My friend Earl Moore and I spent some time wandering around Washington, NC a few weekends ago. One of the places we visited was the graveyard at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. We were only there for about 15 minutes, but we both got a variety of shots.
It’s always interesting to see the results when different photographers visit the same place, especially at the same time. I won’t clutter this post up with a bunch of words, but I do have a few of my own photos from this visit. There are definitely some similarities to what we saw and shot, but just as many differences.
Kathy & I value quiet as much as just about anything there is to value. By quiet I don’t just mean sound, although that certainly accounts for a lot of it. I mostly refer to the kind of quiet that means the absence of noise, both physical and mental. By that I mean the constant background chatter, the incessant televisions that keep us “entertained” while we try to shop or have a meal, or the impatient and distracted “me first” drivers. It can mean also mean something as simple as having to call the bank or the cable company for the eighth time about some problem that can never quite seem to be resolved.
We go to great lengths to make our home as peaceful as possible. We don’t have a television. It’s amazing how much difference that makes. When we did have one we found that even when it was not on, it begged us to turn it on, to find something – anything – to watch. That’s noise. We love to listen to music, but when we do it is often smooth jazz or classical, with no words and no blaring horns or guitars. There’s a time and place for the big band jazz and the vocals, but we save that for working in the garage or cleaning the house. Our favorite play list on Spotify is called “Shhhhh!” (I made it up myself)
On our recent weekend with our friends Earl & Bonnie Moore, we found ourselves spending some quiet time at Swan Quarter Wildlife Refuge. At the end of a mile or so long dirt road is a good-sized parking lot. Why the parking lot is so large I have no idea, because in all the times we’ve been there I think we might have encountered just one car. The parking lot was established for the Bell Island Pier, a beautiful fishing pier that extends perhaps 200 yards or more into Rose Bay Creek, which is an inlet of Rose Bay, the Pamlico River and eventually the Pamlico Sound.
Despite the sound of the wind and surf, this is truly a quiet place. We enjoy spending time there, and enjoyed sharing it with Earl & Bonnie. It’s a place that reminds us that there can be quiet anywhere, we just might need to work a little harder to find it. There are a lot of spots like that everywhere. A few of them I like to keep to myself, although they aren’t exactly a secret. With others the key is to know when to go there and when to stay away.
Kathy & I have often discussed the possibility of relocating to eastern North Carolina. There’s a lot to like out there. It’s close(r) to the Outer Banks, we have made friends in Belhaven and Washington, and we’ve found that it’s just a great destination for a quiet weekend, whether I photograph or not. There’s a noticeably slower and more relaxed pace out there. It’s a pace we enjoy because it comes very close to the way we like to live our lives.
One of our objections to moving so far east is that it is so far from the other places we like to go. It’s a good 5-hour drive from Charlotte, and another couple of hours or so to the mountains. But at some point we realized that, being so far from everything might just be the point. Maybe escaping the hustle & bustle, the traffic and congestion, might be worth the price of having to drive a little farther to get to some of the other places we love. It’s hard to say for sure, but we may be on to something. It’s possible that being farther from some things might bring you closer to others.
For the foreseeable future, home is where the jobs are, since it’s those jobs that allow us to have the house and travel to all of the places we like to travel to. Down the road it might be another story, although I suspect the finally getting to the point where we can kiss the corporate world goodbye might lessen the need for escape. That’s a hard scenario to predict. But in the mean time, you can be sure that we will continue to seek the quiet places, whether they are close by or farther away.
Along the Pamlico River waterfront in Washington, North Carolina
I enjoy sharing my photography with other people, and the place I share the most is on my blog. The thing that I enjoy about that is that most of the people who read my blog, or at least those who comment on my posts, read it because they enjoy reading what I have to say and enjoy looking at the photographs I’ve made. I’ll occasionally get some constructive feedback about a process or technique I’ve used, but mostly it is just friends enjoying other friends’ photographs. I like that.
I often have a hard time sharing my photography with other photographers, especially hobbyist photographers, because too often such discussions turn into what I call a “duck measuring contest.” As soon as I show a photograph, someone has to pull out their iPhone and say, “Oh yeah, I got that. See?” or “here’s my albino Lithuanian wildebeest from my trip to the Masai last fall.” Whatever. It stops becoming a discussion about photography and becomes all about their photography. They don’t really care about my photography, they just care about showing me theirs. It doesn’t work that way on our blogs, though. And I appreciate that.
Kathy & I went to a wine dinner a few months ago at our favorite restaurant. Wine dinners are an experience that we really enjoy, and involves a pairing of nice wines with foods prepared specially to match up with the wines. Done well it is a culinary experience that is tough to beat. At these dinners we are always seated at a table with 4-6 others, almost always couples. The people are all very nice, but sometimes they know each other and Kathy & just sit there and listen, as they regale each other with tales of their most recent conquest, whether it is dinner at the French Laundry, their new boat or car, or their new 2,000 bottle wine room in their McMansion at the lake.
Eventually someone realizes that there are other people at the table (us) and decides to be polite and talk to us. Sometimes they’ll ask us where we live, whether we’ve ever been to Napa or what our favorite wineries are. And while it might appear that they are actually interested in what we do for a living or how old our kids are, it always seems to me to be an excuse to “pull out their iPhone” and talk about themselves. I’m not completely sure, but I think that’s because people like to find out where you fall on their own personal hierarchy. A lot of people have a need for that, and it brings them comfort to be able to rank and judge people based on their own scale of whatever it is that they value.
When I share my photographs on my blog, I never feel like someone is comparing my work to someone else’s, at least from the standpoint of whose work is better or who is a better photographer than someone else. Because for many of us it’s about appreciating someone’s work for what it is, not trying to prove we are better than everyone else.
One of the things I find fascinating is the wide variety of subject matter and the range of equipment we use. We have people shooting with the latest WhizBang Mark V, some using point & shoot cameras and others shooting with film. And it’s all good. Because what matters to us is not whether someone has the latest camera, but how they use the camera they have.
Whether a photograph was taken in someone’s back yard, Yosemite, Nova Scotia or Tuscany, what’s important is enjoying looking at photographs that show what someone sees and how they see it, not where they were when they took it or what camera they shot it with. And we learn about that by sharing. Sharing comments on someone else’s photographs and receiving comments on our own.
I recently built a new computer. Well, to be accurate, my son Kevin built a new computer and allowed me to plug in some of the parts, and I mostly installed the operating system with him looking over my shoulder. He hides his impatience with me pretty well, but he very politely allowed me to do it even though I was pretty slow and had to refer to the instructions too much. 🙂
Buying the parts was about as easy as buying a whole computer already assembled. I got a list of all the stuff I needed from a website online, confirmed my choices with Kevin and with Earl, and a few days later it started raining Newegg boxes at our house! The assembly process was fairly straightforward, too. Although it helped a lot that Kevin knew where all the plugs and pieces went. I would still be trying to figure it out if I was trying to do it on my own.
I know enough about computers to be just shy of dangerous. But I know little enough that whenever I start to ask someone a question I can feel the “please don’t ask me a computer question” tension start to build. As part of the learning process I spent a lot of time trying to figure stuff out for myself, and that involved looking at message boards. And just like on photography boards, there was a lot of condescending “if you don’t know that you don’t have any business building a computer” talk, and that can be a little off-putting. I never would have attempted the project if I didn’t have expert help, but now that I’ve seen it done, I feel like I would be a little more confident trying to make a change or even building another computer. Although the idea is that I won’t have to do that for a long time.
One of the first things I did after I got the computer up and running was to install Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC. I had not used Lightroom 5 on my old computer, because it was barely able to run Lightroom 4, and I was certain it would choke on Lightroom 5. I did have Photoshop CS6 on my old computer, but the only thing I was using it for was adding the text to my monthly calendar and sharpening the output for the web. The new versions of Lightroom and Photoshop aren’t a lot different than the previous ones, but it became apparent very quickly that I have some catching up to do.
Because I have taught classes and done tutoring in Lightroom, I consider myself a bit of an expert. I have even toyed with the idea of taking the test to become an ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) in Lightroom. But now I feel like I need to take a class myself, because after just a few short months of not keeping up, I’m already behind.
And that brings me to the point of this article. There are so many things that we have to know and understand to be photographers that it is hard to keep up with it all. We’ve always needed to be experts on the basics – composition, exposure and focus – fortunately those basics don’t change much, although the more we learn the more we find out we don’t know. We need to have a high level of familiarity with the mechanics of our equipment, and that equipment has gotten more complex as our cameras have become capable of doing more things. And then there is the output side – computers and printers. Assuming that we buy a computer that is already built, there is still a matter of getting everything to do what we need it to do, such as installing the software, calibrating the display and hooking up the printer. And if we decide that we want to do our own printing, that is a whole world in and of itself.
I love learning new things. That’s why the project of building a computer appealed to me. And there is something fun about buying all of the parts and assembling your own. And the fact that I was able to buy and build a computer to do my photography makes it that much more rewarding. But now the real fun begins. I get to learn how to use it and make it do what I want it to do, to hopefully make the final result of my photography even better. I’m glad I had some friends to help me along the way, and I’m sure I will be relying on them for more help down the road. But I’ll try to figure it out myself before I ask!
I’m going to try something a little different starting with this month’s calendar. For the last year or so I’ve been mostly dredging up old landscape photos mixed in with a few more recent shots. I’ve recently started to realize how much my photographic emphasis has changed over the last few years, and I find myself photographing a lot less nature and a lot more of what I call “found scenes.” Sometimes they are scenes I find in nature, but often they are scenes I come across just walking down the street in some town I happen to be visiting.
These photos won’t necessarily be the iconic “hero shots” that I have been posting as wallpaper, but I feel like I need to be true to my own sense of what it is I happen to be seeing and shooting. And that changes, necessarily I think, over time as I learn and grow. Some readers may enjoy this work and others may not. For those who like it, please say so and thanks. For those who don’t, please feel free to let me know!
I may also add in a few abstract photos that I’ve come to enjoy. Those also make nice wallpaper, although they may be a little different from what I’ve posted here in the past.
This particular photo was taken in Charleston, South Carolina, last winter. For me it represents the change from winter to spring – winter from the bare branches on the trees, but spring through the green on the bricks in the background, set against a whitewashed wall that hints of color but also could be seen as representing snow. Not in Charleston probably, but certainly in many parts of this country, even in March.
I hope everyone enjoys this little change of pace and I hope everyone has a nice March!
Kathy & I have worked really hard in recent years to strike a balance between planning & preparing for the future and living a full & meaningful life in the present. A concept that we recently came up with was the idea that we should make it a point to “Celebrate Every Day.” It’s probably a product of age and maturity, possibly wisdom, but starting from the loss of my own parents nearly 30 years ago and continuing as recently as the loss of Kathy’s parents last year, we have made a point of evaluating our own priorities in this context. We finally gave it a formal name just recently.
One night last week – Tuesday, in fact – we decided to have one of our more “splurgy” bottles of wine. We often save those for what we might consider special occasions. But in keeping with our “Celebrate Every Day” theme, we decided to open that bottle “because it was Tuesday.” Thus was born the idea of Wine on Tuesdays. Any other day of the week would be appropriate as well. 🙂
This post has been rolling around in my head for some time, but Thanksgiving and all the Black Friday hoopla seems to be an appropriate time to gather these thoughts and put them out on the blog.
On our recent journey to Charleston, I remember at one point commenting about the number of car dealerships clustered around a particular interchange. I think it was somewhere around Columbia, SC but it could be anywhere in the US big enough to have car dealerships. As much as I love and appreciate nice cars, the automobile business has always served to me as a prime representation of marketing-driven consumption. If I wanted to be negative I could say “greed and excess” here, but it wouldn’t serve my point. So we’ll call it marketing-driven consumption. Black Friday is another prime example of marketing-driven consumption to the max.
I specifically remember, shortly after buying a new car several years ago, someone told me “congratulations!” as if to imply that purchasing a new car was some kind of heroic achievement. But that’s how cars have always been marketed, as symbols of success and status. When I was growing up, each September my brother & I would start sneaking into the storage lots behind the local car dealerships to get a peek at the new models to be introduced in the fall. Back in that day, models tended to really change between model years, rather than just another homogenized ToyHoNisOlet, because the manufacturers relied more on the cars to sell themselves. And they all had somewhat distinctive features, from styling to performance.
Today, many cars, at least those the regular folks can afford, all look pretty much alike. So it takes marketing to make us want one over another. And that marketing is usually aimed at making someone feel young, attractive, successful, more interesting or some attribute only accomplished by purchasing a particular product. Because it’s been hammered into our heads for so long, whenever someone sees a friend driving a new car, there is often a tinge of envy (or worse) and at least a little bit of “must be nice.” I usually look at it and think of what I could do with the payment. But that’s just me.
Anyway, the comment that I made when I saw all of these car dealerships was that if there was some way we could be identified and ranked (because after all this is all about judging and ranking – a subject for another post) not by how fancy our car is or the neighborhood we live in, but by the size of our 401(k) our IRA or our savings account, would there be investment offices at all of these interchanges instead of car dealerships? Would we make different decisions if they were based on mindful reasoning instead of marketing? And how would those decisions be reflected in our personal wellbeing if they didn’t involve spending huge sums of money or committing to an endless stream of payments?
In that same vein, why do so many people tend to judge how serious someone is about photography based on the type of equipment they own or the subject matter that they photograph? Have we been convinced by marketing and promotion by the camera manufacturers and retailers that the only way to take meaningful photographs is to have the latest and greatest camera and lens? Perhaps. But I prefer to appreciate a photographer’s work based on the quality of their photographs, and when possible the stories behind the photographs. THAT is what photography means to me, not what brand of camera someone has, or which lens or how big their sensor is. Or even whether they are using a digital camera or film. But that’s hard, just like resisting the temptation brought on by advertising and marketing is hard.
As someone who doesn’t own a television or listen to commercial radio (I usually say that “I don’t watch TV” because saying “I don’t own a TV” makes some people uncomfortable) I’m not bombarded by all of the marketing messages that drive consumer spending. Kathy & I just don’t buy a lot of stuff, and when we do, we buy it because we need or want it. Being on sale isn’t generally a factor in our buying decision, although once we make a decision to purchase something we will often wait on a sale to buy it if we aren’t in a rush. But I still find myself attracted by the “Sale” or “Limited Time Only” mentality, and sometimes have to work hard to curb that feeling I get when something looks attractive because I’m afraid that I might not be able to have it.
As Kathy & I prepare to move into our “downsized” new home, and after having lived for the last 6 months in a rented apartment with just our most essential belongings, we have come to realize that all of the things we have been storing since May are things that aren’t really necessary for our daily lives. And while we did a really good job of paring down the things that we deemed “disposable” before we moved, we now think that maybe we didn’t go far enough. Many of things we have been storing are things that we’re going to have to think really hard about, in order to decide how much of it we even need or want to keep.
So what does this all have to do with anything? In the last few days, like many of us I’ve been bombarded by e-mails from every merchant I’ve ever done business with promoting their Black Friday “Doorbusters.” I don’t know about everyone else, but I haven’t yet seen a “deal” on anything I’d actually buy. I don’t think of camera equipment as something that is an impulse purchase. Most people only buy a camera when they need one, after weeks or sometimes months of analysis or research. I’ve enjoyed several recent exchanges on the blogs of some of my photo friends, discussing things like the aesthetics of a particular camera. Talking about how a camera feels to hold versus another, the ease of use or feel of the controls. Discussions around the mindfulness of talking photographs and cutting out the noise and chatter that distracts us from the pursuit of activities that make us happy. Things that matter to those of us who actually use a camera to take photographs, not just collect equipment or are constantly chasing after the next great thing. But that isn’t stuff you can buy at the mall or Best Buy.
Monte has demonstrated that you don’t need to necessarily buy the latest version of a camera, that the introduction of a new model can mean a good deal on the previous one. That makes the older model a good value, because it will do exactly what he needs it to do for a fraction of the cost of when it was new, or of the cost of the new model.
Chris has spent some time comparing the relative qualities of several mirrorless compact camera models, and has formed an opinion that seems to be contrary to the popular opinion. But if a particular camera meets your needs, then it is the right tool for you. Whether or not something is on sale doesn’t make it a good deal if it isn’t what you want. And I guess that is my point.
And Cedric wrote a similar post about how the ergonomics and feel of a camera means more to him than megapixels and dynamic range. His story about an exchange with a photography professor about the “feel” of a camera was a good one.
Mindfulness is a theme I have been pursuing lately. Decisions made in a calculated fashion, not driven by a marketing frenzy. Just being on sale isn’t a reason to buy anything we don’t want or need. Not buying something means you have saved the entire price, not just a percentage. And not needing a place to store all of our accumulated junk means we have room and resources for things that do matter to us. A purchasing decision made mindfully is a good one regardless of the price of the item being purchased.
I’m looking forward to living even more mindfully in 2014. We’ll see how that actually plays out. But first I’m going to have to sort through all the stuff that the movers are going to deliver in a couple of weeks! I’ll probably decide to start planning a vacation…that’s a lot more fun than a car payment.
Kathy & I spent some time in Charleston, SC a few weekends ago. I took a few photos, and these are a few that show my take on Charleston, although perhaps not what most tourists take photos of. I got a few of those, too. That will be the topic for some future posts. For now, here are a few of my “non-typical” Charleston photos.
I’m still working on Nova Scotia photos…hoping to come up with 12 that are calendar-worthy. Not that I don’t think I can find 12, I just don’t want to find the perfect one after it’s too late!
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia is a real tourist destination, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful location, has a little history, it’s got a lighthouse, a bunch of boats and a quaint little harbor. The day we were there is was relatively uncrowded and the weather was beautiful. And even in the middle of the day, the light was fantastic.
The biggest challenge for me in photographing a place like this is deciding whether I want people in my shots or not. I like people just fine, but I don’t always want to include them in my photos of a quintessential maritime fishing village! Sometimes I just need to be patient, and other times I just need to accept that there will be people! 🙂
Another thing that works well is to photograph someplace that people are less likely to be, like the edge of a dock. Most people don’t like to spend time in the water in places like this.
And they don’t let people climb the lighthouse, inside or out.
Generally when I am in the process of taking a photograph, I have a basic idea what it is going to look like when I am finished processing it. When I’m sitting at the computer working on an image, it just sort of “develops itself.” Most of the time the direction I need to go with an becomes pretty clear to me. I open up an image in Lightroom, work on it a bit, and after a few basic tweaks it is pretty much done. Unless I’m going to make a print, there isn’t a whole lot more I do.
This particular photograph has me a little perplexed. I processed it exactly how I expected to. It’s a little more processed than usual, but there’s quite a lot of dynamic range going on here. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with it. There’s nothing really “wrong” with it, in fact a lot of people would probably wish that they had taken it themselves. But for some reason I am struggling with it.
It’s a typical Cowee Mountains Overlook sunset. It’s got a nice sky, detail in the foreground, and there’s a lot going on. Too much, I think. It is a very “busy” image, as opposed to a lot of my photographs that are a bit more simplified. I’ve definitely processed it a lot more than I usually process an image. Maybe that’s it, I’m not sure.
I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that it doesn’t seem like it’s mine. It’s the sort of landscape photograph that I’ve taken for years, but I just can’t seem to connect with this one. No, I didn’t switch memory cards with someone by mistake, but it’s just such a departure from the type of photography I’ve been doing recently that I may just have to spend some time with it to figure it out. In the mean time, it just doesn’t feel like my style, and I find that interesting.