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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…