For the Love of Trees

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  ‑-Albert Schweitzer

Etherial image of bamboo and leaves in forest as the wind whispers through it.

Ethereal image of bamboo and leaves in forest as the wind whispers through it.

“Go outside and find something to do.” This was the mantra of my mother for as long as I can remember. And, so, we did. We climbed trees, hiked in the woods, made up games using trails of leaves. For years, we camped in the forests up and down the East Coast. Our lives were filled with all sorts of outdoor adventures.

Grand old live oak in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. This tree survived many storms in its life. Sadly, now, the entire top bend of the tree is gone.

Grand old live oak in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. This tree survived many storms in its life. Sadly, now, the entire top bend of the tree is gone. (Faux color infrared image)

It’s no wonder that I have an affinity for trees. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am drawn to them in my photography or that I connect with them on a poetic and metaphoric level.

Infrared landscape of Black/white infrared image in the Pixie Forest on Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with trail leading through woods

Infrared landscape of Black/white infrared image in the Pixie Forest on Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with trail leading through woods

When I was younger, I wrote poetry under the shade of many trees in many seasons. Now, instead of words on paper, I see the poetry within the forest and the trees. The stories their life rings could tell are likely nothing short of amazing. I imagine the stories told and written beneath their branches, the storms survived and the seasons shared.

Rare snow-covered trees inEastern North Carolina

Rare snow-covered trees in Eastern North Carolina

The trees are survivors, rooted and grounded to the earth and all its miracles. In their life and death, the trees are safe havens, providers of food and life. In their span of years, long or short, they offer opportunities for renewal and rebirth. Trials by fire, wind and rain are withstood in ways similar to our own.

Their character is revealed in the curves and lines of their branches and limbs. In the bulk and bend of their bones the years on this earth are revealed.

There are those that bend and those that break and snap. If I could be a tree, I might wish to be a blend of oak and willow – strong, beautiful, protective, graceful, flowing, tolerant and flexible.

Detail of young Rhododendron growing out of crack of rock wall.

Detail of young Rhododendron growing out of crack of rock wall.

It is in the trees that I see a magical dance of swaying and rustling leaves and limbs, wafting scents of flowering buds, the sight and sounds of birds and bees and butterflies wafting through pollen showers of spring and finding a landing zone on the bare branches of winter. There is the dance of flying, falling showers of gold and red and orange that covers the forest floor with an amber blanket. In every season there is a new dance, never to be repeated … ever.

Roots and moss and autumn leaves on a trail in West Virginia

Roots and moss and autumn leaves on a trail in West Virginia

It is in the trees that I see solitude and strength, mystery and beauty along with the wondrous gathering of tree next to tree next to tree and so on to blanket the land with community and a place to commune with the natural wonders of the earth. It is in the trees that I see life, each one unique, each one with its own struggles and triumphs.

In each one that draws and holds my attention, I see hope and beauty from seed to sprout to mature trees and snags through to the rotting, fallen logs. In each there is a home to new and different life.

It is that lifetime of experience from early years in the forests and among the trees that has shaped my interests and direction in the journey of photographer/artist. From their roots and trunks to leaves and branches . . . I see them. And I see me.

Heart in tree at Chincoteague NWR seen after getting news that my great niece, Ella, was born early. Just love in the trees...

Heart in tree at Chincoteague NWR seen after getting news that my great niece, Ella, was born early. Just love in the trees…

Exposed roots in park in Greenville, South Carolina

Exposed roots in park in Greenville, South Carolina

Blanket of autumn leaves on the forest floor.

Blanket of autumn leaves on the forest floor.

Interpretive landscape of live oak and pine forest in Outer Banks

Interpretive landscape of live oak and pine forest in Outer Banks

For Love of the Light We Cannot See

What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.
― Anthony Doerr from All the Light We Cannot See

Coastal Marsh in Infrared

Coastal Marsh in Infrared at 590nm – Harsh midday light that was not conducive to color photography.

It’s been over six years since I was introduced – hook, line and sinker – to infrared photography. Even before I processed my first image, I was hooked (and I knew it). It began one spring day when a box from Mark Hillard containing a Canon 20D converted to 590nm arrived on my doorstep. Keep in mind, I’m a Nikon shooter and had to learn to navigate the Canon. I had no idea what a nanometer (nm) was, and my brain hurt just thinking about what I might be getting into.

Bodie Light Sunset - Faux Color Infrared at 590nm

Bodie Light Sunset – Faux Color Infrared at 590nm

I’m not a science or math geek, so words like nanometer, infrared, wavelength, spectrum and conversions made my head spin. In the end, what that early experience (or inexperience) did for me and my photography was gave me opportunities do “happy dances” in light too contrasty and “terrible” for general color photography, especially landscapes.

The other challenge for me, initially, was that I absolutely LOVE colors! All of them, though purple in any hue is my favorite. When shooting infrared at 590nm, all my images on the back of the LCD reminded me of a negative. Pretty much all color was removed, which left the bare bones of the image subject to stand on its own in form, structure, composition and exposure.

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Raw Image Processed First

What I discovered was that shooting infrared was helping me see the landscape in ways I had not been able to before. It also helped me visualize the scene in black and white, another longstanding challenge that began to fade away the longer I embraced infrared (IR).

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Processed for Faux Color after the Raw image was processed

There are endless possibilities for capturing and sharing the world of infrared. IR filters can be used, but for a more fluid shooting experience, having a camera converted to specific wavelengths (for example, 590nm, 630nm, 665nm, 720nm (standard) and 830nm (b/w) makes more sense. A number of companies offer conversions. I had my Nikon D90 converted by LifePixel and have been very pleased.

Infrared image of Gresham's Mill in Georgia at 590nm

Infrared image of Gresham’s Mill in Georgia at 590nm – Processed for black/white using the Faux Color version.

I chose 590nm because it offered the possibilities for me to play with a big box of color crayons in faux color processing, and I could produce great black/white versions of those same images. Now, after only a few days of shooting with another Canon converted to 830nm, I am equally hooked to black/white IR imaging and plan to convert another Nikon body so I can experience black/white photography in ways I never have before.

There are many reasons why I love infrared photography, but perhaps the top three I will share here provide some insight into how it changed my way of seeing the world and expanded my photographic horizons.

Bald Head Island boathouse in marsh at 590nm - Long Exposure Faux Color Infrared

Bald Head Island boathouse in marsh at 590nm – Long Exposure Faux Color Infrared

First, IR photography breaks barriers. It is fantastic during harsh, midday light. What that means for me is that I can shoot all day long in color and infrared without limitations. When other photographers put their cameras down because the light is “bad” for color imaging, I turn to my 590nm infrared and shoot, shoot and shoot. For those who know me, I’m not a sleeper, so midday naps are unheard of for me. And, I always have snacks and water in the car, so eating is secondary to photography.

Infrared black/white barn near Cameron, NC, falling down next to a freshly plowed field

Infrared black/white barn near Cameron, NC, falling down next to a freshly plowed field. This barn has since collapsed into an unrecognizable pile of rubble overrun by vines and grass.

Second, IR photography reveals what I cannot see with my eyes. Remember, I said that I LOVE color, so visualizing the world in black and white was always a challenge for me (until infrared). It didn’t matter how much I read or knew, I just couldn’t internalize the concept. Colors always got in the way of that process. In addition, because infrared is outside the visible light that our eyes can see, it captures things that we simply cannot see, such as structure in clouds on a white-sky day.

Faux color infrared of stone archway at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

Faux color infrared of stone archway at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

And, third, (though not nearly approaching the end of all the reasons I love IR), IR photography provides freedom of expression. It gives me full permission to express my vision. What the camera captures in infrared doesn’t look “real.” The purest photographer, the one whose only desire is to present the world as it really is, could be challenged by IR photography at first.

I do not consider myself a documentary photographer. Rather, I embrace the idea that I am an artist with a camera as my medium. In post-processing infrared images, it’s PLAYTIME. The sessions follow a similar path of steps, but where they lead creatively is all according to the mood of the moment. With reality suspended, wider ranges of interpretation are possible, and that thrills me.

Infrared image of sunflowers in field at 590nm and lightly processed (before channel swap)

Infrared image of sunflowers in field at 590nm and lightly processed (before channel swap). Anything is possible.

The images presented here are just a few examples of what is possible when you put a converted IR camera at 590nm into the hands of an expressive photographer, however skeptical at first. Where you might go with your infrared interpretations is up to you.

Faux color infrared of Sparks Lane in the Smokies. No better way to capture an often photographed place than with infrared and imagination.

Faux color infrared of Sparks Lane in the Smokies. No better way to capture an often-photographed place than with infrared and imagination. Again, this from a converted Nikon D90 at 590nm.

If you’re interested in learning about infrared photography on a more technical level, or seeing where you can go with it at different wavelengths, here are a few options: Mark Hilliard’s blog  at www.markhilliardatelier-blog.com. It’s all Mark’s fault that I’m addicted to infrared. (Join Mark and me on our workshops, we cover both color and IR techniques. An IR Immersion workshop based in Pawleys Island, SC is set for this August.) Join the Infrared Photography Group on Facebook (nearly 6,000 members worldwide) at www.facebook.com/groups/Infraredphotography/. I also recommend LifePixel‘s website for lots more information on infrared photography.

IR GETS THE MOTOR RUNNING ... Faux color nfrared of 1956 Buick parked at Old Car City USA, White, GA

IR GETS THE MOTOR RUNNING … Faux color Infrared (590nm) of 1956 Buick parked at Old Car City USA, White, GA

Responsibility and Freedom

. . . As a visual storyteller, you are responsible for everything within the frame. . . . If it’s in the frame, it’s because you allowed it to be. If it’s missing, it’s because you chose to exclude it, or you neglected to include it.      –David DuChemin, from “Within the Frame”

For a while now, I’ve been hearing things during workshops and in conversation with fellow photographers that are troublesome to me. Some have said, sadly, that they’ve considered quitting photography altogether because whatever they share is not well received. Others have said that they’ve stopped submitting images in their camera clubs because they “never win” or “nobody likes what I do.” And the same type of scenario plays out on social media.

poppy pods, texture overlay, artistic, interpretive

Artistic interpretation of poppy pods with texture overlay.

We are all different in how we view the world. That’s a wonderful thing. We should celebrate our uniqueness. And when we share our way of seeing the world, we should make our vision clear but also be prepared for mixed reviews.

To each person I talk with and hear these words, I ask them, Why do you photograph? What makes you want to go out and take pictures?” With different words, each one shares that they want to capture what they see (or rather how they see) in their world. That, to me, is the very best reason of all to take whatever camera you’re using to preserve those moments in time. It is why, at the age of 34, I bought my very first “real” camera. I wanted to capture what I was seeing and responding to in my own little world – plays of light on trees, flowers and buildings, gatherings of family and friends, places I visited in my travels and simply things that I found interesting or unusual.

Roots, rocks and stream shadows landscape on trail at Falls of Hill Creek, West Virginia - landscape

Roots, rocks and stream shadows landscape on trail at Falls of Hill Creek, West Virginia – landscape

I did not see myself becoming a photographer, selling my images, speaking to groups or leading workshops throughout the Southeast. I simply wanted to capture the moments of my life. And while my own path as a photographer veered into a career, photography has become my passion and vocation. It was not on my radar or in my plans. It happened because I could not stop and because of a hunger to learn and grow.

Thankfully, I have been blessed with mentors and teachers who pointed out areas where I could improve (as they should) and encouraged me to find, express and be true to my own vision. Not one of these people told me that I should be like them or that their way was the only way to photograph. Many thanks go out to Joe and Mary Ann McDonald, Jim Clark, Bill Campbell, Dewitt Jones, Nancy Rotenberg, Les Saucier and others. Their influence may be seen in some of my work because of the things I learned from them or because we were kindred spirits, but the voice is mine because each one encouraged me to find and own it. Find yours.

Landscape of the Manteo waterfront with old boat and lighthouse with textures

Landscape of the Manteo waterfront with old boat and lighthouse with textures

If you’re one of those people who have become discouraged in your efforts to grow as a photographer because of the words of a few critics or because your images “never win” contests or aren’t well received in your photo club or don’t get “Likes” on social media, TAKE HEART. Go back to the reasons why you started taking pictures, and do it for you. Find your own path. Learn what you need to learn to grow and improve your skills. Listen to those who honestly (and kindly) share how you can refine your work. Keep on taking pictures no matter who sees or likes them. DO IT FOR YOU.

Faux color infrared landscape of Lefler Mill, Georgia

Faux color infrared landscape of Lefler Mill, Georgia

As a photographer, I am responsible for everything I include within the frame, for everything I leave out, and for being true to my own vision and voice. Because I accept this responsibility, I am free to express myself in my own way. It’s a process that evolves continually, and I didn’t start out that way. The beginning of my journey held many technical insecurities and concern for doing things “right.” Learning the fundamentals gave me comfort and freedom to step out and veer into my own lane.

artistic blending of Century Plant in snow with soft focus flowers

artistic blending of Century Plant in snow with soft focus flowers

The images you see in this post are ones I know I never would have taken (or shared) in the early years, even if I had taken them. I encourage you to listen to your inner voice and BE FREE to choose your own path – for you, not for “likes” or prizes. Be the best you!

More . . . or Better?

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons. – Ruth Ann Schubaker

There are many ways to consider how you approach your photography. It’s a new year, and I’m giving a lot of thought to my own. So, I figured it might be a good time to share a few observations on what has helped me grow as a photographer, improve my skills and find the courage to dance to my own beat and discover how to express my vision. Yours may be similar and yet entirely different. And the question that comes to mind is “More or Better?”

Mountain Trees in Fog - A Quiet, Peaceful Moment to Savor

Mountain Trees in Fog – A Quiet, Peaceful Moment to Savor

What has troubled me over the digital years is the idea of “more is better,” “I’ll crop it or fix it later,” and “even a blind squirrel finds a nut.” And, how about, “If I take a thousand pictures, surely there will be at least one good one!” Really? There are elements of truth in these phrases, but little potential for growth. And none of them are efficient or effective approaches for a photographer who wants to grow in the craft and find their vision.

Dunes and Clouds in Time - Taking it All In

Dunes and Clouds in Time – Taking it All In

I’m reminded that I began my journey with rolls of slide film … 36 frames of opportunity to capture what held my attention, excited me, made me wander and wonder. Any frame wasted in hopes of “getting lucky” was just that … wasted. At least a basic understanding of exposure and composition was needed to bring home images that made me smile. I love digital imaging for the freedom it gives us to practice, play, experiment and express ourselves. I’m thankful for the film days that provided me with discipline and purpose. They are what has helped me resist being lazy or sloppy in my shooting. Not perfect, but intentional.

Nets and Clouds - A Life of Work

Nets and Clouds – A Life of Work

 

On the concept of More, what might I want more of as a photographer? I’d like more time with the people I love and care about and images that preserve those moments. More quiet time to appreciate the gift of life and the wonders and miracles of nature. More moments of connecting — with everything, including myself. I’d like more time to learn new skills and practice my craft, more time to travel and explore beautiful places. I’d like to have greater awareness, more compassion and more inspiration. More time to focus on and express my creative vision would be wonderful, along with more opportunities to teach, inspire and encourage. (Notice I didn’t say more money for more gear? I have enough.)

If I could have all of the above, that would be better… but having it all is not always possible. So, where does Better fit in all this? No matter where any of us are in our journey as photographers, it is safe to say we want to continue growing, to improve in many different ways. I’d like to find better ways to use my time so that I’d have more time to pursue my passion. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to tell the stories of the people, places and things that resonate within me.

Eye of Polyphemus - Noticing Beyond the Thing

Eye of Polyphemus – Noticing Beyond the Thing

And while More can be a good thing, it isn’t always Better. We live in an time when most everyone has a way to take pictures and share them with the world. Which is better? To share a single image that speaks to why you stopped and took the time to capture the moment? Or to fill an album on social media with 200 images from one day’s shoot and leave it to the viewer to figure out what in all of them really spoke to you?

I vote for the single image. It shows that the photographer took the time to think about what to shoot and share. You’ll lose me every time around the 5th image if I see the potential for an album that reads like this: “Here’s where I went. I couldn’t decide what I liked best, so you decide for me”. The problem is that it’s your vision an your job to tell your story, not mine. Remember, I’m looking for more opportunities to connect, to learn, and appreciate. Show me the images that make your heart sing. I’ll listen and learn, and so will you.

Eye to Eye - Connecting With a Ghost Crab

Eye to Eye – Connecting With a Ghost Crab

In the seven images included in this piece, what I hope you’ll see and feel is a bit of my visual story. Each one is different and represents moments in time that held my attention and made me think through how I could best portray what made me stop. I often talk to myself and ask, “Why am I stopping? How does it make me feel? It may help you to do the same. You will slow down, see and feel more. Notice in these images what I saw and felt at the time of capture and where I went in processing to further extend the vision. Quiet time, connecting and noticing coupled with textures, long exposures, HDR, macro and panorama — the blending of ideas with techniques. Each image was intentional and part of small series of images, not thousands.

North Carolina Farm Barns in Pitt County Panorama

North Carolina Farm Barns in Pitt County Panorama

 

So, do we want to simply photograph more and produce more images? Or could we be satisfied with being more intentional in our seeing, shooting and sharing and having less volume, more depth and better quality? It’s up to you to decide. More or Better? It depends. Do you want to “level up” in your photography or stay where perhaps you may be and fill more hard drives? For me, I’ll stick with what has been working so far — more of the slower pace, more awareness and photographing from the heart.

A String of Bleeding Hearts

A String of Bleeding Hearts

 

Falling in Love with Velvet

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.‑ E B White

Pink Maple Wings_8035

The fluid dance of maple wings with Lensbaby Velvet 56

There’s a special kind of dance we do when we fall in love. It happens in the mind, but mostly in the heart. And we can’t always explain why we love, just that we do. It used to be that when I heard someone say the word “velvet,” it conjured up memories of my childhood and family vacations. Remember the “Velvet Elvis” and so many other people, critters and scenes painted on black velvet gathered together in a roadside market? Not very romantic really, just a curious sight that sticks in my mind. Or how about those lusciously soft and luxurious velvet dresses in black, red or green that were work in winter … to church or special parties? Fancy stuff, but not at all about love.

 

 

Cactus Curves_LBV56_8045

Softness in the edges and points of a cactus with Lensbaby Velvet 56

No, I’m talking about the new Lensbaby Velvet 56 manual lens. You see, from the moment I saw the images being created by “Miss Velvet”, I knew I had to have her. There was music and dancing in my most visual mind and heart. It’s kind of like touching and feeling the fabric . . . there’s an emotional, visual and tactile response that happens when I would run my hands across the velvet dress. It’s distinctive and has varied degrees of smoothness and texture depending on the direction of the rub.

We all know that the world of love is not about straight lines or direct routes. There are curves, twists, turns and always some rough edges. It’s about going with the flow and letting things happen . . . and rejoicing when a moment catches our breath and we capture it in a frame or two. The Velvet 56 offers that magical combination of smoothness and texture, ease and challenge. It offers one a world of creative possibilities that embrace the world of soft focus and ethereal imagery with its wide f/1.6 aperture. For someone like me, a lover of macro and close-up photography, the minimum focusing distance of 5″  and 1:2 macro capabilities is awesome. Even better? I can add my Nikon 6T close-up diopter to get in even closer to the magic. This lens is solid, yet sleek and smooth in its feel and movement through the focus range.

Going with the flow of peony petals with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Going with the flow of peony petals with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Suffice to say, I LOVE (and am in love with) this lens. It awakes the dreamer and the seer in me, opens my mind and heart to all the possibilities. It allows me to capture the moments that catch my breath and make me stop. If you have the opportunity to try one, you won’t want to let it go and you won’t be able to deny the magic or the music.

Nothing more magical than finding a "Perfection" pull on a Williams Pipe Tone Organ and capturing with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.

Nothing more magical than finding a “Perfection” pull on a Williams Pipe Tone Organ and capturing with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.

(Lensbaby has been kind enough to provide me with demo units of the Velvet 56 and other inspiring optics for my New Life Photos workshops. Wonderful opportunities to dance to a different beat and discover hidden treasures within your own creativity.)

Wabi Sabi: Old, Crunchy & Downright Beautiful

Enter the wonderful world of Wabi Sabi, where imperfection reigns! This is the world in which rust, decay, age and damage magnify interest and attraction. It’s a world in which flaws show character, dignity and strength. And, this is just one of the worlds that fascinate and inspire me – emotionally, spiritually and photographically.

This deer-bitten sunflower stood out among the rest because of what it had provided.

This deer-bitten sunflower stood out among the rest because of what it had provided.

For a long time, I didn’t understand my attraction to the fading flowers with bruised petals, the old barn with a precarious lean and peeling paint or the rusting cars and work-worn fishing boats. I couldn’t explain my passion for the rural landscapes on land and sea or why the back roads kept calling my name.

While this Ford has seen better days, its grandeur shines even in a shroud of vines.

While this Ford has seen better days, its grandeur shines even in a shroud of vines.

And then, I went through an old photo album that my parents had. Pictures of my father and grandparents on the farm they owned after immigrating from Poland. Pictures of my mother with a rooster under her arms, my grandfather at the letterpress machine. . .  the Edsel I never knew my father owned.  And, my memories of how hard my father worked at his craft of fiberglass boat building and repair.

Suddenly, all the dots connected – from my own childhood and family history. The common thread had always been what those old cars, tools, farm equipment, old boats, barns, fences and so much more represent–a life of hard work, dedication and perseverance.

The quiet beauty of old, hardworked shrimp boats in Engelhard harbor.

The quiet beauty of old, hardworked shrimp boats in Engelhard harbor.

This was what made me put my brakes in “screech mode,” what made my heart skip beats. This is what has always made me stop. That and knowing that these old things, as much as I loved them, would not last. The cars would rust and be scrapped, tools thrown away, boats sink, barns would fall, and the land would be cleared for new, far less interesting structures. Without the images, all would be lost as memories fade. The history is buried.

Paint peeling and fading, boards crooked, time marching on. Just one of my Cameron barns.

Paint peeling and fading, boards crooked, time marching on. Just one of my Cameron barns.

And this is why I have adopted the painted barns of Cameron, NC – a small, crossroads town full of love for antiques and the best place to grab lunch in the Dewberry Deli that sits just below an antique store. It’s where I break between visits to “my barns.” I’ve been visiting them for over twelve years and will keep going back and sharing until the last one falls…

I’ve always wondered about the stories behind the empty, long abandoned houses. At what point does a “home” become a building to leave for nature to reclaim? When is a barn not worth fixing. What must it be like for those people to walk away from a place in their life history? I don’t know the answers, but I’m sure that walk is never easy. And these are the things I connect with below the surface of my love for things of old. There is something beautiful in all that fades, dies and does not last.

I knew as I made this image that it would be the last time I would see this barn standing. I was right.

I knew as I made this image that it would be the last time I would see this barn standing. I was right.

It does not surprise me anymore why I love and love to share these places and things with my images and through my workshops. Interestingly, my next three workshops have mighty strong ties to the concept of Wabi Sabi. It’s one that takes you on a journey beyond the subject, for sure.

“The Phone Thing”

I must confess. I am a resistor of things I don’t understand. And I refuse to believe that I stand alone in this circle.

IMG_20111211_141801-01I was slow to commit to Facebook for sharing images. I even said, “I don’t have time for “friends.”. And while not a perfect forum, I realized it is a way for me to share my passion for photography, creativity, nature and much more. As I learned and understood more, I was able to embrace it as another tool to share my vision and what I have to offer.

I resisted using my cell phone as an image-making tool along with any and all the apps that might have been available. I don’t have an iPhone (and may never have one). My Android works just fine. With the latest upgrade of my cell phone and improved camera,20150415_181322_HDR-01 I realized this is another way to capture, create and share quickly without the encumbrances of bags of gear. Apps are featherlight but fierce with potential. And, like many people, I have my phone with me almost all the time. With Snapseed, Painteresque and a few others to play with, there’s a party to attend.

In embracing “the phone thing,” I have realized that it is a helpful tool for finding and developing compositions and viewpoints that can be immediately captured. Those images can also get me started with my DSLR. So, sometimes, I find it convenient to scout an area with the phone and then decide how I want to work a subject with the “big dog.”

Enter Instagram. Again, I resist what I don’t understand. I’m getting it and am sharing my view of the world from my perspective now on Instagram and learning to eIMG_20150419_014346mbrace “the square.”   Who knew there were such possibilities in four equal sides? I began my photography with 35mm film, so the 2×3 ratio was what I knew and had been comfortable with.

So, this conflicted issue I have had with using my phone as a creative tool has vanished. Ultimately, we all are able to capture, play and share moments with each other almost instantly. And, this I understand. This I can embrace.IMG_20150529_234338

20150524_201159_HDR-01  IMG_20120527_075939-01 20150524_112434_HDR-01

 

Note: All images included in this post were captured with and processed on my phone. I cannot believe it, and I cannot help myself. Oh, happy day.

The Beauty of Ten More Minutes

Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries.   —Corita Kent

There are rewards for being present and staying in the moment, but it’s not always easy or convenient to do this. In fact, it takes practice – persistent and intentional practice. You can start anytime and experiment with what works for you.

The "Handshake" taken at 12:50pm. No magic, just crocus (Image 1 of 59)

The “Handshake” taken at 12:50pm. No magic, just crocus. The music hasn’t even started yet, even though my favorite color is purple. (Image 1 of 59)

One way is to remember the phrase, “ten more minutes.” In the creative process we all get “stuck.” That’s when it’s easy to pack up, give up and go home. The problem with this response is that often the magic awaits and appears when you give yourself and your subject just ten more minutes. Hang tight, dig in, let loose and play. You must pay attention to your intention. Try it . . . you’ll see what I mean.

Because I practice this as often as possible, the hint of magic often starts early for me (but not always). What I know from experience is that the first few images are likely to be the “handshakes” or documentary “see what I saw” shots at best.

A Change is Coming ...Let the games begin five minutes in (Image 12 of 59)

A Change is Coming from Above … Let the games begin five minutes into this 38-minute dance. (Image 12 of 59)

I am committed to spending enough time to go beyond the handshake. I want to get to the essence. It helps to keep my camera down or in the bag, to take in what I see, hear, smell and feel in my surroundings. It’s important to begin by defining my subject before starting to shoot. I’ll seek out particular features and perspectives that peek my interest before setting up. Even using my phone to test compositions and angles can help me decide on what lens would work best for what I’m seeing. Bottom line, what made me stop?

Here is where the sprawling begins. The magic this time is down low. Eleven minutes in (Image 20 of 59)

Here is where the sprawling begins. The magic this time is down low. Eleven minutes in and the party’s just begun. (Image 20 of 59)

 

A few weeks ago, while scouting for a workshop in Richmond, a patch of purple crocus were open and beautifully lit near the entrance of Maymont Park. On the way out, knowing how weather and light changes, I decided to spend a few minutes with one bunch of these flowers. I was using my Nikon D600 with 70-180mm micro lens and the Nikon 6T close-up diopter and tripod (in the beginning). Quickly, I realized that sprawling on the ground, handholding and manual focus were the only ways for me to navigate this particular creativity pool.

What you see in this series of images is a visual walk-through of what took place during 38 minutes with the crocus. There were 59 images captured during this stretch of time. They are minimally processed, uncropped and have no fancy filters applied. There’s time for creative play in post-processing later. I encourage you to do your best dancing in the moment. Strive to capture what you see and what you feel. If it isn’t showing up in your viewfinder, give yourself “ten more minutes.” In the selections I share here you’ll see the time, the image number and what was going through my mind and where I allowed myself to go.

Twenty-five minutes, and I'm in heaven with the crocus (Image 30 of 59)

Twenty-five minutes, and I’m in heaven with the crocus (Image 30 of 59)

The “handshake shot,” well … it doesn’t do those crocus justice, but it did get me started. There’s a distinct change in the tone of the images once I shifted into “the zone.”

After 33 minutes, I could have been happy stopping here. Instead, I gave myself five more minutes. (Image 46 of 59)

After 33 minutes, I could have been happy stopping here. Instead, I gave myself five more minutes. (Image 46 of 59)

In the end, a “happy, happy dance” happened, and I didn’t care who saw me do it. And when it was over, my breathing was easy, my muscles were relaxed, and the smile in my eyes and on my face was worth getting down and dirty in a public park. What I’m hoping people saw was someone immersed in the miracles of beauty in nature.

Give yourself “ten more minutes” every chance you can!

A beautiful ending of my 38-minute session of "Ten More Minutes" (Image 59 of 59)

A beautiful ending of my 38-minute session of “Ten More Minutes” It felt so good and left me smiling inside and out. (Image 59 of 59)

 

No Good Pictures at High Noon?

Most photographers you ask would tell you that after the sun comes up and high noon approaches you might as well pack up your camera gear go eat or take a nap or both. Except for the napping, there are times when I would agree. However, the blanket statement that “there are no good pictures to be made at high noon” has a lot of holes and many tattered edges.

For instance, when skies are overcast and the day is draped with soft, diffuse light, this makes the colors rich and saturated and incredibly wonderful for macro, close-ups and intimate landscapes. With the exception of torrential downpours, on a rainy day it’s entirely possible to capture exquisite moments under cover of rain gear, umbrellas, and shelters or even from the car window. In fact, shooting through your windshield during a rain shower can offer up painterly views of the landscape.

Longleaf Pine and Fern in the rain through windshield

Longleaf Pine and Fern shot during a sun shower through windshield

So, what about when the sun IS out and glaring through the scene? What then? Well, I say that if you choose to take a nap or get a bite to eat, there’s a chance you could miss something special. You still have options, but you have to arm yourself with openness and put your “noticers” on alert. With your eyes and mind open, you’ll be surprise at what you discover. It’s not the time for grand landscapes, but rather a time for looking for and seeing something differently.

Here’s a situation that occurred recently on a visit to a wildlife refuge. Morning light was gone. High noon is fast approaching. What to do? Note: All three of the these images were taken within a span of 11 minutes just after “high noon.” As someone with a thing for trees, I had already noticed a stand of trees with light and shadows dancing across the tall grasses. The first of these three images was what caught my attention as a place of potential – the light and shadows, dark and light tree bark and light tan grasses. The straight shot here is the handshake – just the introduction. Some would stop right here, but this leaves no lasting impression.

Shadows and Light in trees at Pocosin NWR - The Test Shot

Shadows and Light in trees at Pocosin NWR – The Test Shot

What if we try some in-camera multiple exposures? Now, we’re digging a little deeper and have an opportunity to get to know more. Something different … getting there, but not quite. Another area of the refuge earlier in the day worked much better for this technique.

Shadows and Light presented with in-camera movement

Shadows and Light presented with in-camera movement

So, how about some playing with intentional camera movement? With the aperture set at f/22 and ISO at 50, the shutter speed was slow enough to have some fun. I simply found the best area for starting the up/down motion and worked it until the best speed and range of movement gave me what turned on the “happy light.” This abstract interpretation of that stand of trees at high noon hit the spot. I was happy.

Artistic interpretation of shadows and light with motion blur on section of trees

Artistic interpretation of shadows and light with motion blur on section of trees

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to address the idea that bright, contrasty light is simply an invitation to get out the infrared camera and start shooting subjects in the light that we cannot see. With the addition of a converted IR camera (Nikon D90 at 590nm) in my bag, the potential for all-day shooting adventures are endless. I’ll share more on this next month. Suffice to say that with great subjects you can work magic in infrared and discover great opportunities for image making.

Infrared image of Corolla Lighthouse framed by live oak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Infrared image of Corolla Lighthouse framed by live oak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Favorite Places | Where Will You Go?

We all have favorite places–the ones that seem to call our names. And they call for many reasons and at different times of the year. Each one beckons when we need it most.

Duck prints on ice in winter at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Duck prints on ice in winter at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Since we’re in the middle of winter, perhaps it’s fitting to share one of my favorite places that is filled with natural winter wonders – Northeastern North Carolina.

It’s more of a region than one singular location, and it includes waves of migratory birds and people. I love the birds and celebrate those moments when I capture good images. Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge abound with a variety of birds and bear and other wildlife and offer photographers and nature lovers endless possibilities to enjoy a visit.

However, the northeastern part of North Carolina, especially Hyde and Tyrrell Counties, call my name for more than birds or wildlife. For me, it’s the love of the land and sea reflected in the rural landscape that does it.

The shrimper fleet in Engelhard, Hyde County, NC

The shrimper fleet in Engelhard, Hyde County, NC

From the weather-worn shrimp boats in Engelhard and Swan Quarter to the open farmland with lines and lines of crops to community churches and abandoned buildings and tools of both trades left for nature to reclaim — I cannot help but long for my next return visit. It’s more than “liking” these amazing subjects. I feel connected in ways I’ve only begun to understand. I must continue to visit and revisit and share this area while it remains as it is. We’ve seen it happen – barns fall, boats sink, and then the landscape changes into something that lives only in memories.

In winter, when most of the green is gone, what’s left are patterns in trees, leftover crops for wildlife, cold winds and so much to discover during the days of short light. Expect the unexpected. I have my favorite spots to revisit, but am still surprised to find new opportunities unfold (even though they’ve always been there for me to find).

Morning light patterns & textures at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

Morning light patterns & textures at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

This pull of the rural landscape is not unnatural to my own history. My father grew up on a farm on Long Island. He’s worked his whole life as a master craftsman on boats, building and fixing. Growing up, we spent time tending a very long garden (digging, planting, weeding, harvesting and enjoying the fruits of our labor). We also helped my father at his shop (sanding, sweeping, and anything else that needed to be done.) I’m proud of the work ethic he and my mother instilled in me and my three sisters. I’m thankful to be able to understand that the lives of farmers and fishermen are not easy; that they are filled with hard work and a love for what the land and sea provides. I recognize a passion for doing what does not come without effort or without disappointments. I recognize and admire the perseverance I see. And that’s what keeps me coming back to this special place. What follows are just a few reasons why.

Winter sunset among the cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet

Winter sunset among the cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet

Solitary cypress tree at sunset on Lake Mattamuskeet

Solitary cypress tree at sunset on Lake Mattamuskeet

Canal dock with crab pots in Hyde County

Canal dock with crab pots in Hyde County

Pungo Trees

Faux color infrared of field tree framed on Pocosin Lakes NWR

Winter cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet - A Different View

Winter cypress trees at Lake Mattamuskeet – A Different View