Black, White, and Shades of Gray

The world is not black and white.  Or so we tell ourselves.  If, of course, we were not endowed with whatever particular function of our brain tells us we see colors, the world would be black and white indeed.

Today I decided to conduct an experiment in black-and-white.  I re-processed a series of color images without the color.

It’s interesting we refer to it as black-and-white.  While I suppose in the purest sense, only black ink is used on white to create the shades of gray that lurk between pure black and pure white.

I like the metaphor.  Even when we have only black and white to work with, we still end up with shades of gray.  I am convinced that the essence of life comes in shades of gray.  It’s the shadows created by what we believe to be absolute truths that hold the real truth.

And that real truth is a paradox:  there is no real truth.

Someone recently asked me what a RAW image file looks like.  We cannot view the true RAW file as an image.  We can only view the subset of the RAW file indicated by the camera settings recorded along with the rest of the data or the version we create when we change those settings in software.

This is because the file contains the data for many possibilities and we have to choose which possibilities we want rendered into an actual image in order to view it.  The truth of the file is greater than what we are able to perceive at any given point in time.  I think this is exactly how all truth works.

Take, for example, the old story of the 3 blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant.  Each accurately describes the part they are touching, but each describes an elephant completely differently.  Each is correct, yet they are also wrong.

Today, we have more data available with less effort than anyone imagined possible just a few decades ago.  But we can only extract a small set of information based on our personal settings.  Our internal filters tell us what to notice, what to agree with and what to reject.  Ultimately, we come away mostly with what is consistent with everything we already believe or want to believe.

This is like using the camera settings to decide how to render an image.  It’s automatic and easy.  Peeking into the shadows and looking at what other possibilities we might be missing takes energy and intention.

What fascinates me is that even when I know I am uninformed, under-informed, misinformed, I rarely fail to form an opinion–usually a passionate one.  And I am not alone.  Without this human tendency, we would have nothing to argue about–we would all be too busy realizing we can never know who is really right.

Is it possible to decide what we think is best without believing we are right?


Sunday Sunset

I was up too late last night, worked too long today, went to too late a meeting tonight, and am now too tired to write a blog post.  I could sit writing half asleep, but I think I will just let my photos communicate, at the literal level, the spectacular sunset we were treated to Sunday evening as well as at the symbolic level of exactly how I feel tonight.

Dogs and Fireworks


Dogs are frequently afraid of fireworks. I would venture to guys that dogs fall into two categories: Those who are completely oblivious and those who think the world is coming to an end. Tisen does not like fireworks. Nor does Twiggy, who is visiting with us again while her mom and dad are on vacation.


Tisen seems somewhat embarrassed about his fear of fireworks. Like he knows he’s supposed to be a big tough boy and not be afraid of loud noises. Instead of whining, howling, or barking, which would only draw attention to his cowardice, he hides. But if you happen to look in on him from time to time, you’ll discover he often has a puzzled look on his face like he can’t understand why his humans are not distraught by all the noise.

I think there is a simple explanation for this disparity in human and dog interpretation of loud noises. I think it’s hearing. While one might speculate that canines have less ability to understand the source of loud noises or to reason as to whether they are in potential danger or not, I really think it comes down to pain. The deep, reverberating booms and high pitched crackles sound so much louder to a dog than to a human, it seems quite possible they are in physical pain.

This being my theory, I was doubly surprised when I spent the entire length of the Riverbend fireworks out on the balcony of the common room (where dogs are not allowed) and Tisen remained parked by the front door waiting for my return instead of hiding under the sofa, desk, or Daddy. Twiggy cuddled with Daddy, leaving Tisen to fend for himself as the stalwart guard patiently awaiting the return of Mommy. I felt pretty guilty when I got home and found him still waiting for me.

I wonder if he is more afraid of losing Mommy than he is of fireworks? This also made me feel more guilty getting on a plane the following morning.

Tisen braving it out at the door

Tisen braving it out at the door


The Walnut Street Bridge takes a wild turn

The Walnut Street Bridge takes a wild turn

I have discovered a whole new way to have fun with my iPhone camera.  Yes, more panoramics!  But in this case, instead of creating a really big view of a vast landscape, I’m making a U-shape!  I know, I am easily amused.

But how much fun is it to stand on the Walnut Street Bridge and take a panoramic shot that starts by looking up the bridge, then pans across the scene of Riverbend and ends looking down the bridge?

I clarifies the concept of putting a 3-dimensional landscape into 2 dimensions in a brand new way.  I am starting to think of other possible uses for the panoramic capability.  I will cover 240 degrees.  That means I can’t quite create a circle.  But horseshoe shapes?  The bridge is pretty close to a horseshoe.

Bending the bridge around the Carousel in Coolidge Park

Bending the bridge around the Carousel in Coolidge Park

Before I get carried away on the possibilities, let me just mention that we are rapidly approaching the close of this year’s Riverbend Festival.  Riverbend is a pretty big deal that takes over the river front across the river.  They close the main street that runs along the river, float in a big stage, and book many bands.  Lynrd Skynrd played last night.  That was a bit of a shock–I thought most of the band died in a plane many years ago?  I guess you can still be a band even if you’ve replaced most of the original members.

In any case, Riverbend attracts a large crowd.  Supposedly, over 600,000 people descend upon Chattanooga over the course of the 2 week music festival.  To put that in perspective, there are about 170,000 people in Chattanooga proper.  Believe it or not, that makes Chattanooga the 4th largest city in Tennessee, and only a about 10,000 people behind Knoxville, the largest city in East Tennessee.  Only Nashville and Memphis are larger.

A panoramic that stops short of making a bend

A panoramic that stops short of making a bend

By the time you add 600,000 people to Chattanooga, that’s enough to bump the population up to the largest city in Tennessee.  Of course, they’re not all here at once.  But, the extra crowd may explain the extra people hanging out in the park looking like perhaps they are camping out there.  It’s hard for me to believe there are enough hotel rooms in town to house even 300,000 extra people.  The building we live in has suddenly filled with extra people we don’t recognize and cars in parking spots that are normally empty.

We’ve learned that locals are not fond of Riverbend.  I think people camping in the park do not help the locals lack of enthusiasm.  But it’s likely the fight for parking is the bigger issue.  People park anywhere they can.  It’s pretty rare to find free parking anywhere in the vicinity of downtown.  During Riverbend, unless you have a reserved spot, you’re pretty much out of luck.

However people feel about Riverbend, the fireworks display at the end of the festival is a big deal.  We’ll see if it’s as impressive as last year tomorrow night.

Tisen cuddling with daddy

Tisen cuddling with daddy

Family Planning

Tisen's collection of squeaky toys seems to have grown quite a bit since October

Tisen’s collection of squeaky toys seems to have grown quite a bit since October

This was the majority of the collection in October--the family is getting out of control

This was the majority of the collection in October–the family is getting out of control


There’s a reason people recommend planning your family carefully.  I believe it’s because after so many family members, it becomes difficult to fit everyone into a camera frame.

While we successfully kept the human side of the family to plan, the canine side didn’t go quite how we expected.  Our plan was not to have any more dogs until we had settled down somewhere.  Our goal was all about mobility.

Tisen inspects the family portrait pose

Tisen inspects the family portrait pose

But as things changed and we exercised our mobility less and less, I found myself home alone way too much.  Working from home is not the same as actually being around other people, even on days when I’m on conference calls for 10 straight hours.

Black and white Hipstamatic version using the D-Type film

Black and white Hipstamatic version using the D-Type film

Not wanting a long-term commitment, I decided to foster dogs for a local shelter.  Tisen was my 3rd foster dog in Chattanooga.  I am what is called a “foster failure.”  That’s what it’s called when foster mom and dad adopt the dog they’re fostering.  I can live with that kind of failure.

My boy kept stealing family members--Baby Beaver had to be omitted from the group shot to get Tisen to settle down

My boy kept stealing family members–Baby Beaver had to be omitted from the group shot to get Tisen to settle down

But, having failed to plan the permanent addition of Tisen to our family, it follows that I would be equally less deliberate about planning the additions Tisen would bring home.  It started with the discovery of his love for squeaky toys.  For the first year we had Tisen, he had no interest in treats.  Only squeaky toys.

Tisen licks his nose after being reunited with Snake makes him sneeze

Tisen licks his nose after being reunited with Snake makes him sneeze

As a result, we kept getting him more squeaky toys.  Soon, it became a tradition every time we went to PetsMart, Tisen gets to pick out a new toy.  He carries it so proudly through the store with the tags still hanging off it.  Usually, he tries to prance straight out the front door with it.  He hasn’t quite gotten the “we have to pay for it” concept down yet.  So far the store manager has been very understanding and hasn’t prosecuted Tisen for attempted shop lifting.

A more traditional image of the family yielded a pile of jumbled colors

A more traditional image of the family yielded a pile of jumbled colors

Today, I decided, was the day to find out just how large the family had grown.  I haven’t attempted a family portrait since October, when Cow Ball joined the family.  I was a bit shocked when I gathered up all the family members and piled them on the sofa.  This actually took two trips!

Tisen isn't quite sure what he's supposed to do with the huge pile of toys on the sofa

Tisen isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do with the huge pile of toys on the sofa

I got out the last inventory list I’d made and checked off the toys as I found them.  Each and every one of them was accounted for, plus about 10 news ones added since October.  There was even one extra–White Ball.  White ball doesn’t belong to Tisen.  He “borrowed” it from Twiggy, his girlfriend.  It’s probably some ploy he’s using to try to get her to come over–she likes to play it cool.

Close up of Big Dog, Red Dog, Artie (the Armadillo/'Possum), and Puppy Luv cuddling

Close up of Big Dog, Red Dog, Artie (the Armadillo/’Possum), and Puppy Luv cuddling

I had a little trouble fitting the entire family into the frame.  I’m a little worried they’ve started multiplying on their own–how did we end up with 3 bears?  Last time I checked, we only had Minnie and Eddie Bear.  Now we have Flat Bear, too.  This is why family planning is so important.

Had great fun with an overexposed shot--after much adjusting, it ended up reminding me of a crayon drawing

Had great fun with an overexposed shot–after much adjusting, it ended up reminding me of a crayon drawing

Many Bridges

Many years ago, about 6 months after I started learning how to use the manual controls on my PowerShot G3, I was sent to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 3 separate trips for several days at a time.

I took my camera with me on the 2nd and 3rd trips after seeing how interesting the town is.  As I browse through the photos now, I am reminded of Chattanooga.  Harrisburg is about the same size as Chattanooga, has a river running through the heart of downtown (the Susquehanna River in the case of Harrisburg vs the Tennessee River in Chattanooga), and even has a Walnut Street Bridge that’s been converted to a pedestrian-only bridge.

Like Chattanooga, the riverfront offers endless photo-ops, although it seemed as though Harrisburg might not have created as many destinations along the riverfront as away from it.  Harrisburg has more bridges that cross the river within a short section.  But Chattanooga has two giant advantages:  mountains and warmer weather.

It’s not really a competition.  They are both cool towns with great architectural features and lovely rivers.  I really enjoyed walking down by the river when I had the opportunity in Harrisburg and working on capturing an interesting view of the bridges.  While I was able to improve these old photos somewhat by reprocessing them, they were taken with a point-and-shoot camera with 4 megapixel resolution 8 years ago.  Digital photography has come a long way since then.

I, also, have learned a few things.  For starters, shooting with the sun high in the sky was not optimal.  Making sure the water is level before pushing the shutter button was another big miss–I had to straighten these in software.  It’s interesting that with experience, the world acquires less and less tilt.

I particularly enjoyed shooting through the bridges to see more bridges behind.  There are so many bridges that from the right angle, the bridges seem endless.  I had a good time playing with different angles, but as the light faded, I learned why one of my photographer friends kept urging me to buy a tripod.

I learned quite a few things that trip.  For one, having a camera on a business trip can be quite entertaining when you’re traveling by yourself.  For another, taking a warm hat on a business trip is a requirement if you’re planning to entertain yourself by shooting a scenic river in January in Harrisburg.

I left Harrisburg after my last trip there feeling enchanted.  Having made the round of the downtown cathedrals and the state capital building, I was pleasantly surprised by the historic buildings and the overall grandeur of the town.  I suspect that had I spent more time there, I would have continued to discover wonderful secrets about the place.


Relapse with a Bounce

I had to quit cold turkey.  It was tough, but after I got through the initial withdrawal, I discovered there were endless subjects to shoot besides the Chattanooga riverfront as seen from the North Shore.

The toughest step of my recovery was having to go through my photos and delete about 7000 images to free up drive space.  I think 5000 of those images were of the Chattanooga riverfront.

But then yesterday, I was walking in the park with Tisen.  I was going to go for a bike ride afterwards, but the clouds started rolling in and, well, I skipped my ride in order to shoot.  I guess we could call it a relapse.

When I started gathering up my gear, I peeked out the windows to discover a double rainbow forming in the East as the sun cruised toward the Western horizon.  I rushed to find a good view and get setup, worrying that I would miss the rainbow.

As it turned out, the brightest rainbow remained visible for the entire 45 minutes I was shooting.

The second rainbow never did get very bright–it just sort of hovered on the edge of visible.  It’s visible in the second image if you look closely.  As much as I love seeing rainbows, I find I enjoy shooting clouds more.  Perhaps because it’s difficult to get more than one perspective on a rainbow, but the clouds continually shift and create new images for you.

I’m not sure where my fascination with clouds started.  When I was a child and my family went on long road trips, if there were clouds, we would amuse ourselves by finding complex and, often, outrageous shapes in them and trying to get everyone else to see what we saw.

Every time I fly, I hope for cloud cover.  I love looking down on clouds–especially when there are thunderheads or other masses of clouds that look like some sort of special effect created by hollywood.  Of course, when I’m in a plane, I wish they were just a special effect!

As part of studying for our hang gliding rating, we learned a little bit about clouds and how they can help predict the weather–a life and death issue if you’re a good enough hang glider pilot to stay aloft for hours (my longest flight so far was about 4 minutes–makes weather changes sort of a non-issue).  We learned hang glider pilots look for big puffy cumulous clouds as a sign of thermals. From the look of things, the thermals were in full force.

I vaguely remember a dream I once had of falling through a cloud.  In my dream, the cloud was soft and warm–as if it were somehow slowing my fall.  It wasn’t the kind of fall that makes you wake up before you land; it was the kind of fall where you know you will bounce.  Perhaps I already knew that thermals were pushing back underneath?

In Search of a New View

On Friday night, Pat decided it was time for us to try Nikki’s, a Southern Fried Chicken and Seafood drive in that we’ve been going past regularly ever since we started taking Tisen to doggy daycare.  Pat’s idea was to get take out and go have a picnic.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity to find a new location to shoot sunsets from.

After getting two fried shrimp dinners with coleslaw, fries, and hush puppies, we follow google maps up the hill to a nearby conservation area.  There isn’t a picnic area, so we wolf down 3 weeks worth of saturated fat sitting in our mini-van.

The conservation area is a shady woods that, unfortunately, has been invaded by many foreign plants that block the view through the forest.  The trail is an abandoned road that looks wide with easy walking, but we decide to forego a hike since I’m hoping to shoot the sunset.  There is no hope of getting any views of the sunset from where we are.  Not only are there no views through the thick growth, but we’re on the East-facing side of the ridge.

We decide to drive to the other side of the ridge to a different trailhead to see if we can get a view from there.  After crossing under the ridge through a tunnel and driving around to the other side, we wind our way around to the next trailhead only to find that we are still on the wrong side of the ridge.  It’s like some kind of joke.  There is no explanation as to how we still ended up facing East.

As we head back out, the trill of a wood thrush catches my ear.  I suddenly realize I haven’t heard one since we moved to Tennessee.  As I listen to its sweet flute-like voice, I suddenly ache for the ravine we left behind.  But I am soon distracted by the search for a view of the sunset.

We end up on the backside of the ridge facing the freeway.  There is a big, bald hillside on the other side of the freeway where a new complex is under construction.  It looks like the developer hired strip miners to do the excavation.  It breaks my heart.  I cannot bring myself to shoot with this eyesore in the frame and I cannot shoot around it.  Perhaps I will have to think about how to capture the ugliness of this site, but tonight I’m seeking beauty.

After trying every road we can get access to along the ridge, we give up on having a really good view and return to our roof at home.  We are in time for twilight.  The almost full super-moon has already risen high, shining so brightly I cannot resist shooting it.  Equipped only with my wide-angle lens, I play with long exposures.

All-in-all, it’s been a fun little adventure even though we never strayed far from home.

Tennessee Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills is . . . An area? A collection of parks? A collection of hills? Perhaps all of the above. Whatever the name refers to, for me, it a part of growing up.

Something that my friends in Tennessee might not quite understand about growing up in Ohio is the experience of growing up where the land is flat. While Ohio has its river valleys, in Central Ohio, they tend to create long, slow slopes that are barely noticeable in a car.

The steeply angled streets of Chattanooga that climb, descend, and climb again seem as foreign to me as a river that flows North. When I was growing up, we had to drive somewhere to experience substantial hills and, more often than not, that somewhere was Hocking Hills.

Hocking Hills is about an hour or so South of Columbus. It marks the edge of a glacier that planed down the irregularities in the landscape to the North, leaving behind what was once plains and then forests and is now some of the flattest farmland around (except maybe for Kansas). But just beyond this geological boundary, the land rolls. The hills are high and cut deep by ancient rivers, leaving fascinating ravines with sandstone outcroppings and lush ferns.

It’s the kind of place that brings people from several states back over and over to experience in every season. In the spring and fall, it’s hard to find a parking place in any of the state parks if you get there after late morning. Flat landers rush to the hills in droves, seeking the experience of driving the winding roads as well as hiking the ravines.

On Sunday, Pat and I took Tisen for what may have been his first hike in the woods ever. We went to a section of the Cumberland Trail and picked our way through incredibly large and voracious looking poison ivy plants.

As we entered the woods, the bright sunlight dimmed under the trees and we had to blink, waiting for our eyes to adjust.

We started near the top of a large hill that would put Hocking Hills to shame and ascended several more times until we were walking along the very edge of the ridge line of the slope. As we worked our way along the ridge, the large outcroppings of stone protruding from the opposite side of the ridge immediately made me think of the kinds of formations we would see at Hocking Hills. It’s funny how you can hike to the top of a mountain and find only what you brought with you.

Tisen, having never seen Hocking Hills, cannot appreciate the similarity, but he appreciates being allowed to run ahead on the trail–something he could never be allowed to do in the crowds at Hocking Hills. Today, we are the only car parked at the trailhead and we neither see nor hear any other hikers on the trail. This solitude makes the walk that much more satisfying.