Side issues…

We’re often told that going with the flow is more important, but I don’t get it? Why go with the flow when we’re born to stand out? If we’re really individuals, then I don’t think that we’ve got to necessarily go along with every little thing that society dictates we should do, especially when things are getting increasingly out of hand with both the far-right & the left, politically. Here in Canada, we’ve got a leader who says that we must say people-kind instead of mankind, but then he says that he was just joking to cover his back (yeah…right); most of the time, politics is so full of crap that it’s nowhere near funny anymore. But then, that’s just a side issue because we look at our politicians and think that’s okay because they’re just being politicians; since when did we let them think it was okay to do that to begin with?
I think the same goes for photography & the rest of the arts: when did we become so enamored with the latest gear that photographs became increasingly two-dimensional & shallow? Sure, we can’t always be on-the-ball with every shot we take, but we, myself included, can sure try our best not to let ourselves get lost in all the gear and focus on meaning instead. In a way, when we focus on getting it right in camera, forgetting about how new our gear is and instead on what our gear does, it makes it easier to get meaning & impact in our photographs. Personally, it sucks when I worry about my gear because it distracts my mind and keeps me from getting in my best photography and it can really derail what could be a good time of photography. When I’m letting go of just thinking about myself & my stuff/gear, then maybe, just maybe, I stand a good chance of getting something of meaning in my photography; after all, if I hold to the belief that the Creator made this world beautiful to begin with (even though we’ve screwed that up), I might as well try my best to focus on that instead of my own selfish needs for once.

- Perch -
– Perch –

Sometimes, we all need a little inspiration to get us going & lift our spirits; I’m far from perfect on this one, so I’ll keep trying, even though I’ll fall down, Ill eventually get back up. Personally, I think it’s about time that we get past all the crap around us and live like we’re the kind not just to say so what? but the kind to at least try to do something about it. Let’s get past the side issues and really start to work at something more instead of dwelling on them.

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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.

Needing a drink…

There’s quite a few country songs about needing a beer, some of them are among my favourites. What I’m trying to get at is that sometimes things happen that leave us needing a beer or just a simple coffee. Easter is right around the corner and it’s not about some bunny that lays some chocolate ears, but about the Saviour’s ultimate sacrifice for our sins and rising again for our redemption/salvation, should we choose to get down on our knees and accept it…Although it’s more of the Creator choosing us, but I’ll leave that for theology masters to duke it out. I’m just as guilty as the next person and I’ll readily admit that if I can, but I just want to get that out there. Sometimes, all the worries of this world make me want to sit down and grab a cold root beer or a coffee to just let the worries drift right off of me.
It takes a mind that’s open to even think about this kind of stuff and, being a stubborn person myself, it can also take some time…It’s not light decision. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that live is more of a battle, thanks to pride & all the crap that mainstream society & the radical fringes throw at us, but, in the end, we’ve all got to really struggle against it, but thankfully the power isn’t something that we have to do on our own. With Easter, it’s about seeing that there’s more to it than all the chocolate that we’re bombarded with and realizing life isn’t always about us, something I’m so guilty of doing every now & then. With that said, there’s something to be said for not buying into the hype over all the chocolates on sale and maybe, just maybe, we might avoid a massive sugar crash.

- Sunrise Over Trout Lake -
– Sunrise Over Trout Lake –

Easter is also a great time to get together with family and, if you’re far out from them for most of the year (unlike I am), it’s kind of a catch-up time after Christmas. Family’s more than just biological family because it’s the kind of people that you can get along with & trust and/or lean on in times of struggle…And ask their honest opinions of when it comes to certain decisions. Getting back to the title of this post, I just have to say that we need more than a drink, something that really gets to the heart of the matter and I believe that’s where Easter comes in.

Gear envy (Part 2)…

No, I’m not going to do another rant on gear buying or collecting, but I do want to finish up the idea that we’re so hooked up on the latest tech. I mean, think about it, if we’re so stuck on the latest & greatest, then where does that leave us when it comes to learning from our mistakes? There’s something to be said for remembering what didn’t work and what did, while learning from both; I may not remember everything when I need to, but I hope, sincerely, that there’s always room for improvement and I don’t forget what brought me to where I am. I’m not saying not to buy that lens, but I’m saying, or at least trying to say, that if the sole purpose is just to have that shiny new lens, then there just might be a problem.

- Tree & Flowers -
– Tree & Flowers –

Take for example the above photograph, taken with a macro lens; the macro function wasn’t used for this one, but the idea of being restricted by a single focal length, made me think just that much harder before getting the shot. What I was trying to say/express with this shot was to show a normal point of view while showing just how beautiful an ordinary POV can be; I was testing out the macro lens and working with what I had, trying to push myself to be better. Now, I know some are probably thinking that I’m contradicting my earlier statements on gear but hear me out: I’m not using anything fancy or even professional, but I’m using something to restrict myself in order to make myself learn more and do better. The above shot had some refining done to the shadows, clarity, vibrance, contrast & noise sliders in Lightroom, but it came out with the idea to not blur the background as much to show context (something that the focal length does for me) while not making it an image that’s too busy for its own good.
Sometimes, gear gets to be too much, especially when we’re just spending it to get it, instead of using it to get better at what we love to do. It’s been said that Ansel Adams preferred to have a natural/realistic look to his photographs and I’m sure that he could afford to get the fancy gear, but I’m no Ansel Adams (not even anywhere near close), so I’m not going to say that gear is king & I’m sure he wouldn’t either (but that’s just my opinion). The key to decent photography is honest photography and, in my opinion, that means it’s done for the love of it, not the love of gear; at times we might get lost and forget about it, but we’re definitely not perfect and that’s alright.

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…

When gear gets to be a concern…

Thinking about it, I’ve come to realize that, in a world so oversaturated by materialism & oversexed imagery, we’re getting a bit too enamored with this kind of crap. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person and it brings me to the realization that we’re at the point where we are beginning to worship the created instead of the Creator. I mean, think about it: we’re so focused on the tangible & physical that we let secular society twist our lives for us, telling us what we’re to believe and what we’re supposed to believe without any critical thought, al so we just let it slide. For example, the children’s education program in a populous Canadian province (I’m not going to mention which one) was so graphic that there’s a lot of outcry about it; the provincial government okayed it, pushing for it in schools without much thought and young minds are at an extreme risk because of it (any who oppose the sickening curriculum are lambasted by the corrupt governing party as well).
It all gets to be way too much and we wonder what this world’s coming to when things like this happen; this kind of stuff is making its way westward and I’m thinking that it’s going to really mess us up. We focus on gear and the physical so much that we forget to really think about what we’re saying to others when we let this happen; what kind of legacy do we want to leave to the next generation? One of the places where this gets to be quite visible is in the field of marketing photography gear; each lens is sold as the best at portraiture, landscape, macro, etc., to the point that it’s implied that we NEED it to SHOOT LIKE A PRO…We get so inundated with these kind of ads that we forget that it’s all about who’s making the shot, not what’s making the shot; we should be reminding ourselves that while gear is good, if not expensive, what we do with it, and what we say with it, is much more important. I know this comparison is a really big stretch, but the two situations have one thing in common: they focus only on the physical and have the potential to distort the mental.
Life is more than just the physical and it definitely means so much more than what we can see right in front of us with our own eyes; it’s so much bigger than just us. So, now that this post is nearly over, I’ve got one last thing to get off my chest and it’s about this whole thing regarding gear: it’s about time we focus more on meaning & inspiration so that we can truly, or at least try to, make this world a little better. Labels put on us by society can’t, or at least shouldn’t be able to, define us, so we should try to get past them and inspire others to do the same.