Token Top-Of-The-Stack Post

Hi everyone! It may look like I rarely update this, but in reality, most of my posts are friends-only, or behind various filters. I'm not particularly choosy about who I add as a friend, but this account is for personal posts that I don't want to open up to the entire world.

If you're looking for something that receives public posts on a regular basis, the journal on my website receives regular posts of general interest. It's also available here on LJ, as lupinia_studios.

Oh, and if you're wondering who this is, this is not my original LJ name. I changed it in October 2008. If you were on my friends list before then and don't know who this is, PM me and I shall enlighten you :-)

Thanks for visiting!

Family and Transitioning

Years ago, one of the reasons I didn't come out as trans to my mom was because I was afraid it would permanently rattle our relationship. I've written pages of posts on exactly that subject in this journal, in fact; we never had the perfect mother-child relationship, there was certainly friction, but ultimately, things really weren't that bad, in the grand scheme of things.

But now, having been out to mom as trans since October, and on the eve of completing my legal name & gender changes, things have played out exactly as I feared they would. Every conversation feels awkward and distant, and the 100 miles between where I grew up and where I currently live seems much further than it used to. And all the times I've seen her in person have been bittersweet at best, with one incident that was one of the most traumatic public experiences I've ever had as a trans woman.

She says she's trying to accept me, she says she's trying to understand. I believe her, for the most part. But her planned timeframe for being able to see the real me is measured in years, and in the meantime, every mention of my old name hurts. Every time the subject comes up, the message I get is basically "it'll take years for me to be able to love you again", and just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

I tried to tell her some of this, but she doesn't understand, and doesn't appear to be making much effort to understand. I talk about my name change, she acts like changing my name is a betrayal of some sort (though, the fact that I took her pre-marriage middle name as my own seemed to help her a bit). I try to describe how much it hurts that I have to hide who I am around grandma, but it doesn't even register; her response is "I just don't get that, I certainly wouldn't have trouble pretending to be someone else for an evening".

She's also gotten pretty adept at destroying what little self confidence I have in my appearance, completely unintentionally. Despite the fact that I pass and blend in ~80% of the time in my daily life (more frequently in the DC area where I live), she acts like seeing any femininity in me at all takes a leap of faith and 120% effort. To someone who struggles daily with self-image issues, hearing your own mother say "Eh, I guess I can kinda see you potentially being a woman, maybe" is devastating.

I chose to delay coming out to her until I moved out of her town for exactly this contingency; if things didn't go well, I didn't want to have to deal with it on a daily basis. But now that things are playing out exactly as I always feared, it feels horrible. I already lost my dad's love for unrelated reasons, I know better than to even try re-opening communication with him; in the process, I lost touch with his entire side of the family. And now, I feel like I've also lost my mom's love, to an extent. My sister is too laser-focused on her fiance to care about anyone else, I've tried and failed to have real conversations with her for months. My grandma still doesn't know I've transitioned, at mom's insistance. One of my uncles won't speak to me anymore. Most of the rest of my extended family doesn't know anything has changed.

I just...I feel like I'm no longer welcome in the only home I knew for 26 years. I feel like I'm losing the last parent I had left. I don't know what, if anything, I can do about it. And it hurts every time I think about it.

Rebuilding My Website, And Consolidating My Gender Presentation

My personal website tends to get a redesign on a pretty regular basis, usually once every year or two. The last one was completed in 2012, and I've been reasonably happy with it; it was a challenge for my design skills at the time, and it holds up pretty well a couple years later. However, the underlying codebase hasn't had a significant overhaul since 2006/2007. That was when I started dabbling in custom PHP, gradually adding features and assembling a surprisingly robust application framework, to which I later added a content management system, and some other modular components. This framework has improved over the years, and was partially rewritten once, but the site's underpinnings haven't changed dramatically over the years.

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When I discovered the awesomeness of Django, I knew I'd be rebuilding my website with it, because it's too awesome not to. And I even started on it. But it's been my experience that personal projects are taken much less seriously than job-related stuff, so I doubled down on work projects, pushing for approval to shift my very big, very public primary project into a Django-based rebuild effort. Drupal wasn't meeting their needs very well, and a Django-based site could do a better job faster; after what I did with the secret project, it was an easy sell. But, since that's now been retroactively halted, and crappy Drupal sites will only lead my career toward more crappy Drupal sites, getting my personal website revamped and completed is now one of my highest-priority projects outside the stuff I'm getting paid to do.

When I first set out to rebuild my site, I planned on pretty much just doing a Django port of what I had already built, to start with. The data models were identical, and the conceptual structure was identical. At first. As I worked on it, however, I realized more and more that Django, while awesome and flexible, does things differently enough from my legacy PHP code that trying to replicate it exactly was going to take far more work than I anticipated. As I stewed on this thought, I decided to halt development on my current code branch, and start a new version. This time, though, I wouldn't commit my data models into the database, or even execute any code until I had planned out how all this would interact and come together. Given my usual impatience and "dive in head-first, sort out the details later" approach to starting a project, this was unusual for me, but it's proven to be a breath of fresh air. In making an executive decision for myself that nothing would officially "start" without thorough pre-planning, I've freed myself up to re-evaluate all the design decisions I've ever made, to see which ones still fit.

A lot of things have changed in the process. For starters, since I'm replacing my trusty old Gallery2 photo gallery, I've given a LOT of thought to how it will interact with the rest of the site. And, I decided to buck the design conventions of Django a bit; instead of using path structure to indicate content type (site.root/contenttype/category/document), I'm going to use path structure purely as organizational structure, separated from any of the various content types, and use file extension to determine content type (site.root/category/document.type). Because, well, I rather like knowing that .htm is a content page, while something that ends in a / is a directory.

Probably the biggest design decision, though, is to no longer have a separate "male" version of my site.

In 2007, a lot of things were happening. I was coming to terms with being transgendered and deciding to transition, I had decided to seriously pursue web development as a career, and I started taking some side classes to brush up on web standards and CSS. My website reflected this; it had always purely been a personal site, very separate from anything professional, and was a hodge-podge of things that weren't great to put in front of a professional audience, as I later discovered in a hard and embarassing lesson. In the process of trying to tailor my web presence to specific audiences without building redundant isolated websites, I implemented a feature in my site that I couldn't really discuss in detail if I wanted it to work: Content separation based on domain.

This feature matured over the years, and is a focal point of the most recent rebuild of the site. Basically, I have a whole bunch of domains pointing to the same site, and the code has the full list. When it matches the domain the list, it determines which version of the site to display, and which content is accessible. There are two basic boolean settings; gender (m or f) and furry (true or false). Through the combination of them, therefore, there are four different versions of the site that can be served.

The idea was that I could give different URLs to people who knew me as furry and not TG, furry and TG, or as a non-furry boy, and they would all see different flavors of the same site. Additionally, I created a pronouns system, so that anything referencing me by name or in the third-person would match whichever gender the site was displaying. This matured considerably in the most recent version of the site, to the point that I defined a custom HTML tag for it in the CMS's output processor.

For awhile, this worked perfectly. I got to have a fabulous purple layout to link to from my Second Life profile (the first substantial and noteworthy instance of people knowing me as Natasha), and I could show my mom and my web dev professor my website without them getting deep into my furry art collection.

As time has gone on, however, my presentation and needs have shifted considerably. I've long since ditched the male version of my psuedonym, and no one who's met me since 2008/2009 has even heard it. I don't present male anywhere outside my current job, and even if I did, I stopped showing potential employers my personal website sometime around 2009 (though, that was to keep them learning I'm TG, something I won't be hiding, going forward). I even came out to my mom, which means I can finally shift the domain she knows about ( to the "female" setting on the site. And I did, a couple months ago. And it felt GREAT.

In thinking about how to implement this on the new rebuild of my site, and the technical challenges involved, I started rethinking whether I even need it at all. And the answer is a resounding "no". It's still a good idea to have a furry/not-furry separation; it'll never be fully Google-proof, but that's fine, my concerns are regarding first impressions and perceived priorities. My past attempts to fully hide furry and other fandom interests from employers had nothing to do with those interests, I hid them solely because I was hiding being TG, and those things are all interconnected in search results. But the additional male/female separation is getting nixed in the new version. I have no need for it, and the sooner I purge my old psuedonym from top search engine rankings, the better; it's not as uncomfortable as my legal name, but I'd still like to put it behind me.

My Approach To Photography

Originally posted at

Lately, as a result of a few of my photos getting an incredible amount of attention on, I've been exploring the profiles of a large number of users there (I check out everyone who interacts with my photos). And, of the profiles in English (it's a delightfully diverse site), there's usually information about the person's feelings and philosophy on their craft. It varies greatly, but it occurred to me I've never really written anything of the sort, and when I tried to come up with a new 500px bio, I had way more to say than could easily fit there. So, here's a compilation of snippets describing my approach and philosophy to my photography, based largely on Twitter discussions I've had on the subject.

First off, I freely admit that, when I'm shooting, I don't have the best grasp on technical precision. And there are a number of purists and old-school film shooters who consider this sloppy form; in their minds, the shot must always be perfect the moment you capture it. It shouldn't need post-processing, and "fixing it in post" is a sign of failure as an artist. I respect this approach, but I don't agree that it's the One True Way of photography, nor is it one I'm in a hurry to adhere to. It's an approach that makes perfect sense if you're shooting film: It's too expensive to do a lot of bracketing with different settings, and unless you own a darkroom and are an expert chemist, there isn't much post-processing that can be done. So, a successful film shooter must, first and foremost, be an absolute master of technical precision. But a digital shooter? Not so much.

Thanks to the magic of Adobe Lightroom, I can import some of the worst, sloppiest shots I've ever taken, and often get something useful out of them. Pretty much the only thing I can't correct with software is focus, and even that's negligible if it's close enough. I've had photos that, looking at them on the camera, were so overexposed or underexposed that I assumed I'd just be throwing them away, but I ended up being able to recover them. Shots like this or this didn't turn out the way I anticipated, but considering that they started as completely solid black and white (respectively) squares, the fact that I was able to get anything worth looking at from them is kinda awesome.

I don't use Lightroom as an excuse to not learn my craft. I always shoot in full-manual mode, because I'd rather get it wrong under my own control and understand what I did wrong, than get it right because the computer picked the setting for me. And, I always attempt to take the time to get everything right; I've been shooting full-manual far longer than I've owned a DSLR, I've had a lot of practice. However, because I never shoot in studio conditions, I don't have the luxury of making the world wait for me to get everything dialed in just right. Plus, I'd rather know for certain what the settings are, because I put them there, than potentially have them change on the fly. For example, if I'm shooting at an indoor event, but with highly active subjects, I'd rather know for certain that my shutter speed will be fast enough and potentially deal with dark shots, than have to read the settings at every single shot to make sure the camera didn't randomly decide to drop the shutter speed to 1/30 because someone's wearing a black shirt. Because I've seen my camera do that on the rare occasions I've switched it to aperture-priority mode.

More importantly, though, the act of taking the photos is an intimately emotional experience for me, not a technical one. My worst shots are often the ones where I was fiddling with settings trying to get everything right, and they're often the most technically perfect ones. But my best shots? Those usually happen when I pretty much ignore the camera (even the meter, half the time!) and simply capture. I'm not interested in making the shot look perfect on my camera, because this is 2013, and I shoot with modern technology. It doesn't need to look perfect on the camera. And while I'm not opposed to trying for that anyway, it's the first thing to go out the window when I'm more interested in capturing the emotional feel of the scene.

Capturing Emotion

In lieu of technical precision, my highest priority in my photography is emotional precision. Every shot mean something, and must make me feel something. I'm not a documentary photographer, or a journalist, and I have zero interest in taking photos for the sake of visually documenting something. It's why I no longer volunteer as a staff photographer for events without first talking to them in-depth to make sure they're not expecting a documentarian. It's also why I'm generally not very interested in doing studio portraits or becoming any semblance of professional photographer. Call it selfish, but I'm only interested in the photos that make me feel something (for non-living subjects) or that showcase someone else feeling something (people and animals). I'd much rather get an occasional candid portrait of someone in an intensely joyful, fleeting moment, than attempt to get them all the time in a controlled setting.

Convention Photography

My galleries have a large number of photos taken at fandom conventions, which most fandom photographers put in a separate gallery, under a pseudonym, or otherwise hide from mainstream eyes. Screw that. My con photos are some of the best of the best in my entire portfolio, because they're some of the most emotionally intense I've ever gotten. If you're not familiar with this sort of thing, fan cons of any sort are a gathering of people who often lack like-minded peers in real life, coming together in the biggest concentration of people sharing the same passionate hobbies they've ever experienced. And when you get that many people with that much passion for a single thing together in one place, the resulting explosion of creativity, social interaction, entertainment, and joy is absolutely intoxicating.

I've been attending these sorts of events regularly for many, many years, but it wasn't until late 2011 that I started seriously photographing them. I bought my DSLR a month prior to a con, and brought it along, since I was still experimenting with the sudden, massive upgrade in my photo capabilities. I got some decent shots there, but I didn't really consider the potential for brilliance until I looked through everyone else's shots afterwards. The album was filled with hundreds of terrible cellphone photos, but there were about a dozen shots from a professional wedding photographer that captured the fun of it even better than I remembered it feeling. And, I remember seeing this guy around the con, in retrospect; he brought his assistant to hold his light rig, which made him stand out in a crowd. But, in analyzing his photos, it wasn't the perfect lighting that made them so great. It was the emotions he captured. And even if they had been technically terrible, they still would have been the best photos anyone took at the event.

That epiphany changed the way I look at my own photography, but it also inspired me to pursue convention photography as a serious, major subject for my art. Because in looking through those photos, and comparing to my own memories, I realized that a convention is the perfect place to find the world's greatest concentration of excited, happy, energetic people doing interesting and unique things. Music, performance art, costuming, fashion, celebrities. All of it in one place. For someone looking to improve their ability to photograph people, it's a utopia, one that I'm grateful to be a part of, and that I love showcasing for the world to see.

HDR: The Uncanny Valley, and Instagram: Visual Autotune

HDR and Instagram-style vintage filters are two things in photography I won't touch with a ten-foot pole. I don't disparage them outright, I know they can be a bit controversial, but some people love them, and I can respect that. I'm just not one of those people.

Vintage/imperfection filters are probably the easiest target, because the only people who seem to like them are the people who use them. My objection pretty much just comes from their overuse; used sparingly, and with proper artistic discretion, there's a place for these sorts of shots. I've done some myself, although I use an actual Holga lens for mine, instead of relying on software to do it. It can be a fun creative exercise, and yield unique, interesting results. However, they're the visual equivalent of turning autotune to maximum in digital audio software; used sparingly, it adds a nice accent and change of pace to a song. Used for the whole song, you sound like a robot, and the only person who can pretend to make that work is T-Pain. Similarly, a vintage shot here or there in an otherwise well-balanced portfolio can be a fantastic change of pace, but using such techniques for every shot looks cheesy and uncreative, unless you're using an actual vintage camera. Why? Because you're not fooling anyone. Vintage-look digital processing is so easy to spot that even a complete layman can look at an Instagrammed photo next to a Holga film photo, and easily tell which one was digital. Star Wars Ep 2 and 3 had the same problem; everyone could see through the digital effects, and since they weren't novel anymore, they didn't hold up. Fake-vintage photos have the exact same problem for me, and when I see someone's entire gallery filled with them, I say "meh" and move on without looking further.

HDR techniques are less controversial, and have become sort of a de-facto standard for landscapes and sunrise/sunset photos, making it tricky for someone like me who avoids them to find an audience for those sorts of photos. My gripe with them is that they're the uncanny valley of photography; falling into the awkward, ugly canyon between "good-looking photo" and "good-looking drawing". Some HDR shots are nice, but the ones I like tend to be the most subtle; using the technique to bring out a bit of shadow detail on a dark shot, for example. Movies use this to great effect in their cinematography. But while the intent of HDR is to mimic what the human eye sees, it falls short of this, because it's artificial. Therefore, the more an HDR shot tries to accomplish this goal, the worse it looks. Sure, you can layer shots in HDR software to bring out the detail of a field and trees while having a nicely underexposed sunset in the sky, but it never quite looks right, and the attempt to do so results in a worse shot than if it had just been left with a dark/sillouhette foreground. Similarly, you can go to the other extreme, and practically turn your photo into a cartoon image (tone-mapping), which was sorta interesting when it had some novelty. But, it falls into the uncanny valley too, because you still know it's a photo, one that looks terribly wrong.

So, I'll occasionally snap on my Holga lens, but aside from my 2013 April Fools joke, I'll never touch Instagram, or do any sort of digital vintage/imperfection filters. And, when I write descriptions about my landscape shots, they'll be about where I was and what I saw, not about how many shots I layered into one. If that's your thing, go nuts, but it's not mine.


Changeling Soldier

Changeling Soldier by lupiniastudios
Changeling Soldier, a photo by lupiniastudios on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
One of several in a group of military-themed cosplay at Bronycon, and possibly the best at posing for photos in the group. I generally don't bother with posed cosplay photos, but this guy was so in-character doing it, I just had to. He also served as an example in some of my tweets during the con, offering tips about finding the best lighting in the venue.



Reverence by lupiniastudios
Reverence, a photo by lupiniastudios on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
The big draw of the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Center for my dear friend Fox and I was the Space Shuttle Discovery. He and I both dreamed of flying in it when we were little, so when we arrived at the museum shortly before closing, we made a beeline for the Shuttle exhibit and saw little else. While I was darting around taking photos, I noticed that he was spending a great deal of time just staring at the Shuttle. I could feel his reverence from across the room; it was as if he were visiting a memorial for a childhood hero, an intense mix of joy, admiration, and sadness. I had to capture the moment, and after he noticed me taking this, I joined him. Both of us had misty eyes by the time we left the exhibit.


Chesapeake Sunset

Chesapeake Sunset by lupiniastudios
Chesapeake Sunset, a photo by lupiniastudios on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Having spent my entire life on the east coast, and never travelled very far west, I've never, ever had the opportunity to see a sunset with a water horizon. So, on this roadtrip down the Eastern Shore of Virginia, I decided to aim to see the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay. It wasn't the most spectacular sunset I've ever seen, but it was well worth the trip!