Kathy will occasionally mention that a particular photo would make a good jigsaw puzzle. This is one of them. Fall is coming!
Kathy and I love to travel, of course, and while we aren’t the “world travelers” that some have made us out to be, we’ve seen our share of the world and we spend a lot of time talking about what kind of travel we want to do. We have our lists of places we “should” go, and all of those have varying levels of interest and priority. And of course there are places that we would love to go but probably never will. Some of our favorite memories are from places where most people would never bother to go. Of all the places we’ve been, a trip to Kentucky a few years ago still comes to mind as one of our favorite experiences. Who’da thunk?
Like a lot of things, what we do and what we enjoy has to come from within. We need to be able to take the time to figure out what means the most to us. What are our priorities, rather than a heavily cliché-ed “bucket list” developed by some magazine publisher to sell more advertising. Who we are and how we feel is a product of our own existence and our own experiences. Comfort level has a lot to do with what we are willing to try. Not everyone has that voice that tells us to step out of our comfort zones. But for those of us who do, we definitely need to listen.
Like a lot of people, I’m often tempted by the idea of “if I knew then what I know now.” But I try to keep a lid on those thoughts, because ultimately I didn’t know then what I know now, and my entire life’s experience ultimately contributes to where and who I am today. I can’t change the past, so the best approach for me is to look ahead, because that’s the only thing I have any degree of influence on – to make the best of what I have and who I am.
In many ways, this idea of comfort zone has parallels with the way we see the world. For those of us who are observers, we see things that other people don’t see, and sometimes others see things we don’t see. And we travel the same way. When I first started doing photography seriously I would sometimes get up in the middle of dinner, afraid that I was going to “miss” sunset. I’ve since learned that I’m always missing something, and that helps me reconcile the idea that I’m not going to get to “do” everything.
Kathy & I are very close to the point where we can decide to walk away from our corporate lives. Quite often we find ourselves feeling that that day can’t come soon enough. There are other days when things seem to go along fairly well and it feels like collecting a few more paychecks won’t be all that difficult. The difficult thing is going to be determining when the right time might be to call it quits. We have established many checkpoints that will tell we’re on the path. Some of those we have met, many we’re close on, but a few major ones have yet to be realized. But we have a plan and hope that when the time comes we’ll have the guts to say, “NOW.”
For me, my primary goal for what I want to do in retirement is to stay retired! If I end up doing some kind of work I’d like it to be for personal satisfaction rather than to pay the bills. The good thing is that there are a lot of rewarding things we can do that don’t cost an enormous amount of money. While they may not check other peoples’ boxes for fulfillment, they might be just fine if that was the alternative.
We’ve never paid a lot of attention to the “if money were no object” scenarios because it was always our intention for that not to be an issue. Not that we expect to never have to think about money, but the idea all along has been to have provided for a level of financial security that would allow us to continue living the life we have become comfortable with. And if that doesn’t work out, I suspect we’ll figure out how to travel and buy wine with whatever we do have! So for now, we hope to hold on to the jobs we’ve got for as long as we can, and every paycheck is a victory of sorts. Murphy’s Law would suggest that as soon as we decide for one of us to stay home, the remaining job we’d be counting on would go away.
For a lot of people, their biggest fear with retirement is that they won’t have anything to do. That is the thing that I worry about the least! Whenever we decide to walk out of that corporate world, I know that there is a whole lot of world out there to explore. And while I don’t have a chance of ever seeing it all, Kathy & I both plan to make a point of enjoying whatever we do see as much as we possibly can. That doesn’t take a list, and it doesn’t take a lot of planning, but I think it is a pretty good goal.
One technique that I’ve found works well for abstracts is to put my lens into manual and deliberately throw it out of focus. It’s funny, but as much as I love shooting abstracts I often forget to try that. When I was looking for an abstract for this month’s wallpaper, I wanted something that was about fall color. I came across a lot of shots, but then I remembered these. I only did a few of them but need to do them more often. I love the effect, as it is a lot like the results I get when I shoot moving water. But instead of the moving water making the patterns they come from the shades and tones in the scene.
Fall seems to be coming a little early around here. The weather in general has been very strange the last month or two. I hope everyone is able to enjoy fall wherever you are, or spring for those who are “upside down” on this earth 😉 .
I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically. Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.” But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written. What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year. And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.
As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs. I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically. But to create photographs with meaning requires more time. I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices. “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say. I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.
Mostly what this requires is an investment of time. Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening. Sunsets are a good example. I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos. Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance. Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone. Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon. But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself. Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel. That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad. Sometimes it does, but not usually. So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever). One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends. This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything. I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing. And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by! With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means several things. First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love. Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out. Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway. The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time. And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly. I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road. Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.
I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done. This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year. We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!
I didn’t shoot a lot of desktop-worthy fall color last year, so I had to go back two years for this one. While it isn’t “fall leaves and acorns” it is nevertheless color in the sky that you just don’t get too often over the summer. Not until the humidity blows off do you get these vibrant colors in the mornings.
Pounding Mill Overlook is on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the SR 276 intersection, so whether you are in Brevard or Waynesville it is an easy sunrise destination, especially in the fall when sunrise is at a very civilized time. People don’t believe me when I say that the best color is often 30 minutes or more before sunrise. Why? Because people don’t usually start looking that soon, and because it is still really, really dark. But the color is there, you just have to be ready for it.
Kathy & I have a little bit of fall travel planned, although we will mostly be making day trips. I’ve used up nearly all of my vacation time for this year, and we’re holding onto what few of our vacation dollars are left until we can close on our house.
I’m getting back around to working on some photos from earlier this fall. In no particular order, just whatever my attention span allows me to concentrate on!
I had mentioned in a previous post that Kathy & I had decided to spend our fall weekends differently than we have the past few years. Rather than chasing color up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway (something we enjoy but have grown a little weary of) we spent a weekend in Florida at a jazz festival, a weekend in Roanoke, VA visiting friends, and a weekend in which I took photos at a recreated pioneer village and photographed some kids. That was a different fall for us, indeed.
Kathy & I have had an attachment to Roanoke since spending a single night there very early in our marriage. I don’t even remember for sure what we did, where we stayed or where we ate, but we’ve always had good memories of our short time there, and have wanted to go back and spend some time. This year we got to go to Roanoke twice. Of course it was made easier because we have good friends there. We go to see Steven and Cheryl, and just like us, they enjoy wandering around town, taking random photographs, shopping and eating. What a deal!
We’ve found a nice historic hotel right in the downtown area that is walking distance to just about everywhere. We can literally park the car and enjoy the weekend without having to drive. Although this visit we did spend a little time exploring the countryside, visiting a winery and one of Steven & Cheryl’s favorite restaurants, which is now also one of our favorite restaurants!
One of my objections to the constant driving we have done in previous years is that I get tired of driving. And I get really tired of traffic. Kathy drives sometimes, but my creativity seems to suffer when I view the scenery from a moving vehicle, regardless of who is driving. And the addition of crowds just makes it harder.
The other thing with fall is that it’s often very hard to find really interesting scenes. Fall color gives the impression of being interesting because everything is a different color, but in actuality it is much harder to make an interesting photograph in the fall because of the color. Much of what we see in the fall is just as boring as it is in the summer, it’s just a different color. My opinion, anyway.
Fall happens everywhere, not just in the mountains. And it’s not just colored leaves that make up fall. The air is crisp and cool, the light is warm and contrasty, and a lot of interesting things happen in the fall, such as festivals, concerts and farmer’s markets. So my goal was to find and photograph fall in different places. I think it was a successful approach, and in many ways I think am happier with the results than I’ve been from those in previous years.
Kathy & I are visiting Belhaven, North Carolina this weekend. One of our many favorite weekend destinations, Belhaven is ideally situated near a lot of places that I love to photograph. And this weekend has proven – once again – the advantage of returning time after time to some of the same places.
The weather has been perfect “Chamber of Commerce” weather. Clear, blue sky with no clouds to be found anywhere. Well, there were a few around late this afternoon, but not enough to make a meaningful difference in the weather forecast. A little tough for photography, but not if you know where to look. And I had a pretty good idea where to look!
I love shooting the boats around Swan Quarter and Englehard. I never get tired of going there, and these are especially good places in the late afternoon on these clear days when I know there will be golden light if I am patient enough.
Once the sun was low enough that the boats were cast in shadow we headed back down the road to Lake Mattamuskeet to see what like of post-sunset color we might find. We found a little, and it was quite nice.
One of the advantages of an early sunset is a little more time to spend processing photos, so I have broken from my usual routine to process a few photos from this afternoon and get them online the same day. I’ll have a few more once we get home and I get them processed on my regular computer.
I really love fall because it is a great time to travel and take photographs. But the hard part about fall is that we do a lot of traveling and take a lot of photographs! I was already a few weeks behind on processing my photos from the last two weekends, and then this weekend I went and took another 1,000 or so photographs, so I’m even behinder now than I was before. But we’ll slow down a bit in November and December, so with any luck I’ll have some time to get caught up on my processing and my writing. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but that’s the plan.
Over the weekend of 10/19-10/21 we headed to Roanoke, VA to spend time with our good friends Steven and Cheryl. One of the things I had been looking forward to was visiting their Farmer’s Market, which is right downtown, in the Market Square area. There is a block-long section of street that has been permanently set up for local farmers and craftspeople to display and sell their goods. It was quite an experience, and for me it was a real photographic treat. And all I did was shoot vegetables! I could have make an entire day photographing people, although many of them were not nearly as photogenic as the food. 🙂
I’ve not spent a lot if time at farmer’s markets, although I certainly need to do more of it. The quality of food for sale is much better than that found at even the better local grocery stores. Most if it is truly local, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you buy was picked just a few days before you bought it. We always tell ourselves that we don’t buy enough produce to make it worth the trip, but I think there’s a lot to be said for buying fresh and for buying local.
The fall colors were coming into their own while we were there, and I’ll try to follow up with another post on that subject in the next few days.
I have a number of friends who seem to be able to race home and see who can be the first to process and post photos from their weekends, but I don’t seem to be able to come close to that, so I don’t care to waste much effort trying to compete. In the mean time I’m currently trying to download and process another batch of photos from our two latest adventures. One of them was for a paying client today, so I’ll have to give those photos a higher priority. But I’ll get back to these soon, so stay tuned.
Special thanks to Riverstone Organic Farm from Floyd, VA for allowing me to shoot their vegetables!
Most of my nature photography friends headed off to the mountains this weekend in search of fall color. Based on early reports and a few “brag” photos I’ve seen online, fall is in full swing in the High Country. Kathy & I headed a little different direction this year – actually a complete 180-degree direction – and opted for warmer climes, and for a good reason. We headed to Amelia Island, Florida, primarily to attend the Amelia Island Jazz Festival, but also because October is a great time to visit Amelia Island.
While the photographers up on the Blue Ridge Parkway were more than likely looking at morning low temperatures in the 30’s, we were walking around in shorts and sandals enjoying comfortable upper-70s with little humidity and mostly clear skies. That in itself was a clear change of pace for us, and as far as I’m concerned (and Kathy agrees!) was a welcome change. Fall is not necessarily all about fall color, and more and more I’m finding that colder weather isn’t necessarily my first choice. Plus, what that heck? A little change is good!
I don’t have any photos from the jazz festival itself because photography wasn’t permitted, but we enjoyed the music of a number of big name musicians, capped off by the jazz of David Benoit on Friday night and the sounds of Spyro Gyra on Saturday night. The festival itself is pretty new, and even with these big name acts there were only about 400 people in attendance each night, so that made the who experience very pleasant. That made the trip worthwhile even without all of the other things we were able to do. We met up with some friends that live there and had a nice lunch with them, we ate some good food and drank some nice wine. We had a nice relaxing time and even managed to get in a little photography.
The main town on Amelia Island is Fernandina Beach. We stayed right in town and could walk just about everywhere except the festival itself, which was a 20-minute drive but we only went there in the evenings. The rest of our time was spent walking around town and the city marina.
Fernandina Beach is a vibrant little town, with a number of interesting shops and some excellent restaurants. We didn’t get to investigate the restaurants as much as we would typically do because of the concerts, but we did get to try several places and look forward to a chance to go back.
This coming weekend we are doing something a little more traditional and heading up north to Roanoke, Virginia. But we’re hoping to enjoy the town of Roanoke, the farmer’s market there and in general the sights and sounds of the area, mixed in with a little fall color. Again, something a little out of the normal routine for us, but still something with a fall flavor.
So yes, I’ll be putting the warm weather clothes away for a while. At least until January, when it might just be time to head someplace warm again!
A number of my non-photographer friends have asked me on numerous occasions why their photographs don’t look like my photographs. And of course the sentiment I hear most often is that “I must have a really great camera.” And I tell them, “of course I do, but I could make the photographs I make with just about any camera. It all has to do with how I take the photograph, and knowing what to do with it after I take it.”
Many people incorrectly attribute this answer to mean that I am “Photoshopping” my photos, but when they do, their impression is that that means something sinister or unethical. I try to explain that a lot of what I do is no different than what might have been done with film in a darkroom. I just don’t have to do it with chemicals, I do it with a computer.
This article is written primarily for me to be able to point my friends to something that explains, better than I could possibly do in the lunchroom at work or at dinner in a nice restaurant, what I mean when I say that I “develop” or “process” my photos in Lightroom. And hopefully some of my photographer friends will find this interesting and perhaps even informative.
This photograph was taken in October 2011 on one of those rare times when the fall color was just about at peak, and an early morning snowstorm came through with just about perfect timing. An hour before this photo was taken I was sitting in my car in the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome, being buffeted by gale force winds when a snow plow driver stopped to tell me that I had better get started down because he was planning to lock the gate. I wisely retreated to a lower elevation and found this scene.
The scene in front of me was overall pretty dark and lacking in contrast, because even though the sun was lighting up the clouds the light was pretty diffused and the sun was not shining through all that brightly. I knew from experience that my camera would try to overexpose to bring the values closer to an average exposure. But I also knew that the snow and clouds were on the brighter end of the scale and would cause my camera to want to under underexpose the snow and clouds. I figured (correctly) that the two would just about balance each other out and made no adjustments to what the meter was reading. I confirmed the exposure with the histogram after the shot.
At the time I was pretty certain that I had captured some good photographs of a pretty amazing scene, but I also knew that a great deal of post-processing would be required to obtain a final image that looked like what I “saw” while I was standing at that overlook. When I got home and imported the files into the computer, the first thing I saw was this flat looking gray mess that some people might be tempted to toss. But I had a plan and went to work.
The first thing I did was to adjust the white balance to warm the scene up a little. My camera does a very good job with finding the “right” white balance, but I knew I was going to need to add some warmth to get the look I was after. About 500 points was plenty to get what I wanted. Next, I knew I needed to add a lot of contrast, since the snow and clouds made for a very low-contrast scene. I ended up adding a lot of black – about 70 points (this is Process Version 2010 in Lightroom – the new adjustment tools had not been invented yet!). Some adjustments to the mid-tones and highlights and I was starting to get somewhere!
My next step was to add some additional color contrast by using Split-toning to cool the shadows while keeping warmth in the highlights. This is pretty subtle but gives the scene a bit more vibrance.
After a bunch of time spent cloning dust spots – the photo was shot at f22 – I was ready to move on to some fine tuning. I made extensive use of the Adjustment Brush to selectively darken and lighten specific areas of the photo, added some contrast and saturation to areas that needed it, and generally “shaped” the image to direct the viewer’s eye through the scene. A little vignetting to keep the viewer inside the frame, some tweaks to the capture sharpening and noise reduction and it’s done. Or done for now, as I haven’t yet tried to make a print of this photo. Doing that will undoubtedly require another round or two of adjustments once I see what it looks like on paper. I’d also like to experiment with this image using Process Version 2012 in Lightroom 4, but when I click the button to convert it the photo turns to crap again. So we’ll have to save that and printing for a future episode!