Tag Archive: digital photography


Little things

Starfish

I spent a week playing on an Koh YaoYai in Thailand.  This is a beautiful little island, not as well known as some of the others and so not crowded and not quite so touristy.  I was able to wander about, take trips on the long-tail boats to other islands and generally explore.  The scenery was magnificent, and I did take a couple of hundred photos of amazing islands leaping from the water, but in the end it is always the little things that fascinate me.

Half the joy of life is in little things taken on the run… but let us keep our hearts young and our eyes open that nothing worth our while shall escape us.

Victor Cherbuliez

I spent ages wandering along the beach looking at the tiny shells, the small crabs and enjoying how they fit so well into the environment.

Snorkelling gave me the chance to look beneath the surface – and now an underwater housing for the camera on is my wish list. Beneath the surface so much life occurs, and we are so unaware of it.  However, I also explored the mangrove forest from the sea and found this energetic mangrove snail, hiding from predators and looking for food. These are perennial pursuits for all of us – safety and nourishment.

Mangrove snail

A walk around one of the islands hit by the tsunami revealed this beautiful little fossil shell, uncovered by the waves after millenia of hiding.

Fossil shell

And what is an island without a beach?  Again though, the small waves caught my attention, the force land and sea exert on each other to create a changed state.  Small, but persistent and finally creating a new beach, new sand, new motion.

 

Looking for the little things that make up our world keeps me balanced.  Not everything has to be bigger than Ben Hur to be wonderful.

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“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m experimenting with my camera to encourage me to look at things differently.  Each week I am setting myself a ‘task’ – use only the 28mm lens, take movement photos, only take images of 2- and 3-wheel transport etc.  These experiements teach me more about my camera and lens, teach me about techniques and thinking about what I want each image to be, rather than taking photos of everything that takes my eye.

Have I missed having my ‘walkabout’ 18-270mm with me at times?  Too right.  Do I want to take a different view sometimes?  Yes I do.  But for now the learning is outweighing the missed opportunities.

I’m not only experimenting with my camera and my vision here, I am also experimenting with life.  So many opportunities are outside my windows.  So many paths available for walking.  Right now, I have chosen a path, and set a particular aim.  Once that aim is completed, then the path can veer in any direction and I will experiment with a new world, new ideas, new beginnings.  My current path was a huge veer from the ‘safe’ path of gov’t official, safe job, busy social life, close to family and friends. I learned many many things on that path,  had wonderful experiences but also found areas within myself that were not fulfilled.  The need to experiment grew stronger and stronger until it was an imperative.  So I took the plunge – safely at first, leaving the way open to return to my previous life.  But the more I travelled down the experimental path, the less the previous life fit me.  I finally left it behind althogether, and closed one of the ‘safety’ doors.  Other ‘safety’ doors remain open – family and friends will always be my lifelines, my beacons if and when the new paths become too dark.

What did this experiment teach me? Adaptability, confidence, self-reliance, independence and more about myself.  What will the next path teach me?  I have no idea – but whatever it is, it will be valuable and I will be glad that I experimented with life once more.

Beauty 3

Inside the bell - the beauty of age.

Still looking at beauty and where we find it.  I love the colours of rust, the textures and stories that I can conjure from them.  This is an image from inside the bell at Qinglong Temple in Xi’an.

Each temple and city in China traditionally had a bell and drum tower.  The bell was rung in the morning, the drum at dusk.  A lovely way to mark the beginning and end of the day.  Most of these are now just ornamental, their purpose being taken over by watches and clocks.

Can we find beauty in the disused, outdated and time-worn?  I think so. The beauty is in the colours of the past, the textures of the disuse and the stories they could tell if we listen carefully enough.

Out to pasture

Most photographers love photographing the faces and hands of the elderly – and I guess for pretty much the same reasons.  Those faces and hands can tell so many stories and those stories can enrich our lives so much.  History is written for us to see in the eyes, wrinkles, knotted fingers.   Babies and littlies are sweet, but their faces, as yet, tell us little.

I can find beauty, even in death, if it is surrounded by life.  A well-lived life, with work  done, goals achieved and loves fulfilled, is not sad in death, but beautiful.  The death of an old tree in a  forest surrounded by young trees, speaks of the wheel of time, the ever-renewing face of life.

QingLong Temple bell

Beauty can be found in the old and forgotten.  It can be found in rust and cracked paint. It can be found in death.

 

Ambition is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we reach we are never satisfied.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It’s raining and causing flooding over huge parts of Queensland.  More rain is predicted for the next couple of weeks, more flooding will happen.  This is being called the biggest natural disaster  for the last x years and likely to cost $5 billion in clean up, lost revenue, damages etc.  Clearly we have had enough rain – for now.  But Australia is an arid country that floods. A fact of life.  In 6 months we will be complaining of how dry it is, and worrying about the loss of crops and how little water there is for the cattle.

We swing between too much and not enough.  Floods and droughts are extreme examples of this seesaw of life.

In my own life I am always looking for the next thing that will make things easier, better, more interesting etc.  Today I was on-line looking for camera bags.  I already have several; some too small for my current camera, another too big to take on long hikes, but necessary to take when I travel to hold all my gear.  I am looking for a bag that carries my camera, flash, maybe another lens and looks like a handbag, I am also looking for a bag that allows me to climb mountains, stay balanced so I don’t fall, hands free of camera and stuff, and yet can easily grab the camera while holding on to the rocks or branches.

I have to ask how often I will use these bags, what real necessity there is for them?  How many camera bags are enough?  How many lens are enough?  Ultimately, how many images are enough?  When will I say, I have enough, I have seen enough, I am enough?  Or will I always be looking for the next piece of equipment, the next country, the next image, the next version of me?

On the other end of this spectrum, yesterday I went to the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Nuns community. Set on a ridge, surrounded by natural bushland, this community runs classes, retreats and provides a home for those wanting to live a life of simplicity and meditation.  Giving up the desires of the world for the expansion of the soul.  Is it another ‘what is enough?” process?  Material ‘stuff’ is gone, but will there ever be ‘enough’ connection with the universe or the Bodhisattva?

The search for ‘enough’ goes on.

Perfection?

Art is never defect free. Things that are remarkable never meet the spec, because that would make them standardised, not worth talking  about. Seth Godin

 

I spend so much time trying to create perfect images, perfect articles and am never satisfied with what I have done.  I am delaying sending work to a professor for assessment because I have difficulty in choosing the right images.  The Seth Godin quote pushes me to think about perfection and standardisation.  Yes, I need an understanding of ‘craft’ to make art.  But I also need to know how to break rules, changes the standard and add a whacking great dose of emotion and feeling into my work to turn it into art.

 

The fear of being laughed at, of seeming inexperienced or unprofessional come in from the other side to push me to follow the rules, to meet the standards set by others for what is ‘good’.  If I stopped allowing those little voices, or the voice from the ‘lizard brain’ that Godin talks about in ‘Linchpin’ to control me, what would happen?

 

If I spent less time tweaking settings on the camera, playing with Photoshop  and generally trying to create the perfect image, would there be more images?  Would I have more time to be outside with my camera and using it instead of worrying, smoothing out one more bit of skin, adding or subtracting a titch of exposure?

 

Would I create a whole bunch of useless images?  Too right I would.  But I do that anyway, even with all the fiddling around. Godin reminds us that Picasso created over 1000 paintings, but how many of these do we know?  The paintings we know from any major artist are far fewer than the ones they commenced and tossed out or painted over.  Thrown out not because they weren’t ‘perfect’ but because the emotion and vision weren’t there.

 

By searching for perfection, I achieve less, I have fewer images and those that exist meet ‘the standard’.  How many of them have the ‘wow’ factor?  How many of them just CANNOT be created by anyone else who followed the same rules I followed?

 

I’m giving up on ‘perfect’ and going with basic knowledge plus emotion.

Reflecting on reflections

The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction.
Plato

The one was taken from a boat inside a cave.  The arrows of light pointing in both directions drew me, as did the reflections.  I love reflections  – in mirrors, cars, water, windows.  They provide opportunities for interesting photographs.  The object doubled, distorted or seen from a different perspective creates new ways of looking at it.

There are times when it is hard to see where the reflection ends and the ‘real’ object begins.

This is the reflection of stalactites and mites above, but to me looks like a new cavern has opened up for me to explore.

The reflections give us opportunities to explore alternate realities, parallel universes perhaps.  Then the question becomes – what is real?  Which one is the reflection?  Are the images within us as real as the images external to us?  Are our visions more real than reality? Do our internal visions reflect a deeper and more real view of the world?

Defining ‘good’.

One photo out of focus is a mistake, ten photo out of focus are an experimentation, one hundred photo out of focus are a style.  ~Author Unknown

A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone.  I don’t think this can be true for photography.  Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty.  We won’t take an interest in it.

~John Loengard, “Pictures Under Discussion”

This photo probably should be tossed out.  It’s blurred, and technically far from good.  But something about it made me keep it.  I like the sense of movement and purpose the horses have.  I like the sense of ruggedness that goes with this country.

Good photos are supposed to meet certain definitions – clarity of at least enough of the image to begin with.  Technical expertise and planning.  With this photo – I was probably aiming at all of those good things.  But, the movement, maybe I panned a little as well, and whatever other problems that happened created something I hadn’t planned and yet it still speaks to me.  So – if an image speaks to you – is that a more powerful and perhaps more truthful definition of good?  If I am the only person the image speaks to, is it still good?

So many of my photos do not speak to me.  So frequently, when I see an image that I had great hopes for, I have a little swear under my breath.  I have to throw out something that doesn’t work, and I really wanted it to.  My planning and checking still didn’t make it work.  There is still something wrong with my understanding of exposure or focus or …  Or what I thought I saw, what I planned to create just isn’t there.  This is when photographs become like dreams – powerful and real during the dream, but in the waking state, they have no power and the idea is jumbled and unclear.

This frustration pushes me to learn more about photography, and I think my rate for ‘reasonable’ images is slowly increasing.  I comfort myself knowing that even those photographers whose work I admire and follow have a large ‘rubbish’ bin as well.

I keep many images that I hope will improve with ‘maturing’ in my back-up drives, but often when I review these treasures, they have soured even further and I toss them out as well.  My discernment grows with the more images I take and the more I read and work on improving, and I find it harder to please myself.  I am more critical of my work and my mistakes.

Not every image that looks bad is bad;  not every decision I made in my life that looked wrong, is; what looked good on the surface could often be empty.

Decisions

In camera decisions and production decisions.  Both contribute to creating a good image.  The in camera decisions frequently have to be ‘snap’ decisions (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).  Quick assessment of light, composition, balance, highlights, focus etc.  The best photographers seem to do these automatically.  No thought really required.  This apparent ease comes from years of work, years of making mistakes, years of learning what works.  No shortcut through that path. For a beginner, I can only sigh as I examine wonderful images. Looking at the whole and then the components.  One day, one day…

When I take my photos back to the computer, that is when I, as a beginner, can more clearly see what I did or didn’t do well.  This reflective time is where I can learn more about my actions and decisions.  And, for the moment, it is where I can make some changes to improve on my mistakes in the field.

I shoot in RAW to give myself the best chance to improve the results.  The more information I have (or my computer has) the more chance I have of rescuing an image, of changing a decision.  I can change white balance, improve colours, remove extraneous bits and pieces.  I can do many things to make my image somewhat better.  There are also many mistakes I can do nothing about.  Those are destined for the trash bin, after I have learned what I can from them. My mistakes are as important as my good images.  Knowing what I have done right is important, working out what I messed up is equally important.  One mistake less next time.

Then, after fixing what I can fix, there is presentation.  How to present the image and the vision I had when I created it and refined it through my work and decisions, so that others can share this vision, or create their own visions from it?  How to see with the eyes of others?  How will my vision be seen by a stranger, with a different worldview?  Here I need to step away from myself, and see the image as unrelated to me.  Is that possible?

Not really, but I think I can gain a little distance from myself, through time away from the image or through refocusing myself on other things then moving back.  Books, photographs, other art work – seeing other visions through my eyes, then returning with my mind filled with those visions to re-evaluate mine.  These help me look at my work, the decisions I make now more dispassionately, more critically.  Moving away from the self is important to be able to see the self more clearly.

Then the most fearful part of all – putting this part of the self out for others to see.  How will it be received?  How will others judge me?  Will they see my vision, will I spark some recognition?  Will it be ignored?  Not worth looking at?  How do I see myself if others criticise or ignore?  Fear of exposure, of criticism, of being ignored, seen as valueless….  So much wrapped up in a few thousand dots on a page.

Balance

I’m reading Micheal Freeman’s “The Photographer’s Mind”, a follow on to ‘The Photographer’s Eye”.  Oh boy, what a challenge to me as a photographer!

But on a deeper level;, when he talks about balance in an image we can apply this more widely.   “Balance invokes the idea of harmony, equilibrium, and weight.”

When we are ‘balanced’ we are in harmony with ourselves.  We have emotional, mental and physical equilibrium.  When we are out of balance, we lose this harmony. When we ignore our physical needs – nutrition, sleep, exercise – our bodies become unbalanced.  If we ignore our emotional needs we become angry and dissatisfied with the world, ourselves, our partners.  When we ignore our mental needs we follow blindly ‘leaders’ or gurus who tell us how to think, how to react. We lose  our ability to analyse, our ability to make intelligent decisions.

Balance does not mean that we have to blindly follow what came before.  We can still experiment and create.  But in the end, as Freeman says we still need “a satisfying equilibrium”.  My equilibrium need not be yours.

This week I have been out of equilibrium.  I strongly supported the right of Chinese people to stage protests – for any and every cause.  This is the right of any free peoples.  BUT… the current protests have concerned me because I believe they are instigated by the government to draw attention away from internal problems, internal conflicts.  To me they are staged protests, designed to create media coverage, and to take media coverage away from something far more important.  I am concerned because it seems to me me that people are tools to be manipulated and used.  This ‘usage’ of people seems to me to be heinous.

I am frustrated, angry and unable to do anything.  This makes me question my role and position here. Am I supporting something I DO NOT believe in, merely by being here?  Can I make changes by challenging my students and friends to analyse?? I don’t know.  I am out of equilibrium.  I have no balance.

Methodology

At the centre of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Lao Tzu

I have been playing with my macro lens lately.  The more I use this lens the more I love the images that finally appear on my computer screen.  This one is of the cut stem of a capsicum. Such an ordinary vegetable, but when we look closely at the intricacies of its construction and see the beauty of its colour and design, then we can appreciate the complexity that surrounds us. Sadly we seldom look so closely at the ordinary things around us, and so we miss all of this beauty and design.

I am on holidays for a few days and enjoying myself reading and playing with my images.  One of the books I am reading is “Creative Composition” by Harold Davis. This books has some inspirational images and useful advice on composition.  In one section, he speaks about using a Zen perspective as a way of seeing the world.  The images illustrating that section were beautiful, and I wondered if perhaps this would be useful to adopt to improve my images.

Then I began to wonder – do I need a specific perspective to focus my images or my thoughts?  I already have an understanding of miksang and wabi-sabi which seem aligned to the way I view the world and my photography.  Do I need a more structured way of looking at the world?  If so, is this THE one?

The more I considered it, the more I felt that it would be easy to be a follower of a ‘method’, be it spiritual, philosophical or intellectual.  Methods give us structure and rules and analytical tools; design ideas and processes – all good things if I want to improve my images.  However, the more I thought about being a ‘follower’, the less happy I became with the idea.  I have escaped structures and constraints in other areas of my life, why, in this creative area would I now voluntarily adopt any one method?

My vision comes from my experiences, my readings, my writings, understanding about the world around me.  Looking at the intricacy of a simple stem shows me how much complexity there is in the world.  With that level of complexity, I felt I needed to have no limits on the ways in which I view the world or express my vision.

Yes, that means I will chase off down this path, be side-tracked into that perspective and drift seemingly aimlessly. With every new book I read or experience I have I will incorporate something of that into myself and into my work.   But without this openness to information, experience and understanding, then I will limit my experiences and understanding.  If I channel all my new ideas and experiences through the filter of Zen or formalism ,or deconstructionism or….  Will I lose some of the richness that the idea or experience gives me?

If I stay open, willing to be diverted into many paths, willing to explore and  enjoy the complexity of life, then my knowledge of myself grows. I will have the answers at the centre of my being.