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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Different ideas…

I’ve often read that there’s usually the proper time of day for photography because of the light and that’s in the early morning (sunrise) or late evening (sunset). But then there’s midday, or noon, when the shadows are typically harsh; what do we do then? I typically spend that time away from the camera, not taking photographs, but then, it can also be a good time & chance to learn what light can do when it is straight overhead. I personally think it’s more of a challenging time, not because of shutter speeds, but because the light doesn’t exactly lend itself to bringing out dimension in what we’re photographing because of the shadows. This is where aperture becomes more important because it modifies the depth & sharpness of what we’re trying to photograph; we can let more of the background blur out to push the subject to the front by making the subject much sharper than its surroundings and give dimension to the subject that way.

- Magnolias -
– Magnolias –

The above scene was quite busy, especially at a smaller aperture like f22, but, at f8, it was just right and created some depth in the photograph. It was shot at about 2 pm, a time when most people would think it that the sun is too harsh for this kind of photography because the sun is still overhead, but it works, at least for me, because the aperture of the photograph created the depth that was needed to make the background still recognizable while still making the subject stand out. A dark blue sky would’ve made it look too polarized in a scene like this, so I tend to work with a UV filter and tweak the colours later in Lightroom, doing careful adjustments as I’m working through the shot. I’m not against using a polarizer, but I would rather boost up the colours in post-processing than tune them down after, hence the reason why I’m usually using a UV filter instead.
Looking at nature, I’ve come to realize that while we’re given this time here by the Creator, we’ve also gone about doing our best to muck it up with all the junk we throw away; just look up trash island on the internet or even pay attention to how much trash is left in local parks whenever you walk by. It’s messed up when you think of it, especially when you go to enjoy yourself…You end up having to clean up trash before enjoying yourself. I’ve probably done it many times over the years, but I’m trying not to do it anymore and I’ve gotten pretty decent at not leaving trash in parks anymore, I think; I guess it comes easier when you’re thinking of photographing a scene and the idea of trash left in it comes to mind…it’s almost as it serves as a warning not to leave it lying around in the first place.

Amazed by the lights…

Taking some time on Sunday after the morning’s church service to photograph some smaller flowers under an overcast sky after overnight rains, I was tinkering with how the light played up against the tiny flowers, called forget-me-nots (Myosotis for the gardening geeks out there), with the idea of purpose and living with meaning in mind. What this did is make me think about how I was portraying the small flowers because I had just passed them by so many times, ignoring them because they are so incredibly common around where I am. The light was dull & spread out evenly and the weather cool enough that it still meant I needed to wear at least a light coat or hoodie and it kept things on the cooler side.

- Raindrops on Myosotis -
– Raindrops on Myosotis –

What the above photograph did is make it look like there was artificial light; after all, when does natural light really look like that? I can assure you that there really was no artificial light at all…It’s all organic, natural light. While I try not to get amazed by the lights of the city at night, I need them to drive during those times, but this time, during mid-day, I didn’t need city light at all, or at least not the artificial, buzzing lights that are so common. Around here, in the Pacific Northwest, bees don’t pass these flowers by and, I guess, it’s a sign that we shouldn’t either when we’re out looking for subjects for close-up & macro photography. Life’s a bit too short to be passing things by, but, at the same time, we shouldn’t be jumping over the big things just to pick at the little things around us.
When it comes to photographing after the rain, there’s a few things to take into consideration: the wetness/softness of the ground, reflections from drying surfaces, surfaces that are still wet, and the effects of light bouncing off wet/slick surfaces. Now, I’m no genius at this, and I still make more mistakes than I’d care to admit, but it’s a challenge that we might as well accept, because it brings out scenes like in the photograph above and we just might learn as we go. In this day & age, when the mainstream media continually just throws stuff our way, we (myself included) would do well to watch out for the crap and really think about what’s really important. I’m still struggling with this, but I hope that, by being completely honest here, I’m just showing that perfection in this art thing called photography doesn’t come within a lifetime, especially if honesty & humility are really at the center of it all.

 

Just another day…

Sometimes, we get caught in a rut, thinking that it’s just another day gone, especially when it comes to working routine; I’ve been there and I’m practically there every so often so much it hurts. After all, we were created to stand out, not just mix in and let the current mess with us, weren’t we? It feels like it more & more, where it’s just another day and then something happens that shakes us out of the funk we’re in; this week it was the end of the regular season in hockey and, for the first time in years, my team made the playoffs…And then came the usual depressing news of crashes across the country, attacks in Europe & the Middle East. So, yeah, while it seems like just another day in a time when the media wants to peddle bad news, there was at least one positive that came out of it.

Then there’s this song from the band Ten Shekel Shirt, a song called Ocean, that seemed to pull me out of the saddened mood this time and there’s one line in in the chorus that brings me out of it: Something about the heavens makes me stand in awe again. Not to say that the rest of the song doesn’t do it as well, but this line stands out, reminding me that life is bigger than just me; the Creator made this world for a reason and there’s more than just our little circles that we should be so intensely focused on. If a single song can inspire us, why shouldn’t we be trying to do the same for others? We might fall short & fail, something I’m all too familiar with, but there’s something to be said for getting up and trying again. We need to take the media with a grain of salt and try to get past the crap that we’re being told; maybe, in the process, we just might help someone else, lifting their spirits & giving them a little hope along the way.

- Perch -
– Perch –

I was feeling pretty upset & down when it came to the tragic accident in the Prairies & a rained out weekend and decided to shake off the funk after watching the memorial service on the TV by going out for a bit when I was asked if I wanted to check out the bird sanctuary a decent half-hour drive south. I figured that it couldn’t hurt, so I went and ended up capturing this little bird (in the upper left if it’s not immediately visible) flying around; it stayed still long enough for me to get it in a few frames and this one ended up being one of my favourites. While the time at the bird sanctuary helped, it also reminded me of the importance of having a breather once in a while. Did it completely get me out of the funk? Almost, but it did set me on the road to getting out of it…It inspired me, especially in the refining stage of working on the photographs, to do better with what I’ve got and work to inspire. So, sometimes all it takes is a good breather to get past the funk…Sometimes it can take more, but that’s what friends & family are for.

Lighter or darker…

This decision is one that we all tend to face whenever we’re at the moment of capture because we want to keep the highlights to a minimum, but we don’t want to make the shadows too dark. Exposing to the right side of the histogram makes it so that we have more data to work with…For some reason, this is how digital photography works. This also means that the dark parts of the image get darker and the possibility of digital noise gets greater; this isn’t a problem if the shadows aren’t all that important (HDR can always try to fix this), but if they are and we want to preserve them without causing too much noise, then we might just have a problem. Preferably, I tend to want to get the image right as best as possible in camera, but I can easily muck this up; so, sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out the way I had planned it and adjustments later on in post-processing muck it up.

- White Trumpets -
– White Trumpets –

The above shot was one of those where post-processing made it a little too dark; tweaking the contrast & clarity darkened the greens too much, so I bumped the exposure up by +0.2 in Lightroom to bring back some of that light & some of its glow that I saw when taking the shot. The white was good, but in the process of tweaking the contrast & saturation, the overall image, apart from the white flowers, got darker and that was what I didn’t want to happen. The initial exposure was really close, but I wanted to tweak the localized contrast & saturation a bit and it had the effect of darkening the greens a little too much. I’m not much of an ‘expose to the right’ kind of photographer, so refining becomes a bit trickier for me and, truth be told, it’s definitely something I’m going to live with as a result; what this does mean is that I’m having to rely on exposure adjustments more often than I otherwise would have to deal with, but that’s the trade-off.
Most of the time, dealing with a single shot, there’s a trade-off because of range, but that’s the thing about it: there’s always a trade-off and how we adapt to it is how our vision shines through, or doesn’t shine at all. If we miss it, then we can choose one of two things…learn from it or go stomp off & forget about it. In the end, it’s about making a choice to do one of the two things and I’m pretty sure I don’t always make the right choice.

Blue hour & sunrise…

The best way of testing our photography skills is definitely shooting the sunrise or blue hour…Blue hour is the time directly before sunrise & directly after sunset. Why would it be good for testing photography skills? It’s early in the morning and there’s little light when it comes to blue hour; personally, I’m beginning to like shooting at the tail end of blue hour when it’s almost sunrise because you end up getting the best of both times mixing together. The worst part of it is getting up early and going to the site ahead of time in the dark; doing just that, shooting at blue hour, in the winter, makes it even colder. The benefit of this is that there are few people out for this time of day while the colors are just beginning to show for sunrise; when I tried this recently, I only noticed just under a handful of people out for this time of day, and only one was taking photographs…He waited for the sun to fully come over the trees.

- Blue Hour Sunrise -
– Blue Hour Sunrise –

Working with a scene like this, I decided to let the trees go black and the geese in the water go dark as well just so that I could capture the approaching sunrise while staying handheld. A HDR (High Dynamic Range) image would’ve worked really well here, but it would’ve taken away from the feel of the scene, in my opinion. The adjustments that I made were simple & not too drastic, typical for me; I stuck with minor clarity, global & localized saturation, slight contrast and some luminance noise tweaking…There was a slight exposure increase (+0.2) as well. I was aiming for a simpler, pre-sunrise look that wouldn’t betray the sense of anticipation for the sun to fully rise over the trees. While didn’t bother tinkering with the colors in the color panel of Lightroom, I don’t think I needed to; sure, I could’ve made the sky more bluish, but that would’ve betrayed the changing light & the feel of the scene.
It all comes down to, in these times of day, is the feel, emotion, & mood of the scene in front of us; to be sure, what I’m trying to say is that we react to what is in front of us at the moment we first see it, how we see it, and the moment of capture. I may never be perfect in doing this myself and I don’t really think I will be, but I know that, in this world that’s so messed up, there are still glimpses of something more and we’ve got to strive to get out there, get inspired, and try to show meaning in what we do so that we can inspire others…Maybe, just maybe, we might just be able to take a stand and show that there’s more than just the superficial, self-serving crap that society throws at us.

Gear envy…

Great, yet another post about gear, or at least that’s the kind of response I think will be common when people read this title. But hear me out…If we think about just how much we spend on stuff to make us feel more comfortable & more supposedly accomplished as people, we tend to focus on the immediate future in front of us, instead of thinking ahead, or at least that’s what I’ve found happens. Do we need the latest gadgets to produce photographs that really say something? Not if we’re really honest with ourselves. It’s something that I really struggle with. What can really hurt is someone coming up to you and saying oh, it’s a fake DSLR or oh, it doesn’t have all that many megapixels. What does that kind of thinking do to us mentally and what does that really do to society at large? Personally, I think it demeans the person and degrades what the person is trying to say with their photographs. It can cause something called gear envy in that same person because they feel as if they need to get the latest & greatest to even be remotely relevant.

- Purple in Shade -
– Purple in Shade –

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that being up-to-date in this current cultural climate is starting to get overrated. Look at the photo above: all I did was slight contrast, clarity, very mild colour & noise adjustments (as well as tweaking the exposure by 0.1 to make the purple pop). I did do a medium tone curve adjustment as well, but the shot was take with a stock lens that someone else wouldn’t look twice at…And it’s become my workhorse lens. The long & short of it is that it’s not about how much the lens/camera cost, but how much effort you put into the shot; and life’s like that too…It’s not always about the money. I’m not going to rant against the ones selling cameras for the price of a sports car here, but I am going to say this one thing: does it really matter what the price is when the images don’t say or mean a thing?
There’s something to be said for making something that inspires over something that just is a simple snapshot; to be fair, I’ve seen what some would call snapshots that are amazing snapshots that are more like works of art…The kind of stuff that makes me stop in my tracks and realize that there’s more to life than what’s immediately around me. If there’s a chance we can inspire someone, then we might as well try to do just that so that we can make life just that much more bearable for someone. The thing about all this is, if we don’t get up and work at it, it won’t get done and I’m just as lazy as the next person. Time to get out there…