Archives for posts with tag: nature photography

I remember as a little girl looking through my mother’s photos of her family. I looked at her and said, “Mom, I am so sorry that you did not have color when you were growing up.” I assumed that the world was in black and white because that’s what the photos looked like. A world devoid of color other than black, white, and gray was less than. I expended all of my 5 year-old empathy skills in feeling the sadness of a world that really didn’t exist.

My husband and I share many interests, one of them is photography. When I met John, he did his own photo developing, in the bathroom of his apartment. He had taken black and white photos for many years. I was more of a Technicolor type person. I shot my photos with color film. This, my friends, was back in the day when people were enslaved to the choice of black and white vs. color. We took a five week long honeymoon to Italy and to Egypt. We both took about 2500 photos. My honeymoon was in color. John’s was in black and white. Both trips were amazing and beautiful.

With digital photography, things changed. Switching between color and black and white was accomplished in a single key stroke. Nonetheless, I found myself NEVER looking at my photos in black and white.

I don’t dislike black and white photography. My husband, whom I adore, has taken wonderful black and white photography. I love Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Stieiglitz, Ansel Adams, and Man Ray. I love their work. But I never saw the absence of color as being MY best way of showcasing the world.

I love color. I love blooming, buzzing, and confusing color. Bright and saturated hues that might scare ordinary mortals. That is what I am drawn to and I  would hope that this this reflects my blooming and vibrant personality.

Then it happened. I was CHALLENGED on FACEBOOK to showcase black and white photography by someone with whom I attended high school.

I love a good challenge and this was an interesting one But my first thought was, “No color, oh no.” But again, I love a good challenge s it was not hard to shift from my “oh no” in the space of about 5 seconds.

I love color, I really do. It is seductive. It’s just gloriously beautiful. But without it, there is an upsurge of form, light, shadow, and line.  I started looking at my photos stripped of color.

It was like discovering a new universe, a universe comprised of an even smaller collection of essentials.

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I am an extroverted person. I love color, I love sound, I love movement. But I am more than that. Life it more than the exclamation points, more than the aspects that are easily noted. My life has structure, line, and light. There is gravitas and a lot of it.

Sometimes I live life too much on the edges, on the flourishes. Then I get the message from life that it is time to strip away, to get back to basics.

I am listening.

I am seeing.

As you know, I love photography. I mostly take nature photography, but I also take photos of people. My people shots are usually informal but occasionally I try to take a good portrait. I have come to view the goals of nature and portrait photography differently. In portrait photography, the goal is usually to capture a human image that looks better than a person usually looks in day to day life. If you think about it, people have ever changing appearance due to our changing mode of dress, use of make-up, but even more importantly, we have muscles and our bodies, especially our facial features are in motion. When I’ve had my portrait done professionally, the photographer puts effort into getting me to hold my body in a particular way, tilt me head just so, look at the camera, and usually, to smile. Backdrops and lighting are used.

I think the goal of nature photography is to capture the subject as it ACTUALLY LOOKS. I have taken so many photos only to think, “That looked so much better in real life. Because I try to capture natural subjects as they actually look, I don’t typically rearrange the environment to make a better photo. Occasionally, I use a flash and on the rare occasion, I might move a twig out the way that’s blocking the shot. When I move a twig out the way, I actually feel like I’m cheating, I try to remove myself from the photo except for choosing what part of what is actually there is going to fill the frame.

In this way, I think of taking portraits as requiring being more of a participant in the photo and of taking natural shots as being more of an observer, standing back so as not to mar any of the natural beauty before me.

A common way that I try to take myself out of my flower photos is when my body casts a shadow on the flower. I will move to take the shot from another angle or occasionally, I duck my body down, keeping my arm raised and snap. The latter approach doesn’t work particularly well but if I can’t take the shot otherwise, I often give it a try.

A few days ago, I was taking close-ups of roses, something I love to do. Roses are not just beautiful from a distance. They are mesmerizing up close. The texture of the petals, some creamy, some satiny, some velvety. And their multi-petal form creates interesting light and shadow and well as patterns within their overall forms. It was mid-day and the sun was overhead. I leaned over to snap a photo and I saw my shadow. I was about to make some attempt to remove my shadow when I realized, looking down through the view screen on my camera that my shadow actually added interest to the rose. It looked like it belonged and it actually enhanced the beauty of the bloom by showing contrast of light and shadow.

I often write in this blog about how much healthier I am when I feel connected to nature. Every time, it fills me up a little more. Over time, I am more frequently able to carry a feeling of joyful serenity for a little longer.

Mindfulness sneaks up on me with gentle waves that ebb and flow but still manage to build a reservoir.

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I used to be a masterful list maker and follower. I made goals and got them done. Then I made new goals and got them done. As I got older, I started getting involved in large projects. I taught myself how to use Microsoft Project. I thought it was amazing. I could make multiple timelines by task and responsible party as well as define relationships between the tasks and sub timelines. I could track progress. I thought the software was one of the handiest and coolest things I’d ever encountered. I know how to build in motivators and incentives to keep progress going.

I took one of those silly Facebook personality quizzes last week, “What one word best describes you?” The result was, “ambitious”. I didn’t post my results, as I often do, just for fun. I didn’t like the answer. I’m not exactly sure why because objectively, I am ambitious. I set high goals. I have been an achiever my whole life. And I have certainly had people tell me that I was ambitious.

I used to take it as a compliment. Now I don’t because to me it connotes unnecessary competition with others and with myself. I realize that it doesn’t have to be that way but for me, it reminds me of unrelenting standards, of the sadness and disappointment I’ve felt when I didn’t live up to standards set by myself or others. Most importantly, it reminds me of times that I’ve relapsed from healthy life changes such as regular exercise and eating well, because I took setbacks too hard, losing my momentum.

Making and achieving goals is an important part of life. But making a life of setting and achieving goals is not a life I want to lead. It leaves out too many of the good, enjoyable bits. Enjoying the process of life. Making new discoveries. Finding new directions.

I have written a lot in my life. Thousands and thousands of pages. A lot of the writing I do is technical, in the past, scientific writing and in the present, psychological report writing. A few of my published research articles as well as my past grant proposals had 50-100 revisions. They were painstakingly outlined, re-outlined, reviewed, fleshed-out, referenced, reviewed, revised, reviewed, etc. Many lists were made and this is necessary for this kind of highly technical, collaborative, and competitive work.

I do not write multiple drafts of my reports. I write 1-2 drafts, the 2nd being a light edit for typos and such. I use templates to organize my reports, which include lists of procedures, headings, empty tables into which I dump numbers, and other information. The information is presented in a highly linear fashion, the same way that I’ve presented information, with very few changes, for many years.

Prior to starting my blog two years ago, I had not done any other kind of writing for decades. And then came my blog. I write what is on my mind. I may have mulled it over for an hour or two or in some cases, a number of weeks. But I don’t use outlines and only rarely do I make notes of stray thoughts I don’t want to lose. And I don’t always write what I had intended to write. Sometimes the stream of thoughts takes me to new places, some revelatory.  And as you’ve probably noted, I don’t do a whole lot of editing. I barely proofread and occasionally copy edit. Editing on a grand scale has yet to ever occur. Sometimes I later add to a post but it is not because I wasn’t happy with it. Rather it is because I am still thinking about the topic and have found more that I wish to say.

I have written over 600 posts in 26 months. I have not yet ever written myself a reminder to write a post or to have needed to schedule time to write. This may change over time and that would not necessarily be a negative thing. Right now, the freedom of writing in an organic fashion both in respect to process and content, is an amazing gift, in what had been a very linear periods of my life.

This is a mindful way of writing. Not all of my writing can be that way, nor should it. It suits the kind of writing I am doing right now, short bits of personal meanderings. Personal writing, not professional writing.

Similarly, I am not a professional athlete. But on most days I walk almost as far as I drive in my car. I have a general goal in mind in terms of distance but I let myself take different routes and walk longer, if the spirit moves me. I am also not a professional photographer. I have no technical or artistic training, just a desire to take photos, 90% of an art history degree, and a love for the outdoors.

I enjoyed taking photos with my smartphone and decided that I wanted to take better photos. I spent some time researching prices and types of cameras as well as their reviews, probably a total of 3-5 hours. Once I found a camera I thought would suit my needs and price range, I bought it. I knew that my decision may not be the best decision but I wanted to follow my interests and I figured that there are a lot of good cameras out there.

After the camera arrived, I started taking photos, lots of them. I had read a little about the operation of the camera but I really just wanted to use it and not analyze it. I have an analytic brain and I like to let it go free from time to time, like when I am taking photography. Analyzing is hard work.

Using this organic and intuitive process, I have become a better photographer. I am using my interests to guide my gradual learning of the existence and operation of the overwhelming number of features on my little camera.

Is this the most efficient way to become a good photographer? No, it really isn’t. But it is the way that is the most enjoyable way for me, right now. Yesterday, I left the house on a beautiful Sunday morning. I walked where my legs took me, which was to two parks and one community garden. It was still early so the air was crisp and there was a wonderful breeze. It was gorgeous and I took a lot of photos, a few of which I’ve shared with you.

Sometimes listlessness leads to mindfulness, a yielding of the “shoulds” to the freedom of how one moment leads to the next, almost effortlessly.

 

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Ross McElwee is a documentary film maker originally from North Carolina, the state that is the top grower of tobacco in the U.S. In his 2003 film, Bright Leaves, he explores the industry, especially its impact on his family, who still live in the state. In one scene, he films an examination carried out by his brother, Tom, a physician, on one of his patients, a middle aged woman.

The dropping of her examination gown reveals an enormous black tumor that has replaced where the woman’s breast tissue used to be. It has been there, growing for a VERY long time. This is the first time she has gone to a physician about it. Tom asks her questions with a gentle professional tone that belies his obvious incredulity and alarm. His patient calmly answers the question while the audience feels the horror of, “Oh my God, she has REALLY bad cancer and she’s acting like she has a hangnail!”

After this horrific moment, McElwee zooms in onto just the tumor. No one being filmed is talking. And then he keeps the tumor in view for a very long time; it seemed like several minutes but it probably was not nearly that long.

The disgust and horror abated and I was able to look at the tumor, I mean REALLY look at it. By getting a close up view, it became an abstract and almost sculptural object. I looked at the color, the shape, and the texture. When the scene was over, I thought about it for a great while and obviously, I still think of it today. The horror I felt initially was real. And the tumor, up close, removed from its emotional associations, was also real. And then I integrated both of these experiences into my understanding of this woman, her physician, and her cancer.

There are upsetting aspects of life that keep us noticing our feelings about them. And we can get stuck on the fear. I know this very well being a naturally anxious person. It is easy for me to start fixing a problem that I assume is real because I feel anxious. The real problem may be that I have gotten myself overly stressed and that I need to slow down, think about something else, exercise, talk to someone, write, or something else that calms me.

I started my mindfulness practice two years ago to gain more balance and calm in my life. It has helped me enormously in this respect. I am learning to observe my life in small pieces but much more thoroughly. And in observing little pieces at a time, I find it much more tolerable. It is easier for me to move past the fear, anger, and sadness of the painful aspects of my life. It has helped me understand my experience of cancer, bit by bit, and has contributed dramatically to my emotional recovery.

Since mindfulness is an approach to experiencing life, it can be done at any or all times of the day. Mindfulness meditation is a more discrete practice. I did it several months as a resting meditation, twice per day, using a meditation timer. Then I noticed I was having the experience when walking, especially when I am in the woods, looking at flowers, or at the beach. Although I still do resting meditation, I more frequently do active meditation while on my walks.

When I first started meditating, I could see the benefit but frankly, I thought I was doing it wrong or cheating in some way because my brain was full of jumping monkeys. I was often thinking about other things, in rapid succession. My mind is typically active, but in the stress of cancer and for many months to come, it was kind of ridiculous. I knew that in mindfulness, I was just supposed to notice my distraction and this would typically redirect my thoughts. In other words, I wasn’t doing it “wrong”. Although I still had a little doubt in myself, it was relaxing to meditate and I was committed to my healthier life style so I persisted.
Over time, I have found that mindfulness has gently seeped into the rest of my life. It is not something that I have to schedule though it is a byproduct of other activities that I do on a regular basis such as see my psychologist or more frequently, writing this blog.

I find that mindfulness is more about “what to do” than “what not to do” To a person who has struggled with anxiety, guilt, and depression, I find this to be a very liberating approach. My main goal in practicing mindfulness was to reduce the distress in my life and build my emotional resilience.

It has done just that. It has also increased my experiences of joy, bliss, and contentment. In other words, mindfulness has not only helped me feel “less bad”, it has also helped me feel “more good.”

I have rediscovered myself as a physically active person. Most recently, I have rediscovered my visual talents. I typically think of myself as being very verbal, a talker, a person who thinks in words rather than images. And this is true. I will not deny this. If I were to do so, there would be a line up of friends and family who would remind me of my chatterbox ways.

But I am also a visual person. I excelled at mathematics. I used to be able to read music with a startling array of notes on the page, 32nd notes, 64th notes. I could play really really fast and I needed to be able to visually process that information as well as use the other parts of my brain, which translated the notes into motor movements as I touched the keys of my flute, supported my breath, made the quick changes to my facial muscles needed to produce different sounds.

Most importantly, I love visual arts. I have yet learned how to draw or paint but I am an artistic person. I am good with color. I am good at arranging physical spaces. I have an artistically decorated home and office. I love to make things with my hands. And as I’ve mentioned recently, I have recently resumed taking photos.

I take my camera with me on my walks. I used to take photos with my smartphone. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a “real” camera last April. Little did I realize when I bought that camera that I was adding another layer to my mindfulness practice.

My camera is not expensive but it is surprisingly good. In particular, the macro lens has allowed me to get up close to things and see them in a different way. I started taking photos of leaves and flowers up close. And then I got even closer.

When I get really close, the blooms become abstract and almost sculptural. It is like entering a new visual world. I am not an expert at either mindfulness or photography, but combining these practices has deepened my joy in life. I am noticing patterns, some interesting, some beautiful, everywhere. I am seeing the familiar in a different way.

Kurt Koffka long ago said, “The whole is other than the sum of its parts.” I believe this to be true. But I do find that in looking at parts, lots of them, bit by bit, by examining them in detail, I am not only seeing more of the whole but I am feeling more whole.

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Rose

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Poppy

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Allium

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Hibiscus

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Today is Fathers’ Day. Giving my dad a gift is often tricky whether it is Fathers’ Day, his birthday, Christmas, Arbor Day, or Just Because I Love You Day. Unless I cook him dinner. That’s a gift he always loves as long as I don’t include mushrooms or zucchini or make anything too spicy.

But I can’t always cook for my dad for special occasions. Sometimes, I try to buy him something. When I was in college I used to describe my dad as “The man who has nothing and wants nothing.” It was an exaggeration and a joke to describe the difficulty of buying my dad anything! My brothers tell me about their gift giving challenges with Dad, as well. Sometimes we discuss our strategies for selecting a gift. I have settled on getting non-returnable items. This MOSTLY works.

You see my dad has a habit of refusing gifts because they are “too expensive”, “I only want a card”, and “I just want to spend time with my family.”  And he is being sincere that he would be happy with a card, a phone call, and/or spending time together.

However, there are gifts Dad will accept and he looks kind of happy to get them. So, gift-giving with my dad is a bit like playing a slot machine. Sometimes the payoff is big.

My dad gave a lot to us and that is one of the reasons we like to give him gifts. One of the gifts my dad gave to me was his love of taking photography. When I was a young girl, I remember that Dad decided that he needed a hobby. He chose photography. Dad purchased a good quality Nikon camera and built a darkroom in the house. I spent lots of time with him, at first watching him build counter tops and cabinets, and then later, I watched him develop film and make prints using his color enlarger. I remember how he worked to find the right balance of magenta, yellow, and cyan. I remember how used a piece of cardboard for dodging an area of an image to increase contrast.

Dad’s favorite subjects were nature. My parents love to be outdoors. My father has had many cameras and has been taking digital photographs for many years. I can’t imagine how many photos he has taken in the past 40 years, not to mention all of the old family photos he has copied and preserved.

I used to take a lot of photos. Some of them were good. Then I stopped. Then I started again with the camera on my smart phone. This gave me enough of a boost to buy a decent camera again, nothing too expensive, but a nice camera that takes nice photos.

I can never return to my dad what he gave to me in my life.

But I can give him the gift of my photography. And Dad, you can’t return this gift.

So there.

Happy Fathers’ Day. I love you, Dad.

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