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All About Dick

August 22nd, 2013

Photographer Dick Harper is a barefoot engineer, writer, boat builder, occasional college teacher, and arts council chair.

"The girls say I'm pretty easy; I can be had for most anything with wheels, keels, or terabytes."

Dick splits his time between the Florida Keys and the Vermont farmhouse he shares with a menagerie of cars and tools and boats and a great pile of sawdust from ongoing renovation projects.

Writer-photographer Dick Harper has looked at the world with pen and lens for decades. His words paint pictures; his photographs tell stories.

Dick is a newspaper columnist, an engineer, and arts council chair. He is an eclectic and versatile professional with a career that includes publishing and picture taking, teaching and inventing, engineering business solutions and building boats, and racing cars.

A local arts columnist and a regional op-ed writer, Dick's articles and editorials on the arts, business, consumer issues, cars and boats and other grown-up toys, and technology have appeared in national, regional, and local publications. His trade and general interest articles cover manufacturing equipment as well as management for small businesses and for arts organizations. He writes a popular weekly newspaper column and has published technical manuals, textbooks, and short fiction.

He works across northern New England, the Atlantic coast, southern Florida, and the American Southwest. He can be found getting the light right on a bat tower, lying in the grass for a view of brown cows against vibrant foliage, viewing an ancient cactus bloom against biosphere glass, or capturing the vanishing end of a seven mile bridge over clear green water. His photographs have been exhibited in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida and are in private collections in many states and Canada. He has moved exclusively to digital photography and exhibits unretouched original images as well as blending the effects of the digital darkroom.

Committed to community service, Dick is a founder of and serves as a Director and Chair of the All Arts Council of Franklin County. He served as an Incorporator of the Northwestern Medical Center, and founder and past director of the Missisquoi Health Center. He stood as the long-time elected School Moderator in the Town of Highgate. His other committee work centers on Franklin County volunteer organizations including the Town of Highgate, the Swanton Library, the Franklin-Grand Isle Resource Directory, and the Franklin-Grand Isle United Way. Dick also hosts the televised interview program, Neighbor to Neighbor.

Dick brings the juice that makes a product line sing thanks to senior technical management slots with Fortune 500 manufacturers and leadership of a small firm that conceives popular products and initiates the technology leaps for manufacturing them. Not your ordinary inventioneer, he has made breakthroughs in powerboat hulls, material handling equipment, and consumer products.

Visit for a look at life in Harper Company.

Dick Harper can write on assignment or for hire. He offers day rates for location photo assignments and has stock photos of many subjects on hand.

He gives readings, presents lectures on the art of fiction, and can host workshops on the craft of opinion writing. He will speak at panels, meetings, and residencies. He is also available to consult on arts organization as well as growth and marketing for individual artists.

Presentations and workshops range from $500-$1500. Other rates are available upon request.

Here’s Dick's Twitter page (his Twitter username is @northpuffin). Facebook users can find him at If you are on Google+ you can find his page at And the official No Puffin Perspective™ is at

"I would like to be remembered as the little kid smart enough to recognize that the emperor was butt naked and ugly to boot."

Cropping Issues

August 22nd, 2013

If you came here expecting a discussion of the corn used to make fine Kentucky whisky, move along. This is about photography.

A recent Miami Herald article about a West Palm Beach museum includes a shot of photographer annie leibovitzAnnie Leibovitz aiming a point-and-shoot camera at the reader. Kind of reminds us that a great photographer can take a magnificent picture with pretty much any box with a hole in one end.

But she still has to print it. That's where I run into difficulty.

If Ms. Leibovitz printed her photos to fit in a standard frame with a pre-cut mat, (most) arts and crafts stores carry frames and mats with openings in only these sizes:

Frame SizeMat OpeningImage SizeAspect Ratio
5" x 7"3.5" x 5.5"4" x 6"1.5
8" x 10"4.5" x 6.5"5" x 7"1.4
11" x 14"7.5" x 9.5"8" x 10"1.25 (about 5:4)
16" x 20"10.5" x 13.5"11" x 14"1.27
20" x 24"15.5" x 19.5"16" x 20"1.25
24" x 36"19.5" x 29.5"20" x 30"1.5 (exactly 3:2)
30" x 40"21.5" x 31.5"22" x 32"1.45

(Frame and mat openings vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.)

Most digital point & shoot cameras had an aspect ratio of 1.33 (4:3), the same as analog television or early movies. However, a 35 mm picture's aspect ratio is 1.5 (3:2). This means that the long side is 1.5 times as long as the short side. Several digital cameras take photos in either ratio, and nearly all digital SLRs take pictures in a 3:2 ratio, as most can use lenses designed for 35 mm film.

The Advanced Photo System (APS) film, a now-discontinued film format for still photography, has about a 7:4 aspect ratio, coincidentally almost perfect for HDTV except for how lousy an enlargement APS film yields. In 2005 Panasonic launched the first consumer digital camera with the very similar aspect ratio of 16:9; that matches HDTV and is the same as Ms. Leibovitz' Canon G-15. 16:9 is the same as 1.77 which you might notice matches none of the standards in the table above.

I've taken thousands of photos with either a Kodak or Minolta digital. The Kodak has a 1/1.76" (7.3 x 5.5 mm) CCD sensor, the Minolta a slightly larger 2/3" (8.8 x 6.6 mm) sensor. Both are on the sweet spot 1.33 aspect ratio which means I had to throw away part of the picture for all their 8 x 10" and 11 x 14" prints in the gallery.

That's one reason I changed to a full format digital for most shoots.

All these different aspect ratios is why everyone has cropping issues when printing photos. An aspect ratio of 4:3 translates to a print size of 4.5" x 6.0". This loses half an inch when printing on the "standard" of 4" x 6" with its aspect ratio of 3:2. Similar cropping occurs when printing on other sizes, i.e., 5" x 7", 8" x 10", or 11" x 14". In fact, the only two "standard" print sizes that capture all of the frame of a full frame digital or its 35mm uncle are 4" x 6" and 20" x 30".

There's not much market for 4" x 6" or 20" x 30".

On the other hand, there's a lot more market for 16" x 20" or 20 x 30" than for a post card size print and I couldn't reliably enlarge my early work to those sizes.

I compose in the viewfinder so I want to print what I saw. I'm homing in on 10" x 15" and 14" x 21" as the "usual" enlargements in my own gallery. The first is perfectly sized for the standard 16" x 20" mat; the latter for a 20" x 28" which is fairly large. I found a processor who can print them and a mat cutter ditto right here at Fine Art America.

Of course, every photographer has great photos in some odd-ball format, so I'll print that palm tree with the sap bucket at 10:1 and frame it vertically. I'm working on an interesting 3:1 panorama that I will probably print on canvas and display as a loooooooooooooooog horizontal triptych.

I hope you'll buy them anyway.

sugar beach

(This is not a palm tree)


March 3rd, 2013

I bought a new camera body before Christmas. It has me thinking about workflow.

beach girl

Sometimes I get distracted.

I've been adding images to my gallery site and even added a couple of new categories: Harbors and Bridges and Aminals which my spell check doesn't like much.

field strippedAnyway, I took a few files into the digital darkroom which is where the real magic starts. See, I never owned a chemical-based darkroom so having the classic manipulations -- image brightness, dodging, burning, contrast control, and color balancing -- right here at my fingertips is a miracle. I can accomplish any of those with far greater precision on this screen and see the results as I work, a benefit unavailable in the darkroom and particularly when using an offsite processor.

Digital techniques have moved photographers toward images that are finally as sharp as conventional darkroom prints. The new CMOS sensor in this camera still doesn't have more color depth or resolution than an original positive or negative film strip, but it's pretty darned good. 8"x10" prints made from 35mm negative scans at 2400 dpi now match the best (conventional darkroom) enlargements; prints from properly sharpened 4000 dpi scans are already sharper. And I can print a 16"x20" enlargement that is better than one from my earlier 35mm Canon A-1 film body. I'm already thinking about 20x24" prints.

Back to the darkroom. This is the original shot of the trees on Krome Avenue that Andrew stripped bare more than 20 years. Click the link to see how taking it to the darkroom makes it pop.

So I also discovered a couple of older images in searching around on the images drive and put them into the gallery as well.

I seem to have 19,157 files (some are thumbnails and other dupes) in 750 folders on that one drive. That doesn't count the "new" pictures I took in the last couple-three weeks. I need a better filing system.

And my new CMOS sensor makes really big files. BIG.

Somehow I managed to shoot 10 gigabytes of pictures in one day in Key Weird. About 400 exposures. Almost 12 rolls by the original count. Perhaps I should be less trigger happy with the power winder, since I threw away 8 gigs of them; that was the first cut. I still have about 25% of them.

I need a filing system.

But wait! There's more.

My favorite "darkroom" application is PhotoPaint, a Corel product that has better controls and more interesting objects than the more widely used Adobe product with the similar name. Corel's PhotoPaint doesn't know how to handle the Canon RAW image files, though, so I'm having to learn yet another new program. I wanted to work in PaintShop Pro a bit (it has a file manager, too) and to read the camera manual some more but I went to the beach instead.

bahia hondawhistlerSculpture Key West was at two of the Civil War forts, Zachary Taylor and at the Garden Club's Martello Tower but I didn't get to West Martello. I liked Thea Lanzisero's Starfish but the mysterious collection of "melting" manhole covers left me kind of cold. I didn't see the art in Richard Brachman's pile of firewood nor in Ursula Clark's pile of grass clippings. On the other hand, Jiwan Noah Singh's geometric pile of lattice and Tebilio Diaz' Flotilla got my attention (you'll see some of those in the gallery eventually) and I took a lot of shots of Sanchez' (rusty) found objects in bloom. I also took a lot of pictures of boats and a lot of pictures of the (not all that good) sunset.

sculpture kwSo far I've winnowed out only about 50 of the 400 or so shots. Worse, now I want to go back for the next full moon to reshoot and to use the longer lens.

And I still need to change to a better filing system.

key west sunset