Can’t see the rocks for the trees

How do you show depth when the scene is almost monochromatic?  And I don’t mean black and white – actually all the same color.

I ran across this old stone wall in the woods and thought the contrast of man-made with nature was a nice image.  I was able to get some compositions I liked but the lack of color or tonal difference made it hard to make the wall stand out from the woods.  Here’s what I mean:



I tried with the light behind me and the light behind the stones but neither gave me the type of contrast I needed.  Composing from the side didn’t work because the moss-covered stones simply vanished into the green background.  I’m wondering if waiting until later, when the sun was obliquely lighting the stones if that would let the shadows make them stand out.  Or perhaps putting some flash on them just to lighten them up compared to the forest.  I didn’t have time or equipment to try these ideas but will definitely keep them in mind.

Don’t know the story behind the wall.  It runs along a wooded hilltop that’s a state wildlife refuge.  It’s not really tall enough to be called a wall, more of a line of stacked stones.  Perhaps in the past a farmer cleared stones from the hill so he could plant crops.  The area is surrounded by wetland so the hill would be about the only good land to plant.  This part of Wisconsin was scoured by glaciers and they left many rocks displaced from Canada but I don’t think even glaciers are this neat and tidy with their rock movement.  I just thought it was an interesting reminder of how we shape the land when we want, and the land shapes back when we turn aside for a bit.

I did find something with enough contrast to photography, however.  Some blooming bush sent a tendril out and snagged a limb, giving a nice arrangement of blooms in a minimalist sort of display.


Nice to see nature has a sense of style.


Ready for my close up

ISO 100, 54mm, 1/100 sec., f/3.5

Summer colors are starting to fade in the woods.  The dry weather is merely hastening the process and the recent, small amount of rain just isn’t going to revive the foliage.  We’re surrounded by a sea of green for months, so much that it disappears from our sight until suddenly it’s gone and we’re left wondering where the green went as the fall colors explode into our senses.

Light dappling through a forest is like your personal studio for close-ups of objects.  Pick the background you want, the highlight on the subject, the aperture for a short depth of field and you’ve created a natural portrait.

Life moves on

Olympus E-3, 14-54mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4, ISO100

Seasonal changes are in motion.  The temperature and humidity still proclaim summer but life knows it’s time to move on, that autumn is nearing and the need to gird up for the trip south to avoid winter is pressing hard.  Don’t believe it?  All you have to do is stand still and watch what’s going on around you.

For the trip ahead birds and butterflies are packing on the calories as if there are not rest stops between here and their destination.  Bird feeders that have been devoid of business are suddenly packed with customers, vacuuming up seed like runners at the end of a marathon.  Butterflies seek flowers non-stop, briefly checking for nectar and then moving to the next possible fountain of energy.  Some are oblivious to what’s going on around and some are nervous about every shadow.

It’s a good time to get out and set up photography shop in a field or prairie or meadow – something is bound to wander by.  Mirroring the haste of the flying creatures good photographers need to stop now and make their images.  What’s flying through today may be gone tomorrow, leaving the long winter months with no color and little life to intrude the viewfinder.

Thinking and sweating – mutually exclusive?

Gazing Pool

Summer brings a slight blurring to your vision, a multiplicative effect of heat waves, humidity and the slowing down required in this mid-year weather.  Even the cool, quiet places seem softer around the edges.  No crystal sharp mountain streams here, surrounded by edged conifers and exposed knives of newly fallen rocks.  No, this is where terms like languid come from.  It’s the setting Faulkner paints in most of his stories, at least as a background always present and impressing itself on his characters’ decisions and actions.

The cool pools of literary setting must have been in a different part of the world.  Perhaps England or Germany, or the Scandinavian countries.  Here in the Great Plains water sits on ancient sedimentary soils that cloud lakes and rivers alike to a rich broth-like color.  Shallow and wide is the water kingdom here, the lack of depth bringing no cooling power to the air around.  Even the secluded sanctuaries constructed for pause have little impact on the humidity, encouraging very little the occasional stroller to sit and contemplate.

Except for examining cloud kingdoms sailing stately across the sky, contemplation, I believe, requires a lack of summer.  No, it demands a rejection of summer’s oven in order to protect the mind from flights of fancy.  Real introspection needs the calming influence of cooling climates, encouraging body and mind to wrap around in thought, undistracted by beads of sweat and sticky clothing.

Summer deserves more tropical passion in order to celebrate and fully appreciate its heat treatment, a relaxing and trusting sinking into a hammock to rock lazily in the breeze.  Forcing the contemplative perspective onto such a free-flowing season almost seems a bit irresponsible, don’t you think?

San Juan Capistrano

Do you wonder where the lines on the map go?  What happens in those towns whose names dot the map?  What can be seen in the national and state parks that show up as green blocks on the roadmap or brown signs on the side of the highway?

Ever catch yourself looking at the horizon or a ridge line and thinking, “what’s beyond there?”

For some it’s a craving that’s hard to shake, wanderlust that gets under your skin and propels your feet in a direction that’s unknown to you.  People content to stay in one place with a solid connection to their community probably look at you and shake their head, puzzled that you’d find “over there” more satisfying than “right here.”

Probably doesn’t even have to be some exotic locale, right?  Simply needs to be somewhere else, some place new, a change of scenery (or for Buffett fans, a change of latitudes….) that compels action on your part.

I think a lot of photographers have this condition, even the ones who think they would rather work in a studio and never photograph a landscape.  Looking through that viewfinder somehow energizes us to move in the direction it’s pointing, reach to the extent of our vision in that scene and then take one more step.  Wrap our camera around a scene different from our norm, a scene that urges us to capture it, interpret it, share it.

Scratching that itch can be as simple as getting in the car and driving in a new direction, putting a macro lens on and crawling around in your backyard, or wandering through a new part of town looking at people and buildings.  Different is all around us; our minds merge it with what we see all the time and convince us it’s all the same.

Artists see alternate perspectives.  Angles we’d never think to view from or textures we pass over with our sight as uniform.  For some people an artistic perspective is second nature; for others a learned experience.  Regardless of which you feel is your ability, express it right now, this summer, this year.  Follow the lines on the map around the block, across the country or around the world.

Oh, and bring something back to share with us.

Summer light shows

Summer certainly means fireworks, for any number of occasions.  Even where shooting them off is patently illegal you can always hear the booms and see the lights in the sky.  There’s something about the sight of colored lights in the sky controlled by man that just makes summer bigger and more open than any other season.  All you have to do is watch and listen while little kids turn their heads upward to enjoy a fireworks show – that will remind you what summer is all about.

And the technology continues to be inspiring.  More colors, more shapes, complex interactions, longer durations.  Each company trying to outperform their competition with secret power formulations and advanced control systems.  Building on ancient knowledge discovered by the Chinese these entertainment companies fulfill expectations for a bright and noisy summer evening.

Fireworks over water are especially grand, with the reflections doubling the scene and the shadows of boats anchored for vantage points.  A much more safe way to display, naturally, that adds to the experience as you sit on the shore and gaze across the water to the show being put on in the dark.

Here are a few images from a recent fireworks show we attended on the last night of the  National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan.  Enjoy!