Simple…

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

- Mushrooms and Grass -
– Mushrooms and Grass –

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

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

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In isolation

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

- Mushroom & Grass -
– Mushroom & Grass –

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

Summer…

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

- Rock & Moss -
– Rock & Moss –

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

Wearing the past…

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

- Pink Lily -
– Pink Lily –

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

Mistakes & madness…

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

Gesture & meaning (Part 2)…

It’s been a while since I last thought about gesture in photography and I keep coming back to it whenever I’m out photographing wildlife. Most of the time, it comes as a happy accident in my photographs, a result of not quite paying attention of what exactly I’m photographing. Sure, it’s not always possible to be 100% alert, unless there’s enough caffeine in my system to fuel an army, but there has got to be an awareness of my surroundings when I’m out photographing. When we’re out & not paying attention, we’re most likely putting ourselves in situations that can be quite deadly (sneaking up on a hungry tiger to get a shot, for one, is highly advised against). If we’re not somewhat alert (>70%, give or take), our compositions become sloppy and our horizons can get really off kilter all too easily.

- Looking Up -
– Looking Up –

The above photograph was one of those really happy accidents, one that I’m not too sure I could ever repeat, given the tight space; in all Creation, these little birds often bring a smile to my face in how they interact, chasing each other around, playfully battling for food, or just relaxing where they are. I’m far from perfect and these birds have a habit of cheering me up because of their carefree attitudes; it makes me wonder, at times, if I’m not getting too caught up in how crazy the world is to really stop & pay attention to just how peaceful things can get. Sure, I tightened up the colour, fixed the noise (not that there was much to begin with), refined the contrast & clarity, and added a slight vignette, but it doesn’t take away from the bird’s gesture in looking off-frame the way it does or staring at me with its left eye (I can’t quite figure out which one, so I’ll leave it at those two options). The slight refinements that I did solidified the meaning in the shot, I think, because it hemmed in everything together much nicer that it had been in the unedited RAW file.
I’m still getting used to the new gear, but, when all is said & done, I hope I’m not forgetting where & what I’ve come from, because, if I have, I’m getting too off course for even my own liking; if the about shot is any indication, I don’t think I’ve lost it just yet and it doesn’t seem like I’m getting closer to losing it at all. When it comes to working with gear that we’re unfamiliar with, or new to, there’s always a learning curve, but, I think, without that learning curve, there isn’t a chance for real growth at all. Why? Because, I think, we can easily fall into old habits & become haphazard, forgetting to learn something new or even forget to have a critical, meaningful eye when it comes to photography.

The mood…

Sometimes I get a brilliant idea, or I get bored and just decide to mess around with my camera to see if I can grab a few decent shots. The funny thing is, when the two collide, I usually end up with shots that I thoroughly enjoying and really learning from. The other day, for example, I was getting a little bored and wondering when I’d get a chance to get out and just photograph something, anything, of any decency. So, I went outside and found some hibiscus flowers to photograph in the evening light; needless to say, it had been raining & the sky was a little too dark, but it worked.

- Raindrops on Hibiscus -
– Raindrops on Hibiscus –

On the above photograph, I ended up tweaking the colour temperature, clarity, saturation, & using the tone curve adjustment apart from adjusting the noise levels. Sure, it’s a darker image & a moodier one than I’m used to, but it is a more emotional image than I’m used to; I could’ve lightened it up, but it works, in terms of feel, just as it is here. I’m never really even close to perfect with this, but I did score this one a slight touch darker than it was in reality and I kept it that way for this version because of the feel of it all…And it isolates the flower & raindrops just right for this specific composition. With other shots, I had them a bit lighter, but this one, at least for me, easily holds its own when put up alongside the others.

Personally, I just wanted to get something right on this shoot, so getting even one close to decent was good enough for me; getting several really good ones was definitely a good thing for me. To a certain extent, it’s like that in life because we need to be willing to go out there when the weather isn’t all that great and we might just be surprised; sure, we all need to take our time, but we need to be able to also reach out for help & inspiration. In a way, we, myself included, always need a little inspiration to get out there go about things with a positive mood, breaking away from defining ourselves by the labels that society puts on us.

Where’s the editing…

I thought I’d do something (kind of) fun this time around while I was revisiting some old shots from a trip to Cascade Falls in the province of British Columbia…In the image below, where exactly is the part of the scene that has a distracting element cloned out? I was finally able to muster up the concentration to be able to successfully clone it out; it was a small part of the scene, being a piece of trash, but it took up a large part of the balance of the scene itself, even though I only realized it after I had imported the photographs into Lightroom.

- Cascade Falls Creek -
– Cascade Falls Creek –

Now that the challenge has been dropped, it’s time to get on with how the image was edited, apart from using the spot removal tool. Using my powers of concentration (I’m joking here about having them), I used the split toning, noise reduction, tone curve & clarity tools to warm it up. Why? Because I wanted to bring it into the way it felt the minute I saw it and I used other edits done the day of the shot to compare it to. For me, it’s extremely helpful to have edits from the day of, or at least a day or two later, because it gives me something to compare later revisits to and something to work off of. This one, had a comparison image to work off of and although I did use it, I went about refining this shot differently, mostly because I had an idea to work off of…And I wanted to try it from a different angle, or approach.

It’s usually better to have something to compare an edit to when you’re revisiting a shoot you’ve done some time ago and that’s why I usually do a few first-run edits after I’ve imported the shots. It also becomes a learning experience for me along the way because it shows me how I would’ve originally refined a shot and what I would, or wouldn’t, do the next time around. Most of the time, I get into revisiting old shoots when I’m bored or wanting to learn, or try, something new, so having a comparison edit to use as a reference is a big help & bonus. So, I’m going to try my best to learn in the process and keep photographing!