That ol’ list…

Pondering what makes me do the things I do, and the way I do them, not to mention why I do them, often gets me either annoyed, or gives me a bit of a headache. I guess that’s a part of not really being an A to B kind of person and not always following a straight line in how I do things, but sometimes I think that I’d have it no other way. Nowadays, we’ve got students coming out of university without the ability to have any critical thinking or allow for anything with even the slightest difference in point of view, so I think that being able to go from A to C in some instances might be a good thing, but we need to be careful that it doesn’t become something we do in every instance.

With that said, I usually make lists for what I going to do before I go out photographing some thing or place, but I end up tossing out most of it…For me, it’s really only a suggestion list after all. Sometimes it helps to have a plan, but sometimes it can also restrict us from getting what we’re planning to get. In life, we want structure and normality, but when it all falls apart, we tend to blame it all on something or someone else, instead of looking up for help. It’s like that when we follow rules to the dot, becoming legalistic in how we approach life; it however can leave us drained when what we’re trying to achieve takes long or seems way out of reach. For me, when I going to a place for the express purpose of photographing it, I’m definitely going to make a mental checklist, not just of what to photograph, but what settings at which to photograph it; it all in what I choose to keep and how I adapt to changing circumstances because going with the flow sometimes brings out a photograph or more that says something and means something.

- Hibiscus Three -
– Hibiscus Three –

In the end, it basically comes down to meaning something with what we do, and what we photograph, because if there’s no meaning, then it sometimes doesn’t really carry any weight in the long run. With all this international rhetoric being passed around, we need to be the people that carry some semblance of decency and do something that means something. I may not always be able to do just that, but I’m at least going to try to raise awareness by doing something that means something to someone.

Putting a little heart into it…

Putting a little heart & soul into it is one of the easiest things to say that we’re going to do, but one of the hardest things to actually do. Why? In my opinion, it’s because we’re so used to getting things as quick as possible and it’s cost us some of our ability to slow ourselves down & truly consider what we’re doing in our photography as well as our lives. What makes me laugh sometimes is when someone tells me that because of who I am, I should be listening to a certain kind of music, dressing a certain way, & talking about certain subjects only; none of that really holds any water because it would cause me to ignore people that really inspire me & people I want to inspire as well as help.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that chaos is the way to go, but moderation & caring should be the norm. There are certain rules that should follow, but super-strict rigidity without any meaning, purpose, soul, or consideration for others isn’t exactly the way to go (or right for that matter). The problem with following rigidity is that modern society is so offended by anything that goes against it that it becomes wrong to express even a slightly different opinion than what’s in the overtly secular mainstream. It’s a little ridiculous if you ask me because we’re heading for something akin to the world in the Modern Educayshun video; look it up on YouTube, it’s actually quite scary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKcWu0tsiZM). The thing is, we need to respect others to the point that everyone can be true to themselves without being told that their heart & soul isn’t offensive.

For me, the lyrics, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” from the 1912 version of the ancient Irish hymn, Be Thou My Vision, should be at least one of our major ideals because it speaks to the need to not go after riches or popularity first & foremost (side note: there are at least 6 official versions of this hymn, all extremely close in meaning). the fact that modern society is so concentrated on popularity & shallow things bugs me, especially because I can easily get that way really quickly. It comes down to the point that there is no real heart & soul in it if we decide to stick to the way mainstream society & media is going.

Worth…

It comes down to worth, for me at least…Is it really worth getting out there and using my camera, old by today’s technology standards, to capture a shot that might not be that significant? YES. Sure, I may not be anywhere near famous, talented or even anywhere near more than decent, but it gets me thinking and gets me to the point where I can unwind from all of life’s issues that the world seems to throw at me. I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’ve come to realize that I need to get to point that I’m able to not give a crap about how toxic the critics can be and try to do something that’s of worth. Personally, I believe we’re created to do something of meaning, something of worth, that might just inspire others to do better; the Creator’s calling us to really believe in him and he’s given us means of expression, whether that’s in the sciences, or in the arts.

- Tiny Blues -
– Tiny Blues –

It’s shots like the one above that really seem to get to me in a good way, especially after minor tweaking (after shooting it in RAW instead of the compressed JPEG format), because they show the beauty in the small things that can be so much greater than all the rest of the flashy crap out there in the world at large. The cool thing is that the center of the photograph isn’t the sharpest thing in the photograph, the spot on the right of it is; we’re drawn to the center and then left to explore the rest of the scene that the photograph presents. It’s about the exploration that just might make it worth it for the viewers and even if it doesn’t, it just might do that for me for even just one more time.

It’s not always about doing something of worth every single time, but about doing something that might just be of worth at one point or other. We stumble & fall all the time, but are we trying to at least get up and have another go of it, trying to do something of worth, not for ourselves, but for others? I’m going to make a go of it, or at least try to do just that, and maybe, just maybe, I might be able to brighten someone else’s day.

Focus…

With spring here, finally, there’s a bunch to see out there in the gardens and so many colors spreading out. Having had a crazy winter here (long weeks of snow followed by long weeks of heavy rain), I’m more than ready for spring, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m somewhat missing the point of it all. Easter’s just passed and there’s a good month’s break until the next stat holiday here, but I guess I’ve had to say that sometimes the wait is worth it…not that I’d readily admit it. Gloomy weather has a habit of dragging us down and all because it looks sad outside; it’s something that takes some time to get past.

We’ve been told that spring is around the corner so many times that I’ve come to think that they’re all really taking about a small physical metal spring stuck in the wall, just around the corner. Personally, I believe we’ve been called to see things as they are and try to find inspiration in what we’re doing right now; we’re not supposed to get stuck in the here & now, but to see past it and help others who are struggling with it. Getting stuck in the here & now is somewhat like going to class without any textbooks or writing tools to take down notes; we should be able to look past just the physical & be able to focus on what the mind & heart need…Not that I’m anywhere near close to being good at this at all. Sometimes all it takes is one good day to lift our spirits, and sometimes more, but it’s about getting through with the help of others because we can’t do it on our own.

- White Magnolias -
– White Magnolias –

Focus isn’t always the simplest thing to do, mostly because life isn’t always so simple when it comes to the day-to-day stuff…And sometimes it’s just that kind of stuff that gets us off-track because we focus on it too closely. We, myself included, tend to jump over the big issues while hunting for the small ones because our focus gets mucked up. I’m not one to get the solution right the first time, or even the third, but sometimes we just need to really think where our focus is and why it’s there.

Good swift kick…

So, I’ve been working through the first couple of groups of photographs I’ve taken over the past 2.5 months and I’m beginning to notice something that I thought I’d never be able to get close to getting right…Lighting & mood. This might sound pretty basic, especially because I’ve been into photography for over a decade, but I’ve never quite figured it out when it comes to really integrating the two when it comes to personal vision. It was like someone gave me a good swift kick because I’ve somehow, with a little help from above, come to appreciate the moment & not think just of myself when I’m taking the shot; it just took time for me to get it right.

- Frozen Pond -
– Frozen Pond –
Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, I have to point out that, when making physical prints, I’ve set the brightness level to +7 in Lightroom 6.8’s Print module so that it matches what I saw at the scene & on my computer monitor. The above photograph was one of those that I chose to do this way…But why? Because the printer I was using tends to print a little darker than what I’m used to; personally, I think it might be because of the dye-based inks in the printer, but I could easily be wrong on that point, so don’t quote me on it. In the end, after about a week of procrastination of making a print, it took a good, swift (and figurative) kick to actually go ahead & make a print of it…I guess procrastination does have an effect on me (sarcasm implied). The trouble is that it’s so easy to just keep putting things off and then we end up forgetting about them.

I tend to think of the good swift kick being kind of like the voice telling me to get with it, go out & use the camera, capturing something. Sometimes, that’s all it really takes, getting out there with camera in hand, observing & soaking the environment all around us, to get us thinking creatively, capturing something that might just mean something. Looking back at the photograph above, taken at least a month ago, it was a push to get out & take photographs that got me to that spot; being too lazy to climb up the rest of the hill, I decided to focus on the frozen pond, working on how I saw the scene before me, translating that into the various photographs I took that day. The moral of the story: just get out and have a try, because you’ll never know if you don’t try!

What’s going on…

Thinking about it, with all the protests in south of the border and some of the protesters being paid, it makes me wonder what’s really going on. All I’m seeing, as an outsider, is that this can easily become a distraction from what else is going on. How are we using these times to really do something of value to those around us (not that certain protests don’t have a valuable point) and why are we only focusing on the immediate future? How we really care for those around us is what really matters and, often, just spending time with them speaks more than words ever could.

What’s really going on with us in that we focus more on the bad news, fueling the large mainstream news media that loves to make us complain about things just for the sake of decent ratings. We let this soak in to how we work (moaning & groaning), what we listen to (stuff that either has no meaning or focuses on the depressing), and how we live (more things serving as a distraction); I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. The thing is, and I’ve probably said this many times before, we should be striving for something better, but not just for ourselves, but others as well. In photography that would mean striving for meaning & impact in what we capture in our shots and in life that would basically be striving for the same things in different ways…They have the same goals but in different ends & results.

Coming from a city whose mayor doesn’t give two cents about clearing sidewalks during a snowstorm, only the bike lanes, I’ve begun to think that something’s going on that shouldn’t…We groan & complain about the way things are and then go about not thinking why we’re doing them. Being as guilty of this as the next person, I’m realizing I’ve got to do things with a little more meaning & effort behind them. It’s as simple as spending time with a friend you haven’t seen in a while and taking time out to see how they’re doing, trying to give at least a bit of authentic support…Tell them that you’re thinking of them & want to at least be there, giving a shoulder to cry on or an open ear to let them sound off their fears & problems.

Make it pretty…

I’ve been thinking about what it really means to work at photography and it definitely isn’t about making it look pretty. We spend so much time on the superficial that we miss what’s going on behind the surface and it’s like that in life as well; just look at all the books about eating to look good and compare that to the ones about eating to feel well on the inside, not just healthy. It almost makes me laugh, if it wasn’t so sad that we’ve lost ourselves in how something looks without making sure the meaning, or vision behind it is right.

How do we get it right the first time? We don’t always get it right the first time (I’m speaking from personal experience), but that’s alright because we’re supposed to be striving to get it right…It’s a learning experience. When I think of it, photography is about working through the image to show at least some vision or impact, not just make it look pretty. Sometimes, working through an image, thinking about how the tones & composition looks, rather than just the color, comes out much better than we think. Striving to get good bones for the shot is what we should be striving for, myself included, and we should be striving that way in life as well, going for what’s inside instead of what’s on the outside. I can tune an image until it looks great, but if there’s no impact, no vision, then there’s nothing really behind the image…And definitely no message and/or meaning behind it.

That’s what I like about musicians like Twenty One Pilots, Red, Darius Rucker, & Thrice; their music means so much more that…There’s meaning behind their songs, not like the general pop music that floods the airwaves these days. I’m usually one to groan & complain, but if I can do one thing to make the world a better place for at least one person, then I’m good with that. Not that I’d hope to stop after that, mind you. So basically, what I’m trying to say is that making it pretty isn’t the right way to go when it comes to life in general…Making things worth it is what we should be striving for, myself included.

Progress…

It’s actually quite funny when we hear talk about progress in photography; cameras are getting larger sensors, more megapixels and lenses that are supposedly better. The automatic modes are getting smarter and the need to override the modes is shrinking by the day. While this is an old argument, it’s often resurfaced over the years when people brag, or complain, about equipment; I’ve sure gone over it a few times before. We still don’t quite get it, myself included, that we need to say something with what we shoot, taking the camera off of auto (putting it into something like M, A/Av or S/Tv mode). There should be something behind it because technical mastery means nothing if that’s all there is.

I succumb to this frame of thinking (that new gear is better) so many times that I begin to think that I’ll never get out of it, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, I get a shot that works & I have no clue why I did what I did; technical mastery had nothing to do with it at all, just plain intuition. It’s not any measure of technical mastery that can be the major part of a profound photograph alone, because then emotion wouldn’t have any input. When the two work hand-in-hand, with emotion having a strong pull, then an impactful shot comes as the result; this is real progress, in my mind. It’s not something that always sticks around either, but it can come in waves.

Lean with it, rock with it,
When we gonna stop with it,
Lyrics that mean nothing,
We were gifted with thought,
Is it time to move our feet
To an introspective beat,
It ain’t the speakers that bump hearts,
It’s our hearts that make the beat.
-Holding On To You (Twenty One Pilots)

This happens because, as I figure it, because we all, myself included, are looking for the easy way out, not necessarily the right way. We need to at least strive to make something that says something. Like the above lyrics from the amazing band, Twenty One Pilots, we should make something that says something meaningful from within…That is real progress.

Blur…

We often think that any amount of blur is wrong for every shot because we like everything tack sharp where nothing is a surprise. I mean, who really likes a surprise that doesn’t give us something? In photography, we tend to like images with everything in focus because it means we don’t have to use our brains too much. Blur makes us think something is wrong with the shot and that there’s something being hidden, or taken away from, us.

- Leaves of Autumn -
– Leaves of Autumn –

The above shot was shot with an open aperture (f5) to make lighting easier with a shutter of about 1/30, but that’s next to useless information if the shot doesn’t do anything at all. For me, it was making eye movement possible through use of blur; I wanted to draw the eye inward to make it stop & ponder the colors of autumn. If everything had been tack sharp, there would’ve been too many elements that were a muddy brown in complete focus, distracting from the greens, reds & yellows and I wanted to keep the image free of distractions while making it look natural at the same time.

We all see blur in different ways, love it or hate it, but it’s something that can easily be used for creative ends or even to make the shot speak volumes. The thing we’ve got to get into our heads, mine especially, is that there’s something to say with each shot and we’ve got to make it count or we’re just adding to the noise in the end, once everything is said & done. It’s both simple & complicated at the same time because it’s easy to say we’ll do it but harder to actually go out & do it. My big fear was too much blur from a wide open aperture, but the above shot turned out alright in my books, so I had to just get out & do it.

Thinking out loud…

For me, photography is a way of thinking out loud because it’s a kind of attempt at visual translation of what we see in our minds. This may sound basic, but let me explain: we see a scene with our eyes, our mind processes it, we adjust the camera settings, and then we press the shutter button. What happens afterwards is the translation of what we saw to the shot, or print, itself.

There are multiple ways this can be done afterwards, be it in a specialized photography cataloguing & editing program like Lightroom, AfterShot Pro, or Aperture (I know it’s been discontinued, but it’s still quite powerful, even compared to Lightroom 5) among others, or something akin to Photoshop or PaintShop Pro. The problem is that we tend to focus on what these programs can do instead of what we could do with & through because, in a way, we think out loud through them, showing what the scene felt like to us through our use of these programs. What I’ve been trying to do is think out loud through my use of these programs, asking myself if I’m going too far with my edits…Are they betraying the look & feel of the scene as I saw & felt it?

- Q E Park Sunrise -
– Q E Park Sunrise –

What sticks out for me when I’m doing this is that it becomes a way of holding myself to what I felt & saw, instead of just going for all the controls & tools without any thought at all. The above photograph was one of those shots where I could have gone way off on the controls, but what kept me from doing so was desire to make it evoke feeling without looking contrived or fake in any way. Going way off from my initial capture would’ve made it untrue to what it was really like; sure, it looks a bit like a sunrise shot when in fact it’s a sunset, like the last shot I’ve posted here, but I didn’t want to make the colors untrue to the feel of the moment. I wanted to think out loud, so to speak, without yelling out, and I think it came out alright…But only time will really tell.