Simple…

Usually, life isn’t always so simple, or so the media tells us; I think this is usually a lie when it comes to reality because the media nowadays is so biased that there’s little to no trust left in it anymore. Most important things are simple in life, but we’ve been so bombarded with confusion that we forget just how to get back to a point where life could be simple. In photography, simplicity makes a scene much easier to comprehend & understand, something that I’ve not always been able to get done right. What it does do, by making things simple, is that the composition doesn’t scream out to the viewer, but it helps the viewer focus in on what should be focused on.

- Mushrooms and Grass -
– Mushrooms and Grass –

I’m usually not the kind to brag, and I’m not going to start one here, so there is something to be said by trying to learn through making simpler compositions. If we put way too much in focus that isn’t too relevant, then it’s like we’re just going around and pointing to random things in the scene, making them all seem as important as the main subject & theme. If we’re trying to inspire, then random pointing isn’t necessarily going to work…at least not logically. For example, if we’re trying to capture a mushroom in a grassy field, the best thing would be not to focus on every single blade of grass as well as the mushrooms; like the above photograph, keeping some of the grass in focus is a good thing for context, but making everything in focus, would easily distract from the mushroom, especially if it was black & white where tones are much more important. Distractions usually don’t help the photograph and, by concentrating on the subject, our vision for the scene can shine through much easier; I’ve goofed this up so many times that it’s just a bit embarrassing admitting it.

Thinking back on it, I’ve probably done more than one rant on simplicity and forgotten what I’ve said more times than I care to admit. The funny thing about it is that forgetting about it might be the one thing that actually helps because it means I’m always learning, or at least trying to, keep things a little simple that I end up stressing it quite a bit while maybe ranting about it way too much. There are so many amazing photographers out there, some of whom I know, who keep their photography simple, including those that don’t necessarily do it for a living, for reasons that I can only speculate, but I personally think that it’s because they want their photographs to mean something & inspire others in their simplicity.

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In isolation

Much is made about keeping the subject the key part of the photograph and I fully agree, but a little chaos can be a good thing; as long as it’s there for a reason. We know that living in isolation isn’t a good thing for our mental well-being and Christians believe that man is not meant to be alone (Genesis 2), so from this I know that being in complete isolation isn’t a good thing at all. Where this relates to photography is when we think that we become so important that we don’t need anyone for input; when this happens, we cease to learn and stop growing. How do I get past this? I look at other works by others put out there, whether it be on other blogs out there, photography books, other photographic tools, or asking others, it’s a way for me to learn. I’m not exactly outgoing when it comes to my photography (at least not face-to-face), so that part doesn’t exactly come all too easy for me. We all get inspired by different things and in different ways, so isolation (in the personal sense) isn’t all that good to begin with.

- Mushroom & Grass -
– Mushroom & Grass –

When it comes to certain subjects, a large aperture will work better than a smaller one; I know it sounds obvious because the depth of field is shallower & more isolating with the larger aperture, but it also makes the background & context of the subject nearly irrelevant. Irrelevancy isn’t something that is necessarily a good thing, mostly because it keeps the eye from moving around in the photograph and can often make the view bored with it quicker than should be happening. In my opinion, the above photograph gets away with this somewhat by simulating a wider aperture because of a gradual filter with negative clarity for anything outside of the circle, creating a kind of vignette of clarity around the subject; I refined it this way not just to draw the eye the way it does, but to show the miniature scene the way it felt when I first shot it. While the shot doesn’t strictly stick to the leave-as-shot rules, it does stick to the feel of the scene itself and it sticks to the emotion of the time it was shot.
Getting the feel of a scene in a photograph has mostly been a long struggle for me and I’m far from getting it even half of the time. Maybe it’s my stubbornness that causes this or maybe it’s just that I work without all the bells & whistles that most other people work with, but, either way, I’d rather be doing this and learning as I go instead of just reaching the next step quickly and then wondering where I go from there. I get bored all too easy, especially for someone that isn’t prone to being hyperactive…Even if I do have my crazy moments.

Summer…

Thinking about warm weather sometimes makes me glad that air-conditioning was invented; I’m not really a hot weather type of person, so anytime the temperature outside reaches about 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), I’m usually the first to find shade. What it does mean for me is good, soft light for sunrises if the night has been cool; with the air slowly warming up, it seems to make the morning a little more tolerable. Summers, for me, usually end up being better for sunrises because then it’s not so darn cold that early in the morning; sunrises in the winter months are amazing as well, but the upside is that thick gloves aren’t needed in the summer for shooting the sunrise.
With the summer months, there isn’t as much of an outburst of colour, or at least as big a variation of it, as there is in spring, but there’s something to be said for being able to handle the different lighting that comes with a longer midday sun. Most people, myself included, usually think that shooting under the midday sun is a bad thing because of the harsh overhead light, but, once you get used to it, the light can be really good for backlit shots of flowers or in forested creeks where you want to see specular lighting to bring out the mood. We get stuck in certain mindsets when it comes to photography that we can either fix it later on the computer or just ignore the midday hours, but there is something to be said by learning through photography in the midday hours because it makes us, or at least it should, a little more focused on getting the shot right so that we have more to work with later and learn a bit more about ourselves in the process. Personally, I learn more in the summer months about lighting because the angle of the sun makes it that much more challenging for me to work on my photography.

- Rock & Moss -
– Rock & Moss –

For example, with the above photograph, taking it in the summer would mean a harsher, overhead light and the shadows would have been more pronounced because of it. While I have shot this scene in the summer before, it often means a great deal more work in post-processing because of the lighting; the highlights & shadows would need more tinkering because of that greater contrast in that kind of lighting. In the spring, when this shot was taken, the sun wasn’t so high or harsh, so the contrast wasn’t as much and the dynamic range was much easier to deal with. Simply put, summer means a little harsher light, but more learning opportunities.

Wearing the past…

When I look back, I’ve come to think that we tend to wear our past mistakes like they’re what define us and, in a way, it’s kind of true, but in doing this, we put ourselves down so far that it’s hard at times to get up. We all make mistakes and we all have things that we regret, but I’ve come to realize that the Creator’s given us one way out. I’ve made so many bad decisions that I’ve come to think that I can’t do it on my own and I’m totally right in thinking that; I can work at something so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. When it comes to who we trust and who we think have our backs, we need to look to those that will walk alongside us, not whispering things in our ears that beef up our pride because we need to stay humble, something I’m so often forgetting.
For myself, reading & photography have been ways that often seem to get me realizing just how small I am, yet just how much the Creator cares for each one of us…Why else would such a messed up creation look so good if it wasn’t for something bigger behind it all? There’s always a flip side to the good and we need to tread that line carefully so that our pride doesn’t get the better of us, making us think that we can’t do it on our own; we need to wear our past to the point that we don’t treasure it as the only thing, but so that it reminds us to stay humble, something we all can easily forget, myself included. I want to remember the past so that I don’t repeat it, but I don’t really want to let it define who I am. When it comes to what I think photography does, for me in particular, I think it’s a bit of escapism in that it helps me focus on something else besides what mistakes are in the past; it’s almost as if it’s one way of me wearing the past quite loosely and not letting it get to me too much.

- Pink Lily -
– Pink Lily –

When I think back on what I’ve done, with my photography, in the 3.5 years since this blog was started, I wonder if how I started was a little stronger and I’ve been taking it a little too laidback when it comes to refining, or even taking, a shot of a scene; sure, I’ve changed a bit in how I go about things and why I do them, but have I lost sight of purpose & inspiration? If I’m being honest with myself, I think I have, at least to some extent, but I hope I’m also learning as I go because, if I’m not, I’m going to lose sight of why I’m doing it in the first place. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the above photograph the way I did if I had done it back then, but I’ve learned a few things since; my inspirations have changed and my tastes have morphed a bit over the years, so it’s no wonder that I’ve grown at least a little in photography. I’m nowhere near perfection, but that’s okay because it’s a journey that I’m glad I’m on.

For the most part…

For the most part, I’m not the type of person to really stick to one plan or another, especially when it’s raining outside and I’m wanting to get some photography done; I’m more of a fair-weather type of person when it comes to photography, mostly because I’m too lazy to get outside in that kind of weather. Give me snow or sun and I’m good, but rain just gets to me because it always seems to be depressing; the thing is, raindrops make good subjects in photography, so every so often, I try to get in some decent photography when the raindrops are still visible (rain or not). The beauty of it is when flowers are used as backdrops or major subjects in capturing raindrops…Snapdragons are just right for this because of their shape & form.

- Raindrops and Snapdragons -
– Raindrops and Snapdragons –

Working with those flowers can be a little less tricky than smaller ones, but, because of the rounded nature of the blooms, depth of field is more of an issue; with shots like the one above, it’s more so about using the curving petals to help with the image at an aperture of f8. When I look back at it I realize that I could’ve gone with a smaller aperture of something akin to f16 to get more in focus, but it seemed to work at f8 because it made the raindrops for of a focal point and it got done just what I was hoping it would. With tinier flowers, the aperture is more important, like the shot below, but it also dealt with more than just a single flower or two; it dealt with the atmosphere around them, unlike the shot above…In simpler terms, the second shot is more about the wider feel of the scene, even though it’s still a close-up shot. The shot above has a singular, tight focus while the one below has more of an all-encompassing type of feel, meant to relate to the background as well. Both are shot at f8, at different times, but there is a difference, despite the aperture being the same between the two shots.

- Tiny Whites -
– Tiny Whites –

While the first shot is all about the singular flower, both are taken at relatively the same distance & aperture, but their relation to the larger environment is totally different. For the most part, I do prefer the second shot because of its background, but the first is more of a study on a singular spot while the second has a bit of a larger focus of the environment as well. The second shot also has a happier feel because of the lightness of the flowers & the overall scene, while the first has more of a contemplative feel because of the singular focus on the subject. While we’ve been given a life by the Creator to do something with, I’d hope that by choosing something positive over something that always negative, that I’m at least going to be able to make a difference & inspire someone.

Worth it…

For me, the question of editing a photograph has meant me thinking if it is worth it at all or to just give up; I mean, I know I most likely dropped the proverbial ball to begin with, so why bother with it at all. The problem with this thinking is that I’m so often blinded by emotions and a first impression that often doesn’t look deep enough to begin with; I’m so let down by the image turning out murky at first glance that I completely shove it aside. Some of the time it gets worse when it’s after some kind of event that gets me ticked off, like some game where the referees were one-sided, or when something else rubbed me the wrong way; I just need to remember that some things are out of my control and I can’t let them get to me like that. The way I’ve found to get back to an image that I thought was a bust is just to suck it up and try to see if I’ve missed something, which I usually have.
For the most part, when I think of an image as being worth it, I have to admit I’m almost always wrong the first time around when I dismiss an image; the closest thing to a decent reason for this is that the emotions are still raw when I look at the photograph. When I think of it, going into editing too soon can really be something that doesn’t end well because I either get carried away with the refining, or I just ignore something that I should have been paying attention to in the first place. To tell the truth, neither of those outcomes really helps at all because my mind isn’t thinking too clearly at that point; what is really needed is to calm myself down and then look through the image to see if there is some worth in it after all. Most of the time, if I’m honest with myself, I do end up finding photographs that really have some worth in it; it amazes me at just how often I completely brush them off as not worth it, only to find that I end up learning something when I do choose to edit them…Whether it’s a new way of expression or a quicker way of making the image turn out a certain way, there’s going to be some worth.
It’s not like we can’t all afford to slow down once in a while and really enjoy what we’ve got; I’m beginning to think that it’s really necessary to do so now, more than ever, especially because of the nonstop media attention & bombardment we’re facing in our daily lives. Sometimes it’s the boredom of nothing to do that can make us want to just get up and do something and, sometimes, it’s the need to slow down after a long day. Most of the time, when going through photographs for refining, slowing down is just what’s needed to get a good, clear idea of what the image is saying.

- Perch -
– Perch –

Mistakes & madness…

Thinking about all the times I get frustrated when an image doesn’t turn out alright, I usually end up forgetting about the photographs entirely; the easier thing to do would be to see if it didn’t turn out right because of settings, or if it’s because I’m just not looking at it right. I mean, it’s not always evident that I’m looking at a mistake or something that just needs a bit of a boost because I’m dealing with a RAW file that needs refining; RAW files contain quite a bit more info than JPEG, but the flip-side is that they will usually, if not always, need refining to get the shot out to where we want it to. Personally, the refining means that more skill & time is needed, something that’s more of a learning challenge, making each shot more of an investment than your typical JPEG.
When it comes to revisiting old photographs I’ve taken, I’d rather have the RAW versions because they’re easier to work with and give me more of a leeway when it comes to making any adjustments. This way, if I make mistakes, I have a base image that’s not affected because I’m using a format with more give & take in terms of the information contained within it; RAW files are usually at least 7x the size of JPEGs and require time to go through them, needing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop to work with. I’d rather get it right in camera, so RAW files help me better in this because they give me more base information to work with and they don’t lose quality each time I save them to a new location or make refinements. Sometimes, it creates a bit of madness because those files come out looking a bit murky, but when they’re properly interpreted (saved to a file format that everything can read rightly), they come out just as good; RAW files are basically the digital version of film negatives, so they require lab time…In this case, it’s digital darkroom type programs like Lightroom.

- Out of the Tree -
– Out of the Tree –

Mistakes are also easier to overcome in a RAW file, but that never means that the format is a cop-out for getting things right in the first place, it just means that smaller mistakes are somewhat easier to correct. These days, when we have so many options of what we can do, mistakes come easy, and so does the madness, but if we’re really serious about it, we can take the time to learn from them. Like the shot of the leaves in the above photograph, we can come out of a rough spot and grow, if we want to learn…We just need to get past our own mistakes, something I’m still struggling to do most of the time.

A walk through the gardens (Part 2)…

Getting back to the idea of a walk through the gardens, I’ve wondered what the cost of just putting aside my preconceived notions of what gardens should be; I go through the gardens expecting to see colors of a certain type & form, look for flowers that bloom a certain way, but do I really look at the gardens as they are or how they make me feel? At its core, photography should be about emotion, feeling, inspiration & impact, not just how something fits into preconceived notions & ideas. Sometimes, on a walk through the gardens, I’ve got to learn to slow down and really feel what the scene in front of me is saying or the way I photography it might just be way too shallow to be of any good use. For example, when I see a flower in bloom, am I seeing just the flower or how the colors of its bloom interact & contrast with the rest of the scene and what does it say to me?

- Moss in Battle -
– Moss in Battle –

The above photograph was of a scene I’ve only recently started paying attention to in the gardens over the last few months, even though I’ve passed by it for years; every year, the moss seems to crawl over this tree and this spot in particular, but when I first spotted it some months ago, it looked like a cloud creeping in over some kind of field, reminding me of an ever-encroaching fog in some battle in a fantasy story. However, this moss seems to be less malevolent than the fog of battle or darkness and it almost seems to be the exact opposite…I guess the green color of it has something to do with that. What gets me paying more attention to it is that I’ve come to remember the spot so that I look up & see it, I’ve come to slow down and take in the scene in front of me as I walk through the gardens, and I’m learning to take it all in & push my preconceived notions/ideas aside when doing so. When it comes to a walk in the gardens, looking back at this photograph, it’s about just being in the moment when I take the shot and not letting a preconceived plan get in the way.
I know I’ve said that going for a walk through the gardens is more about going without a planned course of action and I’m beginning to realize that it’s about more than that: it’s about being in the moment while not letting secular society & all the worries come flooding into my mind to distract me. I know the Creator’s given me one life to live and I know that I’m meant for so much more, so I don’t think that letting society get to me is going to help all that much at all. This time, a walk through the garden is going to help refresh  my mind, allowing the Creator to speak to me, guiding me, as I walk through it all.

A glowing light…

I’ve often toyed with close-ups to the point that I’m just experimenting with how light bounces off surfaces, creating dimension in tighter spaces; I mean, if we’re given this amazing world by the Creator, why not explore it? Sure, we’ve messed it up, but there’s still some beauty left for us to really explore, even if we have to get out of the concrete jungles. Just think of all the centuries where hymns talking about nature have been left to us…There’s got to be something left to explore, even if it’s in a small space no bigger than that of a car tire; after all, that’s why macro photography is so fascinating (it shows the small scenes made much bigger). Often, it’s in these small spaces that we can find inspiration…Just look at a photograph of a small flower growing out of cracked mud or a cracked cement block.

- Bells of Spring -
– Bells of Spring –

The above photograph is of a few stalks of bell-like flowers in a really tight space, no wider than that of a car tire, with only one stalk in focus; what gets me about these flowers is the creamy texture & dimension that they have, especially when they’re white. They’re quite common around here in May, and they’re easy enough to come by, but the challenge is getting the light right for them at midday when the sun is overhead; being partly shaded helps, but the rest is pretty much all positioning of the camera & point of view. I’ve done my usual refinements (localized contrast & saturation as well as noise) only because they worked for the image and they suited my vision for the scene; in reality, it only works better when in post-processing because my previsualization skills kind of stink (sometimes they work, but they’re really hit-and-miss most of the time).
With the way I approach things and the way things don’t always work out, you would think I’d learn to get shots like this without much cognitive thought, making it all second-nature; truth is, I am pretty far from getting this right most of the time and, while it does annoy me, I am getting a bit better at it. Previsualization doesn’t always come easy for us and, to most of us, it doesn’t really come all that well when it does come; that’s all okay because, thanks to technology and those that have written many a resource, there’s plenty to help us figure out photography as we go, as long as we’re carefully taking it with a grain of salt, not following it blindly. It becomes so easy to just take things like photography tips & tricks at face value that we forget to really look at the reasoning behind them and why they just might work, or not work.

A walk through the gardens…

I’ve often wondered what a walk through the gardens would literally mean for me; I mean, I’ve never consciously gone out to go for a walk through the gardens because I usually go primarily to photograph them. When I think of it as that, it sometimes strikes me as a foreign concept because I usually think of it as an English thing to do, not really a North American thing. Why do I think that? I honestly have no idea why, but it just does. When I think of a walking tour, it comes across as an English thing as well, which probably comes from my repeated reading of C.S Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet…A great book by the way.

- Little Whites -
– Little Whites –

The above photograph was taken on one such walk through the gardens; while I usually set out on a walk through these gardens to take photographs of these gardens, this time it was more of a walk through the gardens than just photography. This time around, it was more just focused on walking through the gardens and capturing what caught my eye instead of the usual hunting for images; I did have some ideas of where to walk to find photographs, but I soon discarded those for a more generalized direction, putting aside a plan of where to go. Sometimes I find that a relatively aimless walk allows me to loosen up and let my mind ease into something than forcing it to see something that might not be there; the difference is usually quite minute (like it was this time) and barely noticeable, but it’s there. As for refining the original image, it was the usual contrast (local & image-wide), noise & saturation adjustments done slightly; I’m not one for doing drastic adjustments. In this kind of shooting atmosphere, the vision for each shot isn’t as set as I would usually have it, making it a bit looser, but more centered on feel than usual.
So I’m left wondering what a walk through the gardens really means for me, besides walking through relatively aimless without a planned path. I think, now that I’ve really gone through it, it means that I’m walking through those gardens, enjoying them for what they are, soaking up the entirety of them…And I’m doing it not just to make myself feel like I’m someone great, but doing it to ease my mind. This time, there was a bit of a planned route, but a much less rigid one than I’m usually used to. It’s about letting the gardens themselves inspire me instead of trying to purposefully make, or produce, something that inspires. Sometimes, inspiration works both ways and it can really help us slow down to see that there’s more than our little materialistic world that matters.