Category Archives: Photo Journal

Thin Places

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In Celtic spirituality, thin places, or thin spaces, are those places where heaven and earth are closest. We have places that feel sacred and holy. “The Wall” honoring the Viet Nam soldiers in Washington, D.C., is one of those sacred places, even though every time I have been, it has been crowded with people—women, children, men, soldiers, tourists. It is “sacred ground.”

Arlington National Cemetery is the same. It is sacred ground, in part because it is a cemetery, but because it feels different somehow from other places.

It is easy to find these “thin places,” or sacred places, when we travel, but the challenge is to find the thin places at home in the “known world.”

I thought about the idea of thin places today after reading a Pacebook post from a friend who lives in Atlanta, a sister photographer and photographic artist. I went out seeking my own thin place. I have written so much about the ponds and have photographed them so often. I hesitate to guess how many images of the pond and the area around it I have in my archives. Yet, no matter how many times I walk around them, there is a thinness there that is at once isolated from “the world,” and yet very much a part of it. While I am walking, I feel as though I enter a different kind of space. Yes, today, the ground was a bit mushy and soft after several days of rain and downpours. It was breezy, but it was comfortable. There was still traffic zooming past up and down the road.

I am thinking now about the “meaning” of thin places, and how they manifest themselves to me. For now, I am content to know that they exist, and that they are welcoming places, places that are holy and “set apart” if only for a few minutes.

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Divergency? A Thoughtful Thursday

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I went for a walk today at the state park. It was a beautiful morning—temperature outside right at 70 degrees (in January, no less!), blue sky, breezy, but not so breezy that I felt as though the wind were pushing me down the road. I was in a thoughtful mood, trying to figure out what I wanted to “say” with my images today. I received an email from David du Chemin, one of my “mentor photographers,” even if he doesn’t know it!, announcing his next project about storytelling in photographs. I has some ideas of things I wanted to look for.

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I wanted to explore the idea of openness again since the theme for Adventures in Seeing—The Book is openness. I was also looking for light and shadow and contrasts—and anything else that presented itself to me.

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What I found was “divergency.”  I thought of Robert Frost’s poem that begins, “Two roads diverged in a wood.” And the idea of divergence as splitting apart into more than one way came to mind. How often do I come upon situations wherein there is more than one way to get to the same point? As an educator, I thought about divergent learners who do not always follow the linear path we teachers set for them. Again, the idea is that there is more than one way to reach the same destination. And, of course, there is the book Divergent, which I must admit I never quite finished. I noticed as I received the images today, that my photographs are definitely “divergent.”untitled-48

One thing that focusing on the concept of contemplative photography has taught me is that I have to be open to new ways of seeing even when I am seeing the “same old, same old.” I thought about that as I walked through the park. I have walked there regularly for a whole bunch of years, and the road I follow has not moved; the curves are still in the same places. . . . Yet, each time, it is different. The camera helps me see the new things.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams

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And then I saw this “story.” One of the very first poems I found that has stayed with me (besides “Nothing Gold Can Stay”) is Tennyson’s poem, “The Eagle.” I can imagine an eagle sitting in the top of this tree overlooking the lake, waiting for the precise moment to release his talons and dive for his prey.

The Eagle

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.

A New Way to Create Art

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I enjoy playing with textures in Photoshop. I like the way layers of textures can transform an image to tell a new story. I have been looking at the art created by Tennessee photographer Jai Johnson, who also creates the Daily Texture collections. I’ve seen who she uses texture backgrounds with her images to isolate elements, and I wanted to figure out who to do that, too. By watching her videos, I learned that she uses Topaz Labs software for much of her work. However, I tried to do something similar in Photoshop. It’s not easy, and my results are not consistent—yet.

I’ll show you the original and the final product.

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I began with this image of the butterfly and the zinnias. I took this at the end of October. I really am not crazy about the background of dead grass and weeds.

I did something a bit different. I opened a new document and set the size as 10 by 8. Then I used the Place Linked command to open the background texture. Next I used the File Linked command to place the butterfly image over the background.

Next, I used the lasso tool in Photoshop to outline the butterfly and the flowers with the stems and leaves, and then used the Select-Inverse command. I added a layer mask, The background texture is revealed behind the image of the flower and butterfly. I thought the pink flowers were a little too bright, so I desaturated the image slightly and brushed back in the color of the butterfly.

I cleaned up the edges with a soft round brush, adjusting the size and the opacity of the brush as needed. Then I added another texture on top of the image at the soft light blending mode at a reduced opacity to tie the image together.

The final result is this.butterly-with-two-lil-owl-textures

It’s different, but I like it. My younger son says it’s really cool.

EDITED: Okay, I still had to play with more stuff. I created one more “look.” I really like this one!

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The Last Day—Write 31 Days is “Officially” Over

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I made it to the last day of October. While I managed to write most days, I did not write every day. Life sometimes gets in the way, and sometimes the inspiration, motivation, and desire just up and leave me high and dry. I am working on that latter bit, though, and learning to “show up” to do the work whether I am inspired or not. Sometimes, just showing up is the only thing that I can do.

This morning, I went out for a quick walk around the yard with the camera. The zinnias are beautiful in their last bit of autumn loveliness. The butterflies are covering them. I could sit on the ground and watch them for hours, I think. And yes I found that one butterfly with the dry, papery wing that’s beginning to show its “age”. It’s a subtle reminder of the impermanence of things. And yet, it’s still as beautiful as the butterflies that are still perfectly whole.

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I did go out this morning with an idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I chose my 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fixed lens. If I “zoomed” in on something, I would have to do it with my feet! I also took my extension rings to work on some macro, or close-up, photography. I wanted to get close up for detail and to create some kind of abstract of the subject of the images. It’s harder than one thinks! And I was not satisfied with my results. Still I found some things I liked.

I started with my hibiscus.

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This image, of course, is taken without the extension rings. I just love this flower. Then I started focusing on details.

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I love the curves and the yellow on the underside of the petals.

There are other indications of autumn all around the pond as well. Of course, I had to take the picture of the fallen leaf—just one—lying on top of the green grass.

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So much texture and lines in this image of the leaf.

While I had some intention when I began this walk, I also went out with an open mind to see whatever presented itself to me. One of the principles of contemplative photographic practices is to approach the world with an open mind, to see what is there without judgment whether the subject is appropriate or beautiful or photogenic. The idea is to see what is there as it is.

This walk was just what I needed this morning, too, as it put me in touch with creation and its beauty as it is, even the broken butterfly.

The Pictures I Bring Home

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We went to the mountains yesterday for a “road trip”—you know, those one-day trips with no particular destination in mind, but with a couple of planned stops along the way. We went to get apples. Now, I know I could have saved a LOT of gas money and probably have bought the apples cheaper at the local grocery store, but these are NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAIN APPLES! We came home with 1-1/2 pecks of different apples—Cameo, golden delicious, Pink Lady, Winesap. . . .

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Oh, and a dozen apple cider doughnuts.

Next stop—Linville Falls. I do enjoy a good walk through the mountains especially if there is a fast-running stream or river, some rapids, and a waterfall or two involved. Linville Falls has it all. There is a nice, but small, book store/souvenir shop and clean restrooms at the visitors center, a map that you can take with you (although I admit that I didn’t consult the trail map very much), and well-planned trails and “roads” to follow. Because of HIS plantar warts, we did not walk all the trails, but we did go to the upper falls. Beautiful!Mountain trip 2016 (6 of 17)Mountain trip 2016 (10 of 17)Mountain trip 2016 (11 of 17)

The river and falls are named for William Linville, an early resident of North Carolina. He and his son and their hunting party were killed by a tribe of Native Americans. The Linvilles were out on an extended hunting trip. Historians speculate that they were killed to prevent them from warning the Cherokee who lived in the area of an impending attack and perhaps to take the supply of furs the Linvilles most likely had as a result of their expedition. It’s a sad story, to be sure, but an interesting bit of history as well.

The falls are fascinating, really, not only for the story, but also for the interesting rock formations. I love texture, shape, and line, and these rocks certainly provide all the above. I am even fascinated by the monochromatic tones of grays, whites, and blacks. Of course, the autumn leaves provide additional pops of color that complement the scene.

And of course, I took the “portrait of a posy”. I do love to find wildflowers, no matter the season.

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My picture number was low for me—only 46 images from this trip. Perhaps I am becoming more selective and discerning when it comes to snapping the shutter. I know that I pause more often when I put the camera to my eye to make sure that I am taking the picture that I really want. Contemplative practices like pausing before pressing the shutter are truly influencing the way I photograph things, especially nature.

Story-telling Photographs

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I knew it. . . . It was coming, but it came sooner rather than later.

I don’t know what to write about! I’m stuck. Or maybe it’s because it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I’ve had my nap; I’ve been reading. It’s comfortable, though, outside—low 80’s after a cool morning (I wore my right pink sweater to church this morning).

I pulled out one of my photography books, The Photographer’s Playbook. You’re familiar with the idea of coaches and teams having playbooks with a variety of moves the team can make. The players are familiar with everything in the book, so nothing is new, but when the team gets in a jam, the coach can pull out a play.

So, today, I pulled out the playbook, and I looked through the subject index. I honed in on the keyword “editing.” I was expecting to find some interesting ways to edit images.

Nope.

What I did find was advise on looking back over the photographs that I’ve already taken and start to look for the story or for the patterns or perhaps the story that I’ve found. I went back over my images I’ve taken this year, and selected randomly some thirty images. Then I culled that those images to twenty-five. Using the online photo-editor/collage maker Befunky.com, I created a three by three grid to make a collage. to make things really simple, I used the auto-fill feature to fill in the grid.

Water, florals, lines. These show up in my photography more often than not.

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These images, randomly selected, reveal my love for nature, for details, for atmosphere. I think I will be exploring the stories that my images reveal.

The Beauty around Us

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Every so often, once a week or so, sometimes, only twice a month, I take my trusty “big girl camera” out for a walk around the ponds on the property where I’ve lived for the last thirty-two years. You’d think I’d know the landscape and the scenery well by now, and I do. I know where to find the acorns, the grape vines, the persimmons, the ragweed, and the goldenrod. I can anticipate where I’ll have a smattering of red leaves on the dam between Gramps’s and Herbert’s ponds. I can even anticipate seeing a heron fishing in the shallow waters of one of those ponds. I know them well.

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Yet, when I walk with the camera, I am open to receive whatever there is to see—something new, something old, something rather ordinary. This is what contemplative photography practices allow us to do—to open ourselves up to the experience at that moment but with no preconceived ideas about what we may allow our cameras to receive.

That is the first step in my process—to go for a walk without expectations.

Now, I do admit that I do think about the technical aspects of craft usually before I walk. I admit, openly and unashamedly, that 90% of the time, I set my camera for aperture priority (AV on the Canon). I want to control the depth of field because I love that creamy out-of-focus background, and the easiest way for me to achieve that effect is to set the aperture “wide-open” and keep it there. Today, however, I used an aperture of f16—the “sunny sixteen” setting. I was still able to get an out-of-focus background on most of the images I took, especially on the closeup shots, but I was also able to keep more of my main subject in focus.

The editing process today was pretty simple in Lightroom. Now, I do have a bunch of presets (I just bought some more today. . . .). I may go back and fine tune my editing later with the presets, but today I manually edited. I read an article on editing that recommended cropping the image first. So, each selected image was cropped. I found that today, I preferred the 1:1 crop (square).

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Next, I adjusted the sliders for black and white, finding that “absolute” black point first. I turned on the the little triangles to show the clipping, and I pulled the black slider all the way to the left to get a big blob of blue; then I eased the slider back to the right until I had just little sprinkles of blue in the darkest part of the image. For the white point, I moved the slider as far to the right as I could, and then pulled back to the left until there were just sprinkles of red in the white sections. I then adjusted the shadows and highlight sliders until I liked what I saw.

Folks, that was it. That’s all the editing that I did today. Nothing hard and tedious. I think I spent about an hour culling my images to nineteen that I liked out of seventy-two. There are some others I want to play with later.