The Photographers Eyes

I’ve always been intrigued by cameras and composition. I trained as a fine artist and focused on life drawing and painting with a side of ceramics. In college photography was a discipline I had to study for a year to satisfy the requirements of my BFA. I did really enjoy it, but it was not my “go-to” discipline. I learned the mechanics and even did a few professional shoots here and there. A camera was a tool in my designers toolbox. This all changed for me in 2006, but to tell the whole story I need to go back a little further.
When I was 17 I wrecked the family car. I was coming out of a construction zone and just when traffic started to speed up the car in front of me stopped for a dog crossing the road and I plowed right into it. I didn’t realize that I was so close. Afterward my mom decided to get my eyes checked out. It turns out that I had a slight crossed eye that could have interfered with my depth perception. Along with this the doctor discovered that I had cataracts. I was born with them. They were unusual in shape and not very common. I had 20/20 vision, and really didn’t notice anything. The doctor said that they might never be an issue.

Every time I moved to a new city and got a new eye doctor, they would ask it if was OK to bring in all their staff to see my cataracts, they were very unusual, something you might only see a couple of times in a career. One doctor even asked to photograph them – I finally got to see what the fuss was about. They looked like tiny galaxies, circular with swirls radiating from the center.

Now spring forward to 2006, my eye doctor had advised me that I could really benefit from cataract surgery. He suggested that once I began to lose the ability to focus (we all start to experience this in our 40’s) that I seriously should consider it. By this time I was living in a rural area and I was having difficulty driving at night. It never occurred to me that the culprit might be my cataracts, I assumed it was the lack of street lights. I had the surgery one eye at a time. I was the youngest person in the office by about 30 years. None of my fellow patients could imagine me having cataracts. The surgery only took a couple of minutes, and for those seconds between when they remove your old lens and when they replace it with a new one, my field of vision was filled with swirling rainbows through liquid – it was vivid and beautiful.

The next morning when I went out into the sunlight I was stunned by what I saw. I had always had 20/20 vision. I could see details and contrast just fine. In those first moments that morning I realized that I had never really seen color before. I never knew that a lawn was filled with thousands of shades of green and that each blade of grass both cast a shadow and caught a touch of sunlight. I never knew that the parking lot at work was made up of hundreds of greys and browns – I had always seen it as just kinda black. Before my surgery I had taken photos of mostly still life and everyday objects. I loved finding a new way to see something ordinary, but now my eyes were overwhelmed with the vividness of the world around me. I upgraded my camera kit to better capture the color and began to take my camera everywhere.

After work and on weekends I began to seek out color. Autumn leaves, sunsets, spring flowers, songbirds. The first time I had a show locally, a reporter asked me what inspired me and seemed surprised when I said color, since I had so many wildlife shots and landscapes. The subjects of my beloved still lives became more colorful. Color is the unifying theme of almost everything I shoot.

Today, I cannot even imagine the dullness of the world I lived in for so long without knowing it. I live for color and in the spring time when the Ozarks are alive with color. Currently I have a show up here in Eureka Springs called Harbingers – I collected works shot between February and April to represent those things that usher in a glorious spring after a long cold winter. I’ve mounted each on canvas over hard board and fixed then onto stretcher bars exposing the wood sides. I wanted to try to take the technical photography and give it a warmer hand-crafted feel. As spring has blossomed here I continue to add to my Harbinger library – and it’s no surprise that the images are filled with color. The images used in the show are in the slideshow below. Scroll through to see the images larger and to see camera settings.

Shutterbug notes – I chose my current camera set up partly because of its dynamic range. Moving to manual really give you a lot more control over color. Moving off auto gives you access to all the features of your camera and let’s you get the most out of it. Try seeing things in a new light, you might never want to go back to your old ways of seeing the world around you!

Frozen Flora – the Season of the Frost Flower

The hills of the Ozarks are a wet place. Rain water becomes spring water or ground water as it passes through our limestone karst topography. As it gets colder out the bluffs leach out this water in the form of icicles. On the ground below the bluffs the water trapped inside the stalks of tall plants expands. This ice takes on amazing forms – frost flowers appear at the bases of these plants. They appear on mornings where the temps are below freezing and disappear as the temperature rises.

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days. I have been lighting a fire most evenings to warm up the old Stonehouse. This kind of sustained cold is more common in January or February. This morning when I took a look at the forecast I thought that even though it’s a couple of months early, the conditions were right. I packed up my macro lens and hit the highway. I had to slog through some semi frozen mud, but is it was worth it. Fields and fields of frosty blossoms.

I used a macro light on the super close-ups and a flash on a couple of shots. I wish I had taken the tripod, but the white light of an overcast day let me shoot fast enough to get away without it.

Click through and get a sense of the flower and the intricate shapes that make them up. I’m off to the kitchen to make some hot apple cider. Stay warm.

Naked Ladies in the Rain

Don’t be silly, I’m not THAT kind of photographer.

Naked ladies are a much-loved variety of Amaryllis that bloom in the first week of August. They have no leaves to cover them – hence, they are naked. Some people call them surprise lilies. My neighbor Mary Jane introduced them to me several years ago when she called me to come over to her place and to bring my camera. The lovely pink and yellow flowers stood towering over the dead leaves in her woods. I go back every year and take photos of them. I prefer to shoot macro and explore the parts of the flower. The stamens are really stunning and the buds are such a great color too.

This year I lucked out. We have been getting an unusual amount of rain so it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in my love of raindrops. I took my new weather sealed macro lens out into the woods and braved the storm.

It’s that color so late in the summer, I think that intrigues me. Without leaves to hide them, the naked ladies are all about color. Those, the blackberry lilies,  and the crepe myrtles are the last blast of summer color. The ladies will be here for a week or two, and then anticipation for fall color takes root in me. For now, I’ll just enjoy them while they linger.

Eureka Springs Through a 60mm Macro Lens

There are lots of reasons to move up to an interchangeable lens system camera. I say “interchangeable lens system”, because technically I do not shoot a DSLR. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex – meaning that you look through the lens you shoot with and that is made possible by reflection, a mirror that rests below the viewfinder. I shoot “mirrorless” – specifically micro 4/3. Because there is no mirror the space between the sensor and the lens can be dramatically reduced, allowing for smaller cameras and lenses. I can carry a three to four lens kit in a messenger bag with all the bells and whistles. The smaller distance means that the focal equivalents are not the same as standard DSLRs which operate on the 35mm camera equivalents. My focal lengths offer twice the reach – so a fast 50mm portrait lens is only a 25mm lens in my system. My 75-300mm bird lens is equivalent to a 150-600mm zoom on a DSLR. It makes for a compact and somewhat inconspicuous kit.

One of the things I love is shooting with a dedicated macro lens. I have been using a 45mm Leica macro lens for the last year or so. The 35mm equivalent would be twice that – 90mm. It’s a great lens but often can’t get me as close as I would like. I have a vintage macro bellows set up that is fun to use with the right subject, but lacks portability. Recently I acquired a new 60mm (120mm equivalent) 1:1 ratio lens and I am loving it. I haven’t had the time to take it out with the tripod to go crazy with the details, but I did get a chance to take it out for a spin around the formal gardens of Eureka Springs, Arkansas last week.

Click along and walk with me up Spring Street and enjoy the gardens.

Coneflowers – there is something about the coneflower that draws me back every year – the shape, the color, the insects – all of this and its perfectly spaced center structures make it lovely from almost any angle.

Orange Petals – I am drawn to oranges in nature in any season. The macro lens allows me to focus close and then focus closer. I tend to shoot flowers in aperture mode, playing with the DOF.  New details emerge as the depth of field gets tighter and tighter. Light through petals reveals structure.

The Buzz – I love the challenge of capturing a bumble bee in action, and nothing is better than seeing the individual pollen grains. Shooting on a full-function camera lets you switch to shutter mode to try to freeze their constant motion.

Thistles – I know they are invasive weeds, but I love thistles. The thrive in places where nothing else does. A couple of years ago a springtime flood created a slide on one of the city’s mountainsides. To prevent future slides deep rooting grasses were planted and the hillside was slightly terraced. The following year the grass came up, but within it were thousands of thistles. They are on a spot where the late day sun isolates them against the sky. They make for a stunning horizon, but it’s their structure that draws me.

Nature’s Spirograph – on that same hillside I see daisies below the grass line. I love the geometry that you find when you get close to daisies and similar petalled flowers like brown-eyed susans. Often after shooting you find that there is more wildlife than you had bargained for in your frame.

Ready for their close-ups – as much as I love categories, not everything fits neatly into sets when I shoot. Sometimes something just catches my eye and I shoot one or two frames.

Not bad for a first outing. I made the choice to leave my camera bag in the car and shoot only with the new lens. I find that this is a great way to get to know a lens, to force yourself to depend on it for the shot. Personally, I love new gear, but often depend on the old favorites and it’s good to get out there and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

If you are a photog, what lens do you have sitting around that you haven’t gotten to know as well as you should?

A Well Designed Weed

I am a fan of great design. When something has a beautiful aesthetic design that is also completely functional – for me that’s the pinnacle of design. I know that to most homeowners, this weed is the bane of their existence, requiring bags of chemicals and funny-looking tools to tame. I have come to appreciate their amazing design – to see that from not only follows function, but that functionality can be truly beautiful.

It begins like this…

I have always marveled at the intricate detail of it's flower's structure.

I have always marveled at the intricate detail of it’s flower’s structure. So much geometry.

…and transforms into this…

The symmetrical seed ball is also filled with structure and geometry,

The symmetrical seed ball is also filled with structure and geometry, a nearly perfect circle made mostly of air.

To really appreciate the beauty and the geometry of the dandelion, you must get closer…

As you get closer you can see the almost engineered structure that holds the whole seed system together.

As you get closer you can see the almost engineered structure that holds the whole seed system together. Dimples as perfectly spaced as any man-made golf ball.

As you get even closer the structure of the seeds themselves becomes much more intricate than you might imagine…

Here you can begin to make out the structure of the seeds - quite intricate with symmetrical barbs holding seeds to center.

Here you can begin to make out the structure of the seeds – quite intricate with symmetrical barbs holding seeds to center.

Getting still closer, the center is revealed to be less like a golf ball with dimples and more like the ports of a futuristic space station…

Now we see that the holes in the center actually have structure too - they have small "latches" that hold onto those seeds until just the right gust of wind comes along.

Now we see that the holes in the center actually have structure too – they have small “latches” that hold onto those seeds until just the right gust of wind comes along.

Of course the flower is just the opening act. The seed itself has an ingenious design…

The seed of the dandelion suspended from the center of a pinwheel of very fine parachute. It not only keeps the seed airborne to scatter in the wind - it makes for a perfect landing with the seed down.

The seed of the dandelion suspended from the center of a pin wheel of very fine parachute. It not only keeps the seed airborne to scatter in the wind – it makes for a perfect landing with the seed down.

When I lived in the city I fought the good fight with the weed. I would even treat my lazy next-door-neighbor’s lawn to prevent more from invading my little green space. After all, if I failed to take care of my lawn I would be bringing a pestilence upon my neighborhood. When I moved to the woods I recall that my neighbors chuckled when they saw me unloading a bag of “weed-n-feed”. They gently told me that what I was calling a lawn was really about 10% bluegrass filled in with wild clover, dandelions and any other ground cover that would grow out in the open. Over the course of the next few days I thought about the deer and birds and finally about my own well water and decided to embrace the idea of a wild lawn with no chemicals added. That first summer I learned to appreciate the dandelion and over the years I have explored it with better and better glass.

The dandelion in all it's glory.

The dandelion in all it’s glory.

I have come to see the majesty in that well designed weed.

The first of many

I don’t typically post multiple times a day, but this is important. Today on the way home I saw it. It was there in the woods waiting for me…

The first of many…

Today the first dogwood made it’s appearance in the woods. Spring is officially here.

Carry on.

Holy Macro!

I have been out taking a very close look and am happy to report that spring is springing. It’s not busting out all over yet, but if you look close, very close – it’s all there to see.

Yesterday after work I took a walk with my macro lens. It’s a Leica 45mm f2.8 so I can shoot in overcast conditions or in low light – that pretty much describes the conditions. I love the tonality of evening shots – past the golden hour, but early enough to keep the ISO and noise at low levels.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot - stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot – stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I'm hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I’m hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I don't know what these are called by my "lawn" is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant.

I don’t know what these are called by my “lawn” is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant…

...while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

…while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across...

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across…

...and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

…and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs...

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs…

...another view of the debris from the impact - the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

…another view of the debris from the impact – the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio - it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio – it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

Springtime is about exploration and discovery for me. It’s the perfect time to take that macro lens out for a walk.