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Archive for the ‘Random Musings’ Category

Celebrating Pit Bulls on 4th of July

I started volunteering at spcaLA about 4 years ago, donating my time photographing shelter animal in need of new homes.  Among the dogs housed at the shelter, a disproportionate number of them are pit bulls (which isn’t a single breed, but a collective term referring to a group of breeds including American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier and any crosses with one of these breeds.  Some people consider the American Bulldog part of this group as well).  Over the years I’ve grown very fond of the pit bulls.  In fact they’re now one of my favorite dogs.

If you have not spent a lot of time around pit bulls, it’s likely you have a negative impression of these dogs because of the way some media outlets tend to portray them as man-eating monsters every time a pit bull bites someone.  Yes, these are very powerful dogs that can inflict substantial damage when they bite.  But I can say with certainty that the vast majority of these dogs have not a single mean bone in their body.  They are sweet, loving animals who deserve good homes.  I’ve had close interactions with hundreds of them in confined quarters of an animal shelter in the last 4 years; and I can tell you from personal experience the notion that all pit bulls are unpredictable beasts that can turn on a human at a moment’s notice simply isn’t true.  On the whole I’ve probably encountered more badly behaved Chihuahuas than pit bulls.

The recent case of Lennox the dog in Belfast, Ireland brought the issue of breed-specific dog legislation into the spotlight.  UK’s Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits ownership of certain “types” of dogs that are deemed dangerous.  “Pit bull type” dogs are on that list of prohibited dogs.  People who are caught owning such dogs will have their dogs confiscated and destroyed, regardless of the particular dog’s actual temperament.  What is especially troubling to me about the law is that the determination of what constitutes “pit bull type” dogs rest in the hands of a single person who subjectively decides whether the dog’s appearance resembles a pit bull.  That to me isn’t unlike having a “dangerous people act” that bans “people who may look like they belong to a particular race.”  We all know what THAT is called: racism.  And we all know that is not acceptable in a civilized society.  Now consider another recent news item, the Trayvon Martin case.  Whether you agree with the mass media’s attempt to fan the flames in order to make headlines, one thing is clear: We as a society will not tolerate anyone harming anyone else based purely on their appearance.  So why is it ok for certain communities and news outlets to send the exact opposite message when it comes to pit bulls?  We cannot enact laws that target specific breeds of dogs simply because they “LOOK like someone who MIGHT attack somebody someday.” Breed-specific legislation that forces responsible dog owners to give up their dogs who have never harmed anyone just makes no sense.

I’ve been wanting to do a series of photography exhibits featuring pit bulls to help raise awareness and improve their public image.  To get things started, I invited Melissa and Johnathan of the Red Nose Lucy Foundation to come in for a special 4th of July photo shoot with their red pit bull named Lucy.  Jennifer Rosen of Bullies and Buddies Rescue also brought in her white pit bull named Ace and a blue pit bull puppy she is fostering named Penny.  Red. White. And blue.  Perfect for a 4th of July photo shoot!   I had a great time hanging out with and photographing these adorable pit bulls.  Oh, in case you were interested, Penny is available for adoption!  Please contact Bullies and Buddies Rescue for more info.  Here are some photos from the July 4th shoot.  Enjoy!





























For more information on breed specific legislation, here are a few more links:



Turning color photos into Black-and-Whites: Is it cheating?

Heidi in Black and White

Heidi in Color

Being a professional photographer with a technical background, I often get asked photography questions that are technical in nature.  Some of the most frequently asked questions include “Why does aperture affect depth-of-field?”, “How do I photograph an all-black dog?”, and “Why does focal length affect perspective?” (short answer to the last questions: “IT DOESN’T!” it’s a trick question that requires a trick answer) I’m going to start writing a series of articles that answer some of these questions, in as plain of language as I can make it.  But instead of a highly technical question, I’m going to start of with more of a philosophical question that in my opinion requires a technical answer:

Is turning a digital color photo into black-and-white cheating?

The answer to that question isn’t exactly, well, black and white.  ;)

First, let’s examine the way a digital camera records an image:

The image sensor inside a digital camera is essentially “color blind” and can only detect the brightness of light it receives, not its colors.  (The Foveon X3 sensor is a notable exception, but unfortunately the sensor has not been a commercial success and only a small percentage of photographers use cameras with this sensor).  So without some clever engineering tricks, a digital camera is only capable of taking black-and-white images.  The clever engineering tricks come in the form of a “color filter array” that is put in front of the sensor.  The most commonly used is the Bayer Filter, pictured below:

Courtesy wikipedia.org

For each photosite (or pixel), the filter blocks out all but one primary color (Red, Green, or Blue) so only the brightness of one primary colored light is recorded.  For sensors using the Bayer Filter, this means that 1/2 of the pixels record green lights, 1/4 record blue and 1/4 record red.  The reason for having twice as many green pixels than the other colors is that this more closely mimics human eyes, which are more sensitive to green than they are to blue and red.  Various software algorithms (depending on the camera maker and model) then take “educated guesses” to fill in the missing two colors at each pixel.  For each color image, what’s recorded are actually 3 black-and-white images, each representing one of the primary colors.  For example, below are the 3 black-and-white images that make up a color photo of Louie:




If you look closely (click on each image to see them bigger), you’ll notice that the image labeled “Green” has the brightest grass and “Blue” has the darkest grass because grass contains a lot of green and very little blue.  By coloring each image red, green and blue respectively as follows:




and adding the three images together, we end up with:

Louie in full color

As you can see, when you take a color photo with a digital camera, you’re essentially taking 3 black and white images at the same time, each one with a different colored filter.  This allows the photographer much greater creative freedom when turning the color images into black and whites.  I will go over the editing process a little later.  Photographers shooting with black and white film often put a color filter in front of the lens in order to manipulate the contrast.  A blue filter, for example, will brighten the blue sky and a red filter will do the opposite.  A digital color image gives you both of these options simultaneously and automatically, plus a third one with a green filter.  I’m not an Ansel Adams expert, but I can’t imagine him saying no to having these options if they were available to him!

Should I use the “Black and White” setting on the camera?

That depends on what you intend to do to the photos after you take them.  If you’re serious about black and white photography and want to get the most of the images you shoot, however, the short answer is “no”.  When you use the “black and white” setting on your camera, the camera decides for you (through computer algorithms that are different for each camera maker and model) the “best” way to combine the three black-and-white images that it took to make one black-and-white final image.  It then records that final image and discards the three original images that it took.  So all that information that may be useful to you in the three original black-and-white images is lost forever and can’t be recovered when you use the “black-and-white” setting.  Here’s a very simple but exaggerated example.  Suppose you were to take a photo of a red, green and blue pattern pictured below:

the three stripes, although of drastically different COLORS, are of the same BRIGHTNESS.  If you used the “black-and-white” setting in your camera to take the photo, you’re likely to get this:

This is the “correct” black-and-white image based on brightness, but it’s not at all what you’d expect to see, knowing that the three stripes have different colors.  If you took the same photo in color, there is then the opportunity to manipulate the image later to obtain the black-and-white image you expect to see, which is an image with three different shades of gray:

The above image is obtained by subjectively making blue darker than red and red darker than green.  But that’s just one way to interpret these colors.  The image below, which makes red darker than blue and blue darker than green would be just as valid:

So which color appears as which shade of gray is entirely up to the photographer’s interpretation.  This is where the creative freedom comes into play.  If you used the “black-and-white” setting on the camera, you would’ve gotten a solid gray image and lost the opportunity to exercise that freedom.  This process of selectively brightening and darkening of colors to obtain black-and-white photos actually allows much more creative freedom than color photography, since when we view a color photo, we have an expectation of what colors we should see based on experience.  When viewing a black-and-white photo, we have no such expectations since we don’t see things in black and white.  The photographer is thus free to interpret the colors however they want when turning the image into black-and-white.

So what’s the best way to make a black-and-white photo out of a digital color image?

A very common tool that a lot of photographers, myself included, use, is the “Channel Mixer” in Adobe Photoshop.  It can be found under “Image -> Adjustments -> Channel Mixer…” its dialogue box is shown below (click on it to enlarge):

Photoshop Channel Mixer dialogue box

This allows you to selectively brighten or darken each of the three primary color, red, green and blue, to obtain the desired black-and-white image.  If you have Photoshop, the best way to learn it is to just have fun and play with it.  Move the sliders around and see what effects they have on your image.


I hope I have made a convincing argument that turning a digital color photo into black-and-white isn’t cheating at all.  In fact, it’s one of the most creative ways of making a black-and-white photo.  If one simply takes a bunch of digital color photos and aimlessly pushes that “desaturate” button in Photoshop to obtain a bunch of black-and-white photos, I suppose you could probably argue that’s “cheating”.  A black-and-white photo obtained that way probably isn’t very interesting anyway  and the creative process that should go into a photograph was thrown out the window.  But when carefully planned and processed, it is one of the best ways of making a black-and-white photo.

Dinner with Diane Haithman, Alan Feldstein and Heidi

After reading the last 3 posts, I bet you thought the Otis & Lucy Blog has turned into “All Paris Hilton, All the Time.”  Ha!  Not so fast!  There is much more going on.   If you’re disappointed that this post isn’t about Paris’ pooches, fret not.  Paris will return shortly after this brief intermission.  But if you’re happy that it isn’t about Paris, read on.  ;)

Heidi looks on as Louie tries his best to destroy her favorite Frisbee

Heidi looks on as Louie tries his best to destroy her favorite Frisbee

I met Diane and Heidi back in April when I invited them to the studio for some “head shots” for Heidi after reading Diane’s Column One article in the LA Times.  Since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting Diane and her husband, Alan Feldstein, a few more times and we have become good friends.  The “real” reason we stayed in touch though, is of course so our dogs can hang out with each other from time to time.  Louie and Heidi get along famously, albeit that Heidi always greets Louie with a low growl which means “Don’t you dare taking my toys.”  Louie obviously knows Heidi doesn’t REALLY mean that and takes her toys anyway.  Louie is a bit of a brat, you see.

I’m happy to report that, since the photo shoot in April, Heidi has found a few acting gigs for web and TV.  Here are a few installments of the Heidi Chronicles by Diane Haithman with funny accounts of Heidi’s Hollywood experience:





Louie happily exploring the backyard deck with Alan

Louie happily exploring the backyard deck with Alan

Diane and Alan were kind enough to invite me and Louie over for dinner at their beautiful home a couple weeks ago.  Knowing that Louie will steal Heidi’s toys, we brought her a new tug toy as a peace offering.  Upon arrival at the house, Louie, using the gift we brought as distraction, dashed straight in, past Diane, past Alan, past Heidi and her growl, and proceeded to find and bring out all of Heidi’s toys.  Louie paraded all around the house, inside and out, with the new-found toys.  He was happy and amazed at the tri-level deck/backyard/garden.  There was so much space he hardly knew what to do!  At home and in the studio he couldn’t run more than 10 feet in any direction without hitting a wall.  Here he could really stretch his legs.  He was also fascinated by the two water features out in the garden/deck.  He tried to go swimming in the small planter with a fountain on the deck, but he could only fit 1 paw in at a time.  Being the water dog that he is, he still thought that was great.

I enjoyed Diane and Alan’s home just as much myself.  In addition to the Heidi Chronicles, Diane also writes arts and entertainment reviews in Culture Monster.  Alan is an avid outdoorsman and photographer.  So the couple obviously has great tastes in art, and there is no shortage of fantastic sculptures and photographs throughout the house.  The house itself is equally fantastic in its design and clever use of existing land features that pays lots of attention to small details with great impacts.

The slanted edge of the second-level deck visually breaks up the parallel lines to great effect

The slanted edge of the second-level deck visually breaks up the parallel lines to great effect

While spending the early evening hours on the deck with a great home-made meal, I found out about Alan’s upcoming trip to West Africa to experience African voodoo culture.  Being the photography enthusiast that he is, I’m certain he’ll get lots of great shots on his trip and I cant’ wait to see them.  I also found out that Alan, a prominent attorney, used to represent a well-known actor (whose name I will not reveal here for privacy reasons) with whom I went to high school.  Such a small world.

Louie to Alan: "May I have some of your gelato, please?  I swear I haven't had any yet..."

Louie to Alan: "May I have some of your gelato, please? I swear I haven't had any yet..."

After dinner, all five of us piled into Diane’s car and took a short drive to the near-by Gelato Bar for some dessert.  The dessert and coffee joint is owned by Gail Silverton, sister of Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and Mozza fame.  The place serves up freshly made gelato in a great variety of unusual favors.  The sidewalk tables and chairs are frequented regularly by dogs and their humans.  The barista was kind enough to make up a couple of doggie-sized gelato cones for Heidi and Louie and brought the treats outside for them.  Louie, demonstrating how NOT be a gentleman, promptly ate BOTH cones without offering even left-over crumbs to his host, Heidi.  Girls still seem to love him though, including Heidi.  Go figure.

All in all, our evening with great company and great food couldn’t have ended any better with my pink grapefruit/watermelon/dark chocolate gelato.  Louie and I would like to thank Diane and Alan for a most enjoyable trip to Studio City and we look forward to our next gathering!

- andy


Heidi getting a good scratchin' from Alan

Heidi getting a good scratchin' from Alan


Louie splashing water all over the deck as Diane, Alan and Heidi look on in bewilderment

Louie splashing water all over the deck as Diane, Alan and Heidi look on in bewilderment


Alan photographing Louie

Alan photographing Louie


340,000 users and counting…

Did you know…

Since it’s initial publication in February 2008, the Louie the Yellow Lab Puppy iGoogle Theme has amassed a loyal following of 340,000 users world wide.  It is made using photos of my dog Louie, taken when he was a puppy and it is consistantly one of the most popular themes.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out:

Louie the Yellow Lab Puppy iGoogle Theme