paused and looked at all of us. We all hoped to hear that we were better, just to flatter ourselves. The Kernel isn’t as competitive as it should be due to the lack of photojournalism students, so when we get around other students we like to stand up to them and see what it’s like outside of the Journalism Building’s basement, where we make a newspaper 5 days a week.

“When it comes to having the Dave Factor, ya know, seeing the moment,” he started. “You guys are getting it.”
This is the second time in one week I’ve been compared to Dave LaBelle, an awe-inspiring compliment. If I can learn to recognize and capture moments like Dave has and still does, then I know I can learn the technology and techniques. I know this is true, but it’s also what Greg followed up his compliment with.

“You guys are behind our students in the compositions, exposures and all the technicals,” he said.
“You mean all the stuff anybody can learn?” I said.

Caring with Cameras

Posted in California, Oak View, Ojai, Oxnard, Ventura on June 28, 2007 by lenscapremoved

We’re using this cool site that the Ventura County Star uses for community service. I’m trying it out to explain something that Dave is doing to give back to the community. Check it out. Let me know if it doesn’t work for you.


How do you spell, ‘Oh, hi?’

Posted in Hess, luttrell, Matthews, Oak View, Ojai, Snappers, Ventura on June 23, 2007 by Keith Smiley

Post by Keith
I volunteered to be an author on here because Brad assured me it would bring tremendous fame and prestige. But after two days of Brad harassing me to post something, I’m starting to think he just wants to save himself some work by not having to put my pictures up.

Before I really get started, though, I feel compelled to offer up a bit of background on the blog. I’m sure you’ve all seen the dozens of snappers that have been posted on this blog since its inception, such as these from when we all converged on a library in Oak View.

Summer school

Dave and a young’n   Research

Fun, right? Here’s the picture you don’t usually get to see:


Yes, folks, that’s right: our snappers are set up. I’m sorry to be the one that has to admit it, but I just can’t write on the blog without putting the truth out there.

I also wanted to post this picture of the rental car that Brad was driving while his Volvo was in for repair. He mentioned in a previous post how lame the car was, but I think a picture tells the story better.

Rental Car

That car was so underpowered it made time pass slower. I’ve been here for just over a week now, but it feels like it’s been longer than that. I definitely like how it’s going, though; the land out here is beautiful and is entirely new to me. I can wander around and shoot pictures during the day without all the responsibility and set hours of a real job that an internship would bring. And I don’t bother checking the weather. I know that it’s going to be warm and sunny, and the light is perfect every night. Ventura and Ojai are both highly visual, diverse cities that I haven’t explored nearly enough. It’s the way summer should be.


kas20070618sunset295.jpg   kas20070620sunset031.jpg   kas20070620sunset217.jpg

kas20070621grandpamac021.jpg   kas20070620sunset257.jpg   Getting the picture

The greatest benefit of my trip so far, or at least the greatest unexpected benefit, is seeing all the places that Dave has told us about — such as when he points to a hill next to the courthouse in Ventura and says, “That’s where I got married,” or when he takes us down a road where he photographed one of his first spot news assignments. I’m a visual person; being able to connect those stories to actual places makes them far more meaningful.

One story that I’ve heard Dave mention several times is about his high school photography teacher, Mr. MacArthur. “I can still change your grade, you know,” he always tells Dave. But that story takes on a new dimension when I can sit in Grandpa Mac’s living room and listen as he says those exact words to Dave.


That’s Grandpa Mac on the right, listening while his neighbor Susannah plays guitar Thursday night. Out of frame, Elliott and Brad are playing their guitars, too, along with Pete, another friend of Dave’s, while the rest of us listen (and photograph, of course).


(Well, I actually don’t know what Brad is doing in that last one, but we’ll just assume he’s playing his guitar.)

Grandpa Mac was pretty quiet Thursday night; he made a few jokes and asked some questions, but for the most part just enjoyed the music in his home. It contrasted with the first time I met him on Monday, when I sat enthralled for an hour as told stories of growing up in Ventura — a massive Navy shipwreck of the coast, the teacher that inspired him to take on the same career, his time in the military, and of course a few stories about Dave as a student.

It’s certainly interesting having three generations of photographers sitting together in the same room. The technology has certainly changed over the years — we’ve grown up on digital photography, Dave is transitioning to it, and Grandpa Mac knows next to nothing about it and has no need to learn — but great photographs are timeless. Grandpa Mac has two rows of prints hanging over his couch, photos of his family taken over the years, and they’re the same sort of photographs we strive to capture now.



Another conspiracy! I wrote captions for some of the photos in this post, but they refused to appear once I published. Another blatant case of the system trying to keep the full truth from you, the reader. To keep you all properly informed, here’s the captions for the above photos. Well, the photos I felt like captioning, which is really only a few of them.

Elliott reading: Elliott studies for his summer correspondence class at the library in Oak View. His final paper is on this book, “A Secret for Grandmother’s Birthday” by Franz Brandenburg.

Sitting at tables: Dave LaBelle on the right, one of the kids on the left. Henry? Tucker? Elliott, Brad? I don’t remember; they all run together.

“Reading” Where’s Waldo: After we found Waldo, we took his picture and gave him a business card. We’re getting pretty desperate for sales.

The expose: Sorry, folks, all those snappers you know and love, the ones you have hanging on your walls and flipping by on your screen saver? They’re all set up.

The car: This is what happens when the rental company asks you what kind of car you want and all you say is, “I don’t care, as long as it’s a four door.” The car was up on blocks, but we took those to hold the table up at the office.

Anonymous cowboy hat: There are very few clouds in the sky around here, making for some pretty lame sunsets. Here Ed crawls through the tall grass to try and get a closer shot without scaring away the clouds. The hat’s also important because it… actually, the hat is just goofy.

Today’s theme: Orchards

Posted in Ojai on June 21, 2007 by lenscapremoved


Welcome to Ojai.

This morning I went out at about 6 AM and drove as fast as I could manage in order to catch the good light that was starting to peek out over the mountain. I stopped at several places along the way to the overlook that Dave showed us yesterday.

I didn’t mean to, but I shot a lot of the orchards today. It’s a new thing for me. I’m not used to seeing them but they’re so pretty and the light comes through them so nice. I was tempted to pluck an orange to have for breakfast but I thought that the sticky fingers wouldn’t go well with my camera gear so I went with McDonalds instead (as if sticky fingers from jelly go any better).


All of my photos today are simple. I shot them that way because I’m working on Dave’s stock photos. The idea is to have a nice photo that is generic. You want something that could be used for a lot of things and that magazines and publishers for the area would want to have.


This beautiful tower is the post office in downtown Ojai. It’s a beautiful building, especially with the morning light streaming across it. I meant to walk around more downtown but I didn’t have much time with the light since I didn’t get up at 5:30 like I wanted. So this is what I ended up with. I’m happy with my pictures from this morning though.




While this last photo may not be an orchard, I find it just as interesting and it’s just as common in the Ventura area. Dave says oil is what made the place, and the pumps are still here to prove it.