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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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.

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.

When the media lies to us…

This one was a hard one for me to write, hard because I couldn’t seem to get it done without getting really angry, especially because we’ve seen some really bad reporting here, north of the border, in Canada, especially when it comes to politics, most of it being outright lies; everyone’s in it for the five seconds of fame or the race to be the first with news, even if it’s completely wrong. When the politicians lie through their teeth and the media, who says they’re just stating the facts, are so off-base that it’s just plain crap, what are we to do? We’re all just as messed up as they are, but we’ve got a choice to fall for it and buy in to the lies, or really try to make a go of it by seeking to inspire others, spreading the truth and walking alongside others when they need it.
In my opinion, I think that photography & the arts hold a decent chance of breaking the media’s lock on reporting, whether the media’s mainstream or not. Why? Because we can show life in ways that can really speak to others through use of meaning & emotion; we can do more to inspire others than just let things come and slap us across the face. I mean, think about it for a second, if we just stop and turn off the crap that the news spews at us, we have a chance to get away from it and really get out there to create something in this fallen world that might change people’s minds about how crappy things are and they might just give up taking the crap at face value to realize that there’s something, someone, greater out there. When we fail to at least try, it’s almost as if we’re giving up and quitting on trying to make things at least a little more bearable for others; I mean, in simpler terms, if we give up, we’re letting the things that we don’t want to win do just what they want to.

- By the Waterfall -
– By the Waterfall –

There’s something to be said for doing something that’s meant to inspire instead of just going with the downward flow of society nowadays. The above shot was one that I didn’t think I could ever get, but getting it inspired me to try more often to do better with photography; sure, the bird’s a bit small, but it shows up in such a way that it makes the viewer look closer at the scene and it serves as more of a landscape type of scene (as opposed to a portrait or close-up). What I’m getting at, with this rant, is that we need to watch the negative crap society is throwing our way and, while not quietly standing by, seek to make this world a better place, shrugging off the labels, and the crap news, that the mainstream is trying to throw our way. So, let’s sit atop the waterfall and not let it drag us down.

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.

Winter weather…

Now that I’ve got the last post off my chest, I figured that I would get back to really focusing on photography, and watching a few Dude Perfect videos online; those guys are hilarious…and talented. With winter still hanging around for a little while longer, I was aching a bit to get out there yet again and work on my photography; I usually get some photography done every two weeks, with short excursions (<1 hour) in between then. Snow doesn’t come often enough to the northwest, but when it does, the roads aren’t exactly the easiest to get along because of the slick roads, but they’re simple enough for most of us to get around in. Sometimes you just have to marvel at how much people get caught off-guard by snow and with photography it’s the same because we don’t always remember exactly the right settings for snow exposure (+1-2 stops to keep the snow white)…Something I’ve done too many times to keep track of.

- Snow &amp; Green -
– Snow & Green –

Snow is never really the easiest thing to remember what to do with when it comes to exposure and, sometimes, that’s what exposure bracketing is good for because it can show us, especially in this digital age, what the settings will do while translating the scene into the image. The above photograph, while it’s nothing special, shows what is possible when the snow is exposed for at +1 or 2 stops and used to focus on; with the snow being sugar-like in appearance, the focus needs to be in the right spot so that when it brings edges into focus, it doesn’t fade or blur at the wrong point, leaving the edges too fuzzy with any lack of contrast to their surroundings. In this shot, the snow itself, while having its sugar-like composition, makes focusing a little harder because the depth of field is much more important, especially because this is a close-up shot. What worried me the most about this shot was indeed the focus because I wasn’t shooting with a high depth of field in order to get a good background blur, so I think it actually turned out quite decent.
Now, what matters is not that it turned out quite decent, but that it turned out the way the photographer (in this case it was myself) had envisioned it; it would’ve most likely needed tweaks, being a RAW file, but it came out the way I had roughly envisioned it. Brightness & exposure were barely touched in the refining stage (+0.2 for Exposure in Lightroom), so it came out pretty darn close to the way I had hoped it would; this seldom really happens with most of what I photograph, but it worked. I, personally, think that we stress a little too much on technical perfection and not enough on vision & what the image says. What else can we do when society is so focused on the material side of things? We can start by listening a little less to the noise of material perfection and more on message & meaning.

Jumping at the opportunity…

I’m not exactly the best at taking advantage of opportunities, being a bit on the laidback, lazy side, but there’s something to be said for looking for opportunities when they come, especially when it comes to landscape nature & wildlife photography. The weather on the Northwest Coast (make that Wet Coast) of North America, isn’t exactly the best for outdoor photography, but there’s plenty to explore, even in the rain, just that safety should be of at least some concern. Just north of the US-Canada border lies Bloedel Conservatory, a great place to see a domed, indoor conservatory with tropical plants & birds (as well as one very LOUD white bird), and many great parks & trails; the mountains are amazing no matter the time of year (not always safe to hike if you’re a beginner, or not as fit, like I am). There are many gardens just north of the border and quite a bit to see; sometimes I think that there’s so much that we get lost in all of it and just ignore it all because it’s all local and not something fancy or exotic enough to us.
In this day & age, we tend to want to see the new stuff and forget about what we think is already been done before. We’re so used to throwing off everything we’ve learnt over the years that we sometimes forget that there was a reason & meaning behind why we learnt some of what we did. There’s just so much out there that we’re missing as people because we pass it by and don’t stop to really think & take it in with our cameras. Sometimes, we end up moaning & groaning because the weather is not really all that great, sticking ourselves inside and not really going outside or even out of the house at all; we forget that we all need rain to grow (figuratively of course) and end up forgetting the opportunities await us.

- Greens &amp; Water -
– Greens & Water –

The photograph above was taken after the rains had subsided and I was, like usual, getting a little bit impatient with the weather; it was still overcast and there was a slight drizzle, but I figured I might as well try to photograph a bush that I had been thinking of photographing for at least over a year. I had been putting it off because of laziness, and the fact it was something not out of the ordinary, but this time, on my second go-round, I figured I would stop moping about and try to at least catch the effect of rain on the leaves of the bush. While I was working with some gear that was still relatively new to me, I tried to catch the so-called ‘ordinary’ in a way that would show off just how it wasn’t as plain as I first thought it was. It wasn’t that photographing the bush was done before, it was about me trying not to just push it off as something to be ignored, but something that just might deserve a second look. In this world where we’re told that the new is better than the old, I’m beginning to think we’ve really got to start looking up and think, really think, about what society’s shoving at us; it starts, I think, but not dismissing the ordinary all too easily.

At the intersection of faith & art (Part 2)…

Going over the last post on this subject, I’ve come to notice, and realize, that there’s something to bringing art to the point that are beliefs are evident in art; just think of how the medieval murals in cathedrals displayed immense talent in how their subject in their art. The sheer talent in those works of art are so immense that they make me want to curl up & shiver at just how gifted the artists were and, unless there was something behind that talent, each of those murals would be meaningless. This doesn’t just apply to the murals, but music as well; Beethoven, Bach, Mozart & others were amazingly gifted and, in my opinion, blessed. And literature has even more examples to offer us as well, we sometimes just have to open our eyes & ears a little wider.
Think about how many John Newton’s Amazing Grace hymn has inspired over the years: it’s known to change the course of some in the slave trade, not just the author himself, and it’s been used at funerals for people that have made a difference in the world at large. Be Thou My Vision, the Irish hymn, has had an impact that I would have to say is immense because of how widely known it is and how deep & inspirational it is, and not just in the English language. John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields has a great impact when it comes to how we think of the effects of war; Winston Churchill’s rousing speeches about not surrendering to Nazi Germany bring out the sacrifices that those men & women much more than we ever could in our overwhelmingly ‘me-centered’ society. The point I’m trying to get at here is that sometimes a song, or even just a little lyric, saying, speech or artwork, can have a massive impact that we don’t necessarily see; I’m not saying we all have to be like the examples listed above, but I’m trying to say that if there was no meaning behind them, those examples wouldn’t have any impact or at least not anywhere near as much as they did.
We get so self-involved because of how media around us tells us that we’re important and that the superficial is the only thing that really counts, that we think that if our team doesn’t win the championship, we’re completely & utterly messed up. Look at how the awards ceremonies are; they are all about the achievement, not necessarily the why of the performance itself & what it means. It’s become so trivial nowadays that real movies that really say something usually don’t make the headlines anymore; just think of the last book that really inspired you to do something of worth that wasn’t all about yourself and ask if it would make the headlines today…The answer to that question is what gets me every time and it’s one of the reasons why I try to read something of meaning (outside of direct religious writings) at least once a year, like War & Peace or some other great classic.

Gesture & meaning…

I’ve been thinking about what it really means to have meaning & gesture in my photography. How do I relate to the scene? What does the scene say to me? What does the entire scene mean? Gesture, I think, is more than just how a living subject looks at the camera because it’s about expression in the end; it’s about how the gesture of the subject looks in the scene. Meaning comes out of how we compose using colour  (or not) and what the scene ‘says’ to me and what it possibly ‘says’ to others; like when I was out photographing birds at a local conservatory, it’s how the animals stare into the camera AND what they are doing as they look into the camera & scene. It doesn’t take a professional to do this…It takes a love for photography & the scene in front of us to get this done, and we don’t always get it right the first time.

- Questioning Bird -
– Questioning Bird –

The scene above obviously includes gesture because of how the bird is looking at the camera with some food in its mouth; it’s as if the bird is asking me why on earth would I want to bother it while it’s eating just to get a shot. The background behind the shot is pretty simple: I was trying out a different way of approaching something with different gear and I wanted to see how I could handle the small, fist-sized birds on the first go. I wanted to see what I learned over the years to see if indeed I had really improved at all; for me, it was about analyzing my approach and seeing if I could really get something decent in it. While it was gently refined in Lightroom (which I hope gets a post-Christmas update soon), it was about the story of a bird feeding and a photographer disturbing it; that’s the meaning behind it.
To an extent, photography really isn’t about what level we’re at (professional, amateur, or hobbyist), but it’s about how we pursue it; it’s about how much we care for what we’re photographing. Inspiration comes with caring, or at least that’s how I understand it; we’re called to take care of the world around us and we’ve all mucked it up badly, but through photography we can give a shot of a specific moment in time to someone else and inspire them. A photographer, by a decent definition, is someone who takes photographs for the love of it & to inspire, not just someone who does it as a paying job or career with expensive gear & possibly massive debt.
Gesture & meaning come through in a photograph when we put them there, choosing to include what makes the shot, when we make the photograph. How do we put them there? We put them there by watching the scene and being ready to capture what we believe the scene is saying to us. The photograph above may seem like nothing more than chance to me, but it was a result of waiting for it to unfold, moving around & watching the birds in the conservatory go about their lives (and me ducking when they left droppings while flying around). In the end, gesture & meaning help to inspire, and that’s what I’m at least trying to strive for.