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.


Back to basics…

Thinking that I’m going to screw up sometimes comes with the territory when I go about photographing a small area no bigger than that of a football. Why do I do that? I do that as more of a training exercise to get my creative juices flowing; it helps to train me to see things that I would normally just pass up because of their small size. Shots, like the one below, help me hone my focus a bit and work on composition & colour in tight spaces.

- Raindrops & Flowers -
– Raindrops & Flowers –

The above shot had slight contrast, clarity, black clipping, vibrancy (called Vibrance in Lightroom 6), noise, & exposure adjustments to refine it, but it stayed totally true to what it had been when I first captured the shot. These flowers are tiny (about half the size of a penny) and have colour variations that are often tricky for me to capture, hence the colour & clarity refinements. For me, it’s about trying to capture the mood at the time in a small space; even though I was outdoors and free to move around, I confined myself to a space no bigger than that of a small vehicle in order to make myself get used to smaller, more refined movements & adjustments to how I was photographing. In a way, this kind of exercise forces me to get back to the basics & work with what’s directly in front of me.

This kind of thing is a way for me to continually make myself work on the basics so that I don’t forget them as easily as I usually do…This comes WAY too easy for me. Remember the old saying that sometimes we need something to jog our memory? Well, sometimes I need a good swift kick so I don’t forget. Another good thing about exercises like this is that they help to reinforce the basics through repetition that isn’t quite mindless, at least for me. So get out there & challenge yourself.

For all the light’s worth…

For what it’s worth, I’m not totally convinced we’ve got this whole bit about light & photography down pat; mostly because there’s always something that’s happening in the atmosphere that effects the light itself, changing how we see it. We get caught up in chasing the latest gear & tech to supposedly help us adapt our photography to this that we forget how to deal with it. When we see something new come out, we tend to jump on it, instead of studying it to see what it’s all about and working with what we have to get what we see with, and within, our vision.

- Snowy Glow -
– Snowy Glow –

The above photograph came about when I was out trying to capture a snow scene at the local park and I realized that I could use the reflected light from the snow as my primary light source, instead of relying on the overcast, diffused light coming through the clouds. While I exposed for the snow at about +1 or +2, I worked with what the snow presented me with (simple white reflected light) to allow the rest of the scene to glow. It allowed the green branches to brighten up and seemingly glow in the scene, lightening up the scene & bringing it out as a subject, set against the snow. In simpler terms, I tried working it for all the light’s worth; whether it worked or not is not really for me to say, because it might look completely different by the next person that it did to me.

Photography is about getting the most out of light while saying something of meaning and, while the above image doesn’t directly say much, it was about the glow of a plant still very much alive despite the cold winter storm that it had just endured. It’s basically saying that after the storm has passed, there’s still hope that the greenery will return and, indeed, it already has as this tree has shown. So often we hear that we’re supposed to expose for the right (in regards to the histogram), but I’ve come to think that in shots like this, I’ll expose for the green at about -2/3 of a stop, or for the snow at about +1 to +2 stops, whichever one tends to work better for me. So, in conclusion, trying to get it right for all light’s worth is where we should be in terms of photography.

For lack of ideas…

Now & then it seems like I’ve run out of things that really matter for me in photography, but then something comes along that helps me grow. Whether it be the frigid cold of winter, the downpour when it’s too warm for snow in winter, or just the general lack of ideas when it comes to photography, there’s always a time when I think that it’s all been done before. Originality is something that can be quite hard to come by, but all that’s really needed is the desire & drive to do something different, or at least try it. Tweaking a method can result in a new way of seeing, working, or even editing and that’s what downtime is good for…I guess.

When it comes down to having ideas of what to take photographs of and when to, it’s usually a matter of what effectively speaks to us. And by this I mean what we want to say through the scene in front of us, or even the prospective scene. It’s about what it makes us feel and how it does that; when I’m looking at something, I mostly want it to say something, even if it’s just speaking to how the colors & textures intermingle in the beauty of a natural scene. I look at traditional Asian decoration and I’m astonished by the intricacy of the designs, making me want to convey the flowing lines through the simplicity & beauty of a natural scene in front of me; this usually leads me to floral shots because of the little details in flowers & other plant life around me or in the scene itself. Sometimes, it’s a simple country song that leads me to go for a nature shot and, other times, it’s an alt-rock song that makes me do just that same thing. In the end, it’s what inspires our ideas & how we go about getting past the lack of ideas in going for the photographs in front of us.

Having a lack of ideas can be some of the worst poison for the creative type, not just the photographer, and it’s something that we all suffer from, not just the average person but some of the people who make photography a living. In a way, it’s kind of like having a close friend desert you, just not quite as severe; it’s most likely that way more so for professionals, but that’s just a guess on my part. A lack of ideas should make us want to read up on what else’s out there and then try to do something different, or even seek out new ways of seeing a scene & potential shot(s).

Striving for failure…

Not only does this sound wrong on so many levels, it doesn’t make an ounce of logical sense at all. But, wait a minute, why strive to fail? We don’t really try when we fail, do we? Not really, but the kind of failure I’m thinking of is different; it’s all about learning in the process & the fallout afterwards. I’m thinking about how we fail in terms of not just why we fail, but what we do while we’re about to fail.

It goes without saying that if we’re not really in the right frame of mind, then we’re most likely headed for failure. The same usually applies to missing the moment, but, if we look back, we can, mentally at least, take notes on what worked & what didn’t and hopefully why. This will usually help us learn in the process & grow along the way; it doesn’t always happen this way, but most of the time it does. We don’t want to strive for failure, but we want to strive to learn from our failures; I guess, for myself, learning new things & approaches to how I go about photographing things keeps me working to get better and improve just how I capture the shot & how I refine the shot in post processing, if at all. It’s about more than just being in the moment…It’s about being active in the moment.

While I’ve said it so many times before, and often failed to take my own advice, it should be said again: there’s something in trying something different, even if we think we’re going to fail. It’s through this that we can learn from what went wrong and discover new ways of seeing, literal & figurative. When we try new ways of doing photography, we attempt different things that will usually lead us to an ‘a-ha’ kind of moment where we get a bit wiser…Hopefully.


What do we do that helps us open up ourselves to seeing what’s around us, photographically speaking? What do we listen to that helps us see more of what’s around us? What do we think of as we look at things to help us in the act of seeing more? I figure that it’s about time I make a list of what & where I’m at right now.

-Reading, the odd TV documentary, & walking

Listen to:
-Flyleaf, The Fray, Lacey Sturm, Thousand Foot Krutch, & Thrice

Think of:
-Methods & works of the masters (Art Wolfe, David duChemin, Chris Orwig, Bryan Peterson, & Ansel Adams to name a few), colors, lighting & tones of the subject

The reason I say this is that everything we do outside of photography influences it because it colors how we see the world around us. If I’m only focusing on the darker elements, then I’ll most likely be unable to see the lighter ones, and the other way around as well. There’s so much, practically too much, that can influence us these days that we end up being bombarded with opinions that can make us switch what we’re doing to something else. Not all of it is good either, so we end up trying to fish out the good in a sea of bad nearly every time and this takes time away from literally doing what we’re trying to do in the first place: take a photo that expresses what we feel and/or what we want to say.

The worst thing we can do is go with the flow, against what we’re really like, and pretend that it’s alright…In photography and life in general. Experiences shape us & form us: if we have grown up with a serious disdain for certain institutions, for example, then when we photograph them, we’re most likely going to portray them in a negative light. It all forms the kind of glasses we look through to see the world around us; the words of others help either make, or break, us while we’re trying to see the world around us as well.

Through the lens…

So what does it mean, looking through the lens? I mean, it’s been said that we really have to look through the lens & have a vision for a shot or that it comes as we take the photograph. I’m listening to the band Future of Forestry (great Californian band by the way) as I write this and I comes to mind that in looking through the lens means more than just seeing the scene, but also what the lens will do & how it will behave, something that I’m not always good at doing. Will it compress the scene, stretch it out, or something in between? That’s something to consider when pressing the shutter down all the way, or even just looking through the lens at the scene.

It’s basically in how you view the scene: what you see, how you see it, how your opinions influence composition & exposure. Seeing how different people take photographs, you begin to see a style that makes it their own, even if it’s not apparent at first, but it’s there; we’re nowhere near being objective people, so everything we do will most likely be tainted with some form of subjectivity or other. At heart of it is how we choose to speak through the image using available light or flash, lines or repetition to convey motion, or colors to convey feeling, to mention a few; each image says something, if it is going to have impact or not, so if we’re going to be intentional in this, we need to watch out how we see through the lens and capture the moment/scene, something I’m nowhere near close to perfect at.

Every time we look through the lens we’re seeing the scene as if it’s something to be captured & recorded. Why? It’s not just because we’re looking through a lens, but through different eyes (figuratively) and when we press the shutter button all the way down, we’re taking that scene and translating it as an image. Sounds basic, but in doing so, we’re not just saying, “look at this” but “this is what it looked like to me” every time when we show the image or view it ourselves; vacation snapshots are something that often says the former and sometimes the latter, but cameras aren’t just for vacation. Sometimes, it takes a bit of trying to look at a scene, or moment, through the lens with different eyes, questioning what we see and how we see it.

Boundary Bay Sunrise
Boundary Bay Sunrise

Creeping in…

Ok, so this title sounds a little odd for a post on photography, but stick with me on it. Over time, ideas have crept in to photography that just don’t belong and they’ve done so with life in general; ideas like that of the existentialists who say that this is all there is…Gear is not the answer, neither is this all there is. Just look around and you’ll eventually come to see that theres more right in front of you…Look carefully mind you, don’t fall off the cliff.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we often (me included) forget that there is more to it than just what we see at first glance…One of my biggest pet peeves is that we get so caught up in things (me especially) that we can’t see past all the grade-A BS that the world puts in front of us and we don’t see that there’s something more in store for us, something greater than just this brief little existence. As photographers, we’ve got to focus on more than just a set of BS rules about composition (they are helpful guidelines though) and focus on vision & feel of what’s really in front of us. The funny thing is, sometimes there’s a kind of screen in front of us and it’s colored by how we view things while coloring how we see things in front of us; the tricky part is knowing how to adapt photography for this and to this I’ve got no easy answer because we just have to stop & think about why we’re seeing the things we’re seeing & the way we’re seeing them.

At the center of this is the problem of time, especially when it doesn’t come natural to you/me; sometimes, the best time to do this is en route to a place we want to take photographs of, or even skimming over it, but trying to repeat the process so that we don’t forget it at all. I’m far from blameless in this area and most likely the first to make a mistake, but it’s about trying to always improve & grow while honing the way we go about taking photographs.