My Photography and My Mental Health

Time for some mental health talk.

For starters, I can assure you that, no, I am not a danger to myself or others.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II a few years ago. It’s a combination of hypomania (mania-lite) and major depression (Depression, Xtreme Edition!). What made it very apparent was a combination of two factors. There was noticeable pattern in posts from my old Livejournal account where I would write about how great everything was, have lots of quick posts, and a flurry of activity for a month or so and then, suddenly, posts about how horrible I felt, how down I was, and how much I was withdrawing. There was never any “trigger” for it and no event that I could point to as the direct cause of the swing. It just happened. There’s about ten years of activity that got documented, and the up and down pattern is very distinct.

The second factor that came into play was my growing photo library. At the time I was using Apple’s Aperture to collect and organize photos. I think I was accidentally in a “Vew by Month” setting, where each month had the total number of images listed. Some months were really busy, with hundreds of images (sometimes thousands) and other months were drastically different with maybe a few dozen images at best, and zero images at worst.

What connected it all and made bipolar II an inescapable conclusion and diagnosis was realizing that the same exact pattern existed in my Livejournal account. For giggles, I compared the two side-by-side and the up and down pattern — the floods of activity followed by long periods of very little to no activity — lined up perfectly.

Photography has really been the one thing I could always fall back on through these ups and downs.

About 2-3 weeks ago, I noticed the hypomania was coming back. It’s the part of bipolar II where I suddenly look to any nearby observer as if I am suddenly back to feeling like “my old self” again. Sometimes, it feels like I am REALLY caffeinated. I grow more outgoing, talkative and animated as I talk, restless and wanting to do stuff. It doesn’t matter what, it’s just an intense urge to do something, anything.

It also never lasts long. The depressive swing came back a couple of days ago. There’s never a point where I can say I am at a baseline “normal,” that anything above it is “hypomanic” and anything below it is “depressive.” It’s just feeling highly caffeinated for about a month followed by a sudden and immediate drop to immensely depressed for months on end that gets interrupted a sudden spike in energy for about a month, and the cycle continues.

There is never a specific trigger.

Mix all that with cPTSD and a non-specific dissociative disorder (I am de-realized most of the day), and you get me: at best, a weirdly entertaining combination of Chidi and Jason Mendoza at best or an incredibly misanthropic shut-in who wants nothing to do with the world for months on end because People, at worst.

My brain is fun…

Walking the Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA

I was walking the Arborway in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, a couple of years ago, and tried my hand at photographing something, anything, other than people. It turns out that sometimes flowers and trees can be more difficult to photograph than people. At least people can occasionally take direction, while plants will do their own damned thing, especially on a surprisingly breezy day.

I don’t typically use Photoshop, a discipline I picked up when I was an local news intern photographer for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, but I wanted to isolate the rhododendron itself and punch it out onto a plain white background and test out my editing prowess because I thought it would make a suitable graphic for a variety different products.

image of rhododendron against plain white background copyright adrian feliciano @ adrianfeliciano.com
Rhododendron at the Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA.
© 2019 Adrian Feliciano / adrianfeliciano.com

The heavy lifting was done with the free version of the Topaz Plugin Suite. It’s definitely not my usual image, and the entire process was a little outside my comfort zone, but I am happy with how it turned out.

What do you think?

Website Redesign, Part Four

It’s been a little while since my last update, but very little has changed since then. The backend is, for the most part, about where I want it in terms of extensions, plugins, and functionality. Sluggish or conflicting plugins have been torn out whenever an issue crops up. They have been either substituted with better alternatives or I’ve learned to make do without that particular functionality. Less is more, right?

I’m pretty happy with the website backup functionality I have set up, once it all fell into place properly. Besides using Dreamhost’s usual rolling 2 weeks worth of daily backups, I have a backup that takes place once a week that is pushed offsite, and another offsite backup solution that occurs daily and anytime I make a change to the site. It also scans the backups for any malware or security issues, etc.

Except for the current theme, and with a few minor differences, this website is now mostly using the same set up I am using for my web-shop over at American Bogan™ which is also now running on WordPress, by the way.

I may pick a different theme and re-arrange things after a while. Between theme juggling and vacillating between keeping the blog as the homepage, making the About page the homepage, or just building a dedicated homepage, I’m clearly just wallowing in my normal over-pickiness and really should just relax about it, right?

So I guess this is it. After all this techy talk and random political rants, whodathunk that this was actually a photography blog run by a portrait and event photographer in the Boston area, right?

Moving forward, there should be no more major changes to this website, and I can start concentrating on posting about photography and showing off photos I’ve taken to all of you!

Website Redesign, Part Three

I think that I am, for the most part, done with major changes to this website. After Part Two, I created an About page to act as a a quick-and-dirty photography portfolio. I like the built-in block patterns that Twenty Twenty-One has, so I used them to build three sections to highlight the boudoir, portrait, and fire performer photography parts of my portfolio. I may change it around a little more, down the road, but it stays for now.

I am un-decided on if I should make the About page the homepage of this website and put the blog on its own separate page or keep it the way it is. Frankly, I kinda like it this way, but I am not fully sold on it. I guess that until I decide for certain, it can stay in this format with the blog stream front-and-center. It feels very Livejournal in that way, and I miss LJ.

On the back-end, the biggest change was that I removed Jetpack completely. It may or may not be a bloated mess, depending on who you listen to, but it tends to trigger a lot of processes behind the scenes that can bring this website to its knees quickly, if I am not careful while mucking around on the backend and don’t want to bump up to the next managed WordPress account tier just for the extra resources to be made available.

A fairly rudimentary website with a blog and a small print-on-demand merchandise shop’s backend shouldn’t need that kind of heavy resource allocation, especially when another website I built has an e-commerce shop and Jetpack running on a basic shared-hosting account, right?

I also pulled out an abandoned-cart plug-in that I had been using for a little while. It was free, so it isn’t a financial issue, and it did do its job a year ago. Once. To be frank, I really have no need for any abandoned-cart functionality on a website that is primarily a photography-centric blog.

After some thought, I decided to place this website back behind Cloudflare, mostly to give an additional CDN layer that makes up for removing Jetpack, especially where serving images to your web-browsers are concerned. Anything that I can do to reduce the overall load on the servers while improving the security-posture at the same time is helpful.

It also helps that I included modifying some basic PHP settings so that I didn’t have processes running, or waiting, for a ridiculous amount of time and tying down available RAM unnecessarily. I also added some appropriate security headers to other files on the server.

My next challenge will be to migrate my main e-commerce shop away from Shopify to WordPress. I know I have written about it before, but the process is a bit daunting and sometimes I feel like my time is better spent elsewhere (like marketing?) whenever possible.

I may end up deciding to keep it where it is, even though the longer it remains the harder it will be to drop Shopify. *sigh*

Anyway, I should be done with 95-98% of the redesign as far as this website is concerned.

How do you like it?

Website Redesign, Part Two

Still slowly chipping away at this project. A couple of pages needed some light tweaking after changing to “Twenty Twenty-One” for consistency, but that was mostly it.

I’ve re-built my Contact page to fit the theme, re-wrote copy to hopefully sound a bit more approachable and with more of an authentic voice. Getting it to work after several test-emails and getting the form to fit the page well took some behind-the-scenes finagling. The Contact Form that I’d been using was part of SiteOrigin’s collection of modules and plugins that I removed so I needed to find a new one.

WP-Forms is commonly installed with most WordPress hosting. It’s basic and heavily spams with built-in ads for the other integrations they sell. Meh. I didn’t want to use Contact Form 7 as it tends to be a fairly heavy plug-in. The point of this project is to speed things up on the website, not slow them down. I also didn’t want to just use a clickable link to email with and open myself up to every email-scraping bot in existence.

Anyway, I think I found one that I like and it has some spam-protection so that should help with reducing the inevitable torrent of spam-via-contact-form emails. It also fits well with the “Twenty Twenty-One” theme.

Under the hood, I removed a couple of heavy plug-ins and either got rid of them completely or found lighter-weight versions to work with. For SEO related functionality, I looked over the following, and decided against them:

  • Yoast – Bloated and ad-heavy
  • Rank Math – Inconsistent

I’m using a somewhat lighter SEO framework, in keeping with the simplicity and efficiency I am aiming for. So far, so good.

Speaking of buggy plugins, I removed Pixel Caffeine as it was causing random crashes that led to heavy slow-downs when editing a blog-post. I don’t really know if it is worth using Facebook’s Pixel on this particular site anyway, as it doesn’t really use Facebook Re-targeting Ads. More important to me is that after making these changes on the back-end, editing and updating seem a lot snappier than it had been for a few months.

And now I’ve got a better Contact Page as a result!

Adventures in Technology

Sooooooo, I had re-arranged some cables, and positioning, and the peripherals that were plugged into my Thunderbolt 3 dock the other day (to be faiiiiiiiiiiiir…), and noticed today that my MackBook Pro was not charging.

I have optimized battery management set up and know that it can hover around 80% charge before charging back up fully again. I rarely use it off the power adapter because I use the external hard drives very extensively to organize and back up my porn collection, er, my Lightroom catalog, as one does.

All day, I watched its charge slowly lowering past 80%. I reset NVRAM, and SMC, as normally suggested. Kept dropping over time to 60%.

Looked up how to force MacOS to charge the battery while connected to TB3. An existing option to force charge didn’t exist — it requires the Mac to be plugged into a power adapter.

The Mac was plugged into its TB3 cable as normal. Hard drives were fully accessible. Everything was fine.

At 32% charge I gave up and looked at the TB3 dock to make sure everything was plugged in tightly. Everything was fine, apparently, EXCEPT the TB3 cable. I had re-plugged it into the dock’s second TB3 port the other day — the data port and not the host port that is clearly labeled “Computer” which provides, among other things, 87 watts of power.

So, to conclude this episode of Adrian’s Technology Brain Farts, I plugged the cable into the correct port on the dock and my laptop is now charging normally.

I’m a dummy.

Website Redesign, Day One

Gutting the Website

So far, I am enjoying my photography website’s re-design project. I’ve removed about a dozen plugins and replaced them with smaller, leaner options; removed the Astra theme, deleted all the categories and tags for the blog, menus, widgets in the footer, deleted different pages (Contact, About, etc) and I deleted the SiteOrigin page-builder and it’s many modules.

New Foundation

Instead of using a different page-builder, I’m opting to stick with Gutenberg and it’s block-based system for both the blog and building various pages. Mostly for simplicity’s sake, partially for the challenge, and partially to remove page-builder bloat.

I also decided to go with the default 2021 WordPress theme as the baseline. Colors are pleasing, typography is gorgeous, content is big and bold, it all looks great on a big screen or smartphone, and it does not have a lost of bloat.

Sensing a theme here?

The Plan Moving Forward

Ultimately, I am looking to build this site into a photography-blog centered website but one that still has room for me to write about things as I will. I’m a photographer, but also I am a human being with a lot to say that doesn’t necessarily fit Facebook.

The blog will be the focus, the rest of the site will be built around it.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below and I hope you all enjoy this re-designing journey with me!

Back to the Basics

After taking some time to look closely at my website and evaluate what I want to accomplish with it, I decided it was time to give it a complete make over.

What started me on this process was that there’s a lot of talk about missing Livejournal among my friends and so I want to bring back that sense of conversation and community as much as possible. I think that for my website’s re-design, I am going to go for a much more radical simplification and will strip things down to the basics while putting the blog’s content front and center.

The pages it will contain will also be stripped down to the basics: About, Contact, Policies, and a basic Shop (it, too, will be simplified). It will also include re-working the back-end, reducing plugins and functionality down to the absolute minimum needed.

It will remain on a managed WordPress installation with Dreamhost (Affiliate link) rather than reducing it down to a shared-host account, mostly because of the attached WooCommerce shop and server-level caching and reverse-proxy that the DreamPress account provides.

If it means tearing out the page-builder and it’s myriad modules, so be it. If it means reducing the topics and categories, then that too. If it means removing or re-writing past posts, then I’ll do that, too. Switching themes to a default theme and working within it’s limitations is completely an option, too.

Minimal, functional, and deceptively simple.

I feel up to the challenge.

Donald Trump lost. Now what?

Donald Trump lost the election for the Office of the President of the United States of America to Joseph Biden.

It’s over, so we can relax now, right?

There is a lot of talk about “coming together,” and “reaching across the aisle,” and even speculating that Biden should pardon that rat.

On the one hand, pardoning requires acknowledgement of one’s crimes, and admitting one’s guilt; otherwise, there is nothing to pardon. Getting it on record may be an important step and faster than an actual courtroom trial and a federal pardon still does not, in any way, absolve one from state level prosecution for the same crimes. It also won’t be seen as heavily partisan as other options.

The rat couldn’t easily scream “witch hunt” if the Feds pardoned him and let him twist in the wind before state charges.

But it would not amount to a full public reckoning for and full rejection of that rat and his cult.

Allowing the judicial process to take place, on the other hand, will allow for digging deep and a very public exposure of one’s alleged crimes. A deeply damaging case can be laid out, in full, for the public to see. Just as entire towns and villages were made to walk into and through the various concentration camps in their jurisdictions and forced to confront the evil that many claimed having no knowledge of, forcing the United States to bear witness to the full rot committed by the MAGAt cult is an important and necessary step if we want the possibility of a complete repudiation and rejection of it.

But it carries an enormous risk.

A warning from history

On trial for treason after the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was given a very public platform for his beliefs in the courts and he took full advantage of it. The unfortunate effect of the trial was his greatly increased celebrity, and the legitimacy his beliefs were granted, by allowing him such a public forum. His sentence was incredibly light, and he was given plenty of liberties that, again, he took full advantage of. During his time in prison, he dictated his manifesto and put his beliefs down in writing.

The MAGAt’s biggest liability and advantage is his own mouth, unfortunately. The rest of us will hear his dottering gibberish, incoherent rambling, nonsensical non-sequiturs, and insane conspiracy theories and will naturally recoil but his cult — his fanatics? They will hear him, loud and clear, as they always have and they will make a martyr out of him no matter which direction a trial may go.

Trump consolidated multiple groups with similar beliefs, created a platform, and legitimized all of them with his weaponized Twitter account and his coast to coast mini Nuremberg rallies, and birthed a fanatical anti-American movement. What he did was no different than what Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg did in Wiemar Germany. They set the stage. Hitler took the spotlight and, eventually, Germany.

Another thing to consider is that if Trump ultimately faces federal prosecution for any crimes he may have committed before, and during, his time in office, remember how many friendly judges the GOP rubber-stamped into the federal judiciary?

The danger has just begun

November 3, 2020 was only the beginning of the most dangerous period United States of America has faced in at least a century and a half.

Trump may have lost the election and been voted out of office but rumor is that he is already looking at a 2024 run. If not him, someone with his blessing will run. The next one, embracing that rat’s MAGAt platform will have far less of their predecessor’s mental liabilities and all of his cruelty.

Are America’s institutions stronger than the Wiemar Republic’s was? We are certainly much older, but they have never been tested quite like the last 4 years, and counting, have tested them nor have they faced the potential enduring threat that Trump’s MAGA cult will continue to be for a long time to come.

Shego Cosplay Photoshoot with Ashley

Cosplay Photoshoot – Shego from Kim Possible

I went to Worcester, this past Saturday, to meet with Ashley for a photoshoot idea she had contacted me about. Not gonna lie, it was a cold day.

Massachusetts is under a COVID-19 stay-at-home advisory between 10pm-5am for most people, so the timing was a little challenging. We scheduled the shoot early enough to have day light available to set up equipment and have plenty of time available for photography, and late enough that we would not be fighting with bright sunlight or waiting too long for darkness to happen, in case we had some flow toys to incorporate.

Ashley did bring an LED light-whip; however, conditions were not conducive to effective long exposure photography.

In order to simulate darker conditions, I decided to work with lower ISO, a shutter speed around 1/200″ and f-stops between 4.0 and 5.6, while using a speedlight for keylighting. Also, taking into account some fan-art of Shego using a greenish outline to her hair against black backgrounds, I used the mobility and hands-free operation of the RTMS2000 with a second speedlight with a green gel to provide hair lighting. You can see the full effect of those settings in the photo gallery below.

Once we got started, the shoot went surprisingly quickly and we were able to maintain strict distance and shooting protocols with COVID-19 in mind. There were a couple of occasions where I had to lower my mask due to my camera’s eyepiece fogging up a little, but it was a temporary measure as needed. By the time we packed up, what felt like three to four hours of photography ended up being about two hours and I was able to maintain consistency across images due to simulating darkness through in-camera settings.

Cosplay photography is something I don’t do all that often, but I am glad for the opportunity to exercise some creative muscles after a fairly sizable drought, due to the every worsening COVID-19 pandemic, here in the United States. As always, I am happy to be around people who take precautions seriously, and are willing to take the extra little steps necessary to watch out for each other.

Thank you to Ashley and the RTMS2000, without whom this photoshoot could not have happened!

Shego Cosplay Photo Gallery With Ashley