See Here Now

I find that looking at a thing is not seeing, that I had to learn to see. I think photographers are not alone in this perception. Paul Rezendes, the well-known tracking expert and, coincidentally, nature photographer writes about his ideas in his book, Tracking and the Art of Seeing, “Sometimes there are no tracks at all, but there is never a square yard in the forest that does not tell us something…” He is saying looking at tracks fails to inform, while seeing a wider view still contains what we need to know.

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I’m a birder. I know that looking at a spot where I heard a sound more often than not fails to get me a sighting, but letting my eyes scan around an area will often catch sight of the bird as my gaze snaps to where my moving eyes saw it.

For me as a photographer, looking at my subject is an act of fixing my gaze on a flower, a person, a waterfall, anything. As likely as not when I snap the shutter my composition just won’t work when I try to make my finished image. By looking more widely, by not looking at one thing I see the entire frame and am better able to compose my shot and wind up happy with my end result.

I have been shooting without a viewfinder for my camera for the past two or three years. I thought I’d want the optional viewfinder that I could have purchased. However, I found the LCD view, perhaps too close to my face to focus my eyes completely, prompted me to see the whole frame, the image as my camera sensor would capture it. So I never did acquire one.

My friend Richard Paul Hoyer, who I know through his role as an instructor at the Worcester Art Museum, related a similar experience which he describes as seeing shapes. He has carried his art of seeing forward to his current gear, seeing shapes through the viewfinder. He’s working with the entire frame, not just one thing within it.

I recommend to any student of the camera to learn this art of seeing. Your photographic craft may rise to a new level; and your pleasure with the result help you stick with the effort at learning to control your camera and photo editing software or darkroom technique.

Color Commentary

As a maker of black & white photgraphic images, I need to be highly aware of color because the quality of light that is illuminating my subjects will affect the appearance of the final image. To achieve natural gradations of gray, I may have to filter out blue light, for instance, when capturing an image of something in shade under bright blue skies.

As I have gone along working on monochromatic pictures, I have become more aware of color, better at seeing colors. Usually, making color photographs does not appeal to me. Color in my mind just seems to muddy the result. It seems to hide the plays of light and shadow, composition and meaning that are elegantly displayed in shades of gray.

However, recently, I’ve had a little fun bringing out the colors in some infrared captures and applying a solarized style in Photoshop. The images remind me of psychedelic poster art from the 1960’s and early ’70’s.

I like photography as a camera and printmaking activity more than being a user of software, so I work pretty simply and quickly as a rule in Photoshop. Let me share a little of my process here. Once I imported image files from my infrared converted camera I followed a few steps to get my solarized color prints or image files for display.

  1. Reduce noise. I use Topaz Labs DeNoise plug-in with Photoshop.camera-raw-editor-opening
  2. Adjust exposure, clarity, vibrance, and saturation in Photoshop Camera Raw Editor.camera-raw-editor-color-ir
  3. Make any further adjustments as needed, usually adjusting curves.
  4. Apply Unsharp Mask.
  5. Apply Solarize style.when-a-lilac-opens-slrzd-P5140404
  6. Make any last adjustments as above to please my eye.
  7. Done.

when-a-lilac-opens-P5140404Color is for me a kind of play, an exotic place for my mind to travel for a brief vacation.

Right side: a treatment of the same image as above developed as color infrared without the solarization style applied.

Creativity and Life

Making photographs, thinking of new projects, just feeling like picking up the camera, I am not a mere machine purring along. Habit can carry me through low points, but sometimes life stops me in my tracks as when last month (while my continued search for a job was getting to be a drag) my kid brother unexpectedly and suddenly died. I had been struggling, and now life screeched to a temporary halt while I grieved with my family and friends.

Slowly, I began to process my emotions and thoughts about the event by talking with my surviving brother and two sisters, my wife, my nephews who had lost their father, and close extended family members and friends; I wrote a few thoughts down in haiku form; I edited some photos and took a few new pictures that seemed to connect me with my feelings of loss, and memories of my brother.

My life paused when tragedy struck. I did not take pictures, then I did. I did not write, now I do. Creativity at this time is not a sentimental process, making lemonade when life gave me lemons; its cessation is the hole I fall in; its work is stones I grip to pull myself up again.

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Moe and I were in Washington viewing the cherry blossoms on an overcast spring day. That evening my brother passed away. Something about this image felt like what was going on inside me: the grayness of the day, the diffusion by clouds of the light…

The cherry blossom

And the cold spring afternoon

Are now always one

 

Spring and cold belong

Not together, but alone

One alive, one ghost

I studied photography and the camera, but I’m not a studious photographer. When I’m out in the field I think a little, perhaps change a few camera settings; then I’m done thinking. When what I see on my camera LCD or in the viewfinder feels right I click. It is as though in my mind I’ve closed my eyes to trust the world to show me what apprehended my eye that I could feel but not in that moment comprehend. I trust the world to give me time.