Overcoming inertia

Woke up Saturday to about 6" (15cm) of new snow that
rapidly grew to 12" (30cm). After much debate, I convinced myself that the
weather presented a rare opportunity for photography and I should capitalize
on it.

So, I grabbed my cameras and headed to a specific location –
“Varosliget”, or City Park – in Budapest, a good half-hour across town in good
weather. It was nuts to venture out, but I knew the snow was perfect and guessed
that few would be out and about.

There's a sculpture in the park that's one of my favorites here. It's a statue to "Anonymous" – a hooded figure
slouched in his chair, a hood obscuring his face with pen in hand. (The tongue-in-cheek humor that accompanies this
monument has always made me smile.) I've wanted to shoot this sculpture with
snow on it, thinking the shape of the statue, its setting and the resulting
contrast of dark bronze and snow would be cool.

I've had this image preconceived for several years, yet I
always talk myself out of going when it’s snowing – and about did again this
time – believing that it was dangerous out, lots of accidents, idiots with bald
tires, I was tired, it was cold, whine, whine, lame excuse, etc. But my desire to
shoot it prevailed this time; I knew if I didn't go right then I'd stay
inside, nice and warm, settle in and not leave the house. Worse, I’d miss the prime
opportunity to capture the image I wanted before someone cleared the snow or it
melted or blew away. The clincher was that one doesn’t know if or when it will
snow again and if I didn’t go then, I might have to wait until next
winter and work through the whole go/no go decision yet again as I’ve done so
many times in the past.

As hoped, the streets were pretty empty although the park
was surprisingly full of families, couples and friends taking walks in the
snow. I got to the sculpture and while folks had visited it to touch the pen
(for good luck of course), they had left it alone otherwise. I got the images I
had envisioned – digital as well as film (with my “Diana” camera). The trip was
worth the drive, was worth the venture – the risk – in less than stellar
conditions.

Inertia is a powerful force to overcome yet the whole
experience – as easy as it was ultimately to accomplish and as enjoyable as it
was – really makes me wonder why I debated making this excursion for as long as
I did. All I really needed to do was just go for it.

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Either you let your life
slip away by not doing the things you want to do, or you get up and do them

.
 – Carl Ally

Life, in a photograph

Taking a photograph is a lot like life: the key considerations
we make in creating a photo are the same decisions we make in our lives in
general: 

Composition – It’s
a conscious decision as to what’s in the photo and what’s not; what have we
chosen to have in the image and what have we chosen to exclude.  Which elements in the photo are dominant and which ones are not? Is there
balance in the image? 

Zoom in or zoom out
– While it's part of composing an image, zoom needs separate consideration. Some images demand a closer, intimate look while others need the bigger
picture emphasized; sometimes we need the details while other times we need to
pull back and see more in the image.

Focus – Too sharp
or not sharp enough? Sometimes we need a sharp image – really crisp and clear
and in other situations we need a little less focus – soft focus if you will –
or even let the image be out of focus. 

Exposure – How
much exposure we need depends on the situation. Generally, there’s a desire for
just the right exposure – a good balance of lights and darks with rich middle
tones. Sometimes we need less exposure, with darker tones being dominant,
obscuring some of the details. Other times, overexposure is called for to
emphasize the highlights and clean up the darker tones. 

Contrast – Too
much, too little or just right? We definitely need contrast in our pictures to
keep things interesting. Too much contrast can be impactful (and sometimes
distracting) while too little is boring. 

Color or black and
white
– Neither one is better than the other; they’re just different and most images dictate what's needed. Color
taps many senses and adds variety and impact to an image while black and white
brings gives clarity to an image and brings out the richness in textures. 

Finally, Selection
– Not all pictures are perfect and one never keeps or shows all of their images.
Do you only keep the flattering and pretty ones or do you keep some of the ugly
ones as well that tell a different story? Are they all in focus or are some of
the fuzzy ones important as well? 

Making photos is all about making decisions – there are
always multiple options available when we create an image and our decisions on
the critical elements ultimately determine the final product. Just like life.

 

 

Cultivating the other you

What do you do when you’re not working? I mean outside of family obligations – what do you do for you. If the answer is “not much”, it’s time for a change and what better time than at the beginning of a New Year.

A real-life illustration: A colleague’s father retired a few years ago. This man had been a professor and his work was his life. Spent virtually all of his waking hours on campus in the company of students, teaching them, working with them, learning from them. When the time came for him to retire, he was absolutely lost. His entire life had been work – no outside interests, no hobbies, no passions beyond the classroom. He went from a life of focus to one adrift. He literally almost died; severe depression set in from his isolation and nearly killed him. Only through the diligence of his son were remedial steps taken to get him help and reestablish a sense of purpose in him. It was nearly too late and it had taken only a couple of months for him to sink so low.

Another colleague of mine believed that work was an “8-hour interruption” of his personal time. He had many diverse interests outside the walls of his office hence work was a means to an end. I’ve always appreciated his perspective on life and find I have to remind myself of his mantra from time to time.

Allow yourself time every week for something that’s devoted to you. That absorbs you. That you can’t wait to get back to the next time. Reading, gardening, writing, painting, traveling, quilting, fishing, photography, woodworking, cooking, singing, working with youth/seniors, playing a sport – something that trips your trigger. My mantra: a day a week for “my” things. It may not be exactly a single devoted day (although sometimes it is), but throughout the week I try to carve out eight hours to pursue my interests versus things related to work or other family members.

Don’t have such an interest? Dig back to your deep past as a child and the interests you had then. Somewhere, covered by years and layers of work, is an interest, a long-forgotten hobby. Still nothing? Browse the shelves of your local bookstore or library. Give it a few hours, checking out various topics. Something is there waiting for you to discover, waiting for you to crack the cover and begin.

Take time to develop your interests now, give yourself permission to enjoy them and do it! Beyond the benefit of addressing future needs you will find you have greater energy and a better perspective on life overall today. And besides, it’s fun.

 

“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Perpetual Devotion

“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

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On digital

My leap to digital was actually more of a saunter. I’m
sentimental by nature and switching from film – which had been my close friend
my entire life – to digital felt like betrayal. I loved (and still love despite
many years of not hanging out in a darkroom) the magic of watching an image
materialize beneath the safelight; the truth appearing before my eyes.

Yet the world had gone digital and it was time I became
current. When I made my entry some five years ago, it felt strange. Here were
these images in color, when I had always worked in black and white. The images instantly
appearing on the little screen on the back of the camera felt like I was
cheating as I was seeing them before I had done any work in the darkroom.
Sitting at a computer “working” on the images with a mouse instead of standing
in the dark with tongs was just plain weird.

But I’ve grown to appreciate the benefits of digital. One
key one is when taking photos of people – and I’m not working with models –
nothing opens them up more than seeing their image on that little screen. Once
they see what I’m shooting they become so much more receptive, enhancing our
connection as we work together. It is an absolute game-changer that was
unavailable with film – unless one had the luxury of sharing Polaroid images.

I still have my negatives and it’s amazing to see how many
times I had one – just one – image of
a subject to work with. It was a result of being conservative with my film due
to cost considerations from when I was first learning. Even in later years, I
took only a few images of a subject maximum. There’s a certain beauty in that;
a certain discipline in trying to get the exact image one time. Most of the
time it worked but there were many times that one image didn’t work and I was
left with nothing.

But then I sometimes question my craft with digital – am I less
precise with digital than I was with film? Because there is no cost of shooting
hundreds of images versus a few, I find myself shooting many, many more of a
given subject than I ever would have with film. Does the nearly unlimited space
for images make me a sloppier photographer than I used to be? I actually
believe the answer is no, however the jury is still out as I have too many
images that need attention for me to fully ponder that one for now…

I’m now accustomed to working on images in Photoshop or
Lightroom, making the same adjustments that I would have done in the
darkroom – working the contrast, dodging, burning, cropping. The only thing I’m
missing is a fixer-scented candle to light while I’m sitting at my
computer…

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