Many Views

A common expression in corporate conversations is “taking a 30,000 foot view” or some such derivation that might also be expressed as “looking at the forest instead of the trees.”  Often, the follow up comments include something along the lines of, “but the devil is always in the details.”

When you look at a map, you can lay out a course that takes you in the most direct line to where you want to go.  But when you get on the road, street signs are missing or roads are closed and sometimes you find yourself well off-course in spite of your plan.  Even with technology, sometimes the GPS thinks a private road is a public one and advises me to drive through locked gates.  As it turns out, the most direct route is often not the easiest.

On my recent trip to Portland, we went on a little venture to the Washington coast and Astoria, Oregon.  We stopped at overlooks, visited lighthouses, and went up to the Astoria Tower.  Each of these vantage points provides a different view.  The ocean forms waves that slide smoothly up onto the beach while they batter and splash against craggy coastline cliffs only a hundred yards away.  From our thousand foot view (give or take), neither looks particularly harrowing or dangerous, but because we’ve been up close to both situations, we can readily guess which one would be the best place to, say, try to land a boat.

I am reminded of a presenter who once talked about the tendency to rely on historical information when deciding what to do next.  He said, “you can’t drive while you’re looking in your rearview mirror.”  I’d like to think we all check our mirrors every once in a while.  Without metaphorically checking our rearview mirror, we might think we could land safely amongst the rocks.  And without a map, we might not know if we went 100 yards further, we could land smoothly in the sand.

As we stood on the grounds of the Astoria Tower, I imagined Lewis and Clark for a second time that day.  I imagined being the creator of the map for previously uncharted lands.  I imagined explorers standing and staring at the river below as it makes its final turn before colliding with the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered if they were able to predict how long it would take to get from where they stood to the river shore.  I wondered how many surprises they encountered once underway.

I suppose life has not changed much if you look at it from 100,000 feet.  In spite of the myriad of gadgets that make navigation easier, we still must each create our own map for our lives.  The endless number of choices we now face can overwhelm even the most intrepid explorer.  When you come down to the 100 foot level or so, the main difference between then and now is probably that we do far more exploring from a seated position.

Paying Myself First

When I was 9 years old, I started mowing lawns to earn money.  My mother used to tell me to “pay myself first.”  It was actually a rule back then, not just advice.  Half of my net earnings had to go into my bank account.

This philosophy works great for financial freedom.  It helped me pay for two degrees without any student loans.  This week, I decided to try applying the same philosophy to other areas of life to see if it works just as well.

Taking the attitude of “pay myself first,” I decided things that make me feel balanced, relaxed, and more at ease with the world work like a savings account–they give me energy and a calm state of mind to draw on when things get tough.  Since things get tough every day, I decided I needed to return to my old habit of getting “me time” in first thing every day–paying myself before I give any of my time or energy to anything else.

My first rule was not to check email until after I’d spent time doing what I wanted to do in the morning.  I got up dark and early most mornings at 5AM to have a few hours to myself before I needed to plug in and get online for work.

I rode my bike, went to the gym, or did yoga each morning.  I also made myself a healthy breakfast.  All of this made me feel cared for, relaxed, and far more ready to tackle work.

I also set some new limits for myself at work.  I decided I needed to limit the number of hours I would spend on work each week in order to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing on sleep.  To get 8 hours of sleep, have my time in the morning, and some time in the evening to write my other blog (snapgreatphotos.com), I had to limit my day job to no more than 10 hours a day.

This turned out to be the hardest rule to follow–especially coming back from a week off and knowing that I’m taking another vacation shortly.  I repeated the mantra, “I am enough,” over and over.  Anything I could delegate or let others handle I let go of.  I had to let go of the intense pressure I put on myself to be helpful at all costs.  I had to take a breath and ask myself if it was really important to jump in or if doing so would take time and energy away from more important things and/or deny someone else an opportunity to step up.

I can’t say I executed perfectly.  I was up later than I wanted to be on more than one night trying to get one more thing done.  But I keep telling myself that if I can pay myself first, I will be better at everything else I do and that will make the investment worth it to everyone.

High Water

It's hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

It’s hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

The other day, the water levels reached a new high.  I decided to go grab a few shots from the common room balcony where I had shot the landscape in times of normal water levels for comparison.

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels–previously the highest I’d seen it

Two things distracted me.  First, I started experimenting with the in-camera HDR feature since there was a lot of contrast between the wetland (in the shadows) and the sky.  Second, the clouds were interesting.  They never got really colorful–I watched until the sun was well below the horizon–but they were making some pretty interesting shapes.

All of these images are the HDR version of the image created in the camera.

My favorite cloud

My favorite cloud

On the one hand, I get better dynamic range using Photomatix.  On the other hand, I didn’t have to do any special post-processing to get these and given that I didn’t start processing photos until after midnight, I appreciate that.

I will try processing the 3 exposures using Photomatix and doing a comparison when I have some more time (like that will ever happen), but for now, I feel like the feature did improve the dynamic range of the image some and I didn’t have to do as much work.

I should also note that the clouds were moving, yet the in-camera feature managed to match them up across 3 images and then crop the image to the size that worked with the data it had.  While I wasn’t crazy about the cropping, I thought the matching worked very well.

Bed is calling . . .

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

Going Vertical (Part 3)

Having spent a couple of hours shooting in Renaissance Park over the weekend along with a few evenings of moon shooting, I have a collection of photos I am hoping will get me through the duration of my camera being serviced.  [As a side note, Canon announced the new 5D Mark III.  I might just wait until I win the lottery before I buy another camera body.]

So, today is really part 3 of the “Going Vertical” experiment.  I didn’t explain the experiment in part 1 or part 2, so I thought this would be a good time to do so.

I find I get stuck in a rut.  Especially because I shoot the same scenes over and over again–if I don’t, I won’t shoot often and shooting often is my goal right now.  Instead of investing in a new toy for inspiration (since I need to save everything I can for that new camera), I am trying to give myself new assignments to see if I can shoot the same old things in a new way.

That’s what created the Going Vertical experiment.  It was a gorgeous day with interesting clouds doing interesting things and it seemed like the perfect day to try shooting landscape photos vertically.

It’s pretty fascinating what happens when you draw a box around your view and eliminate everything outside the box.  I think that’s what people mean when they talk about “the photographer’s eye”–the ability to imagine a scene through a box.  However, just like those optical illusion experiments where you stare at an image and then look away, but the image still appears because it’s fused in your brain, after looking through a horizontal frame so many times, I start to forget I can turn the frame any direction I want.

And the scene looks completely different tall and narrow than it would wide and short.

I frequently shoot on the vertical when I’m shooting long architectural structures like the bridges over the river.  But with my assignment limiting me to shooting only on the vertical, I find myself looking for interesting intersections of shapes and getting down on the ground a lot, trying to maximize the use of the sky.  In other words, I’m having a ball.

Twice, people stop and ask me what I see.  They clearly cannot fathom what I find fascinating enough to get down on the ground to capture.  To the second person, I smile and say, “the clouds–they’re always doing interesting things.”

Since the tradition for the last month has become to include at least one shot of Tisen in every post, I do another HDR experiment with Tisen lying out on the balcony in the full-day sun.  As nice as HDR should be for capturing both his black spots and his white spots in correct exposure, Tisen’s breathing introduces just enough movement that when the three images are combined, the focus looks soft.  He’s still cute, though.  🙂

Old Dog, New Tricks

Tisen is lying on the balcony in the sun, basking like he wants a tan.  Pat carries his bed out, trying to make him more comfortable.  Tisen gets up and comes in instead.

They seem to have taken a step backwards in their bonding today.  When Pat leaned in close while we were at the computer together, Tisen’s head suddenly appeared between us as he issued a growl.  He refused to eat the breakfast Pat prepared for him.  I mixed some pulled pork in it to get him to eat half of it.

He also bolted at bed time last night, not only refusing to get into his crate, but refusing to come into the bedroom.  He ran behind the couch and lay down, refusing to get up even for me.  We decided to let him sleep in the living room, but we left the door open in case he changed his mind.

He didn’t.  In the morning, he was curled up on the couch.  Perhaps I am going through more withdrawal than he is because I got up at 6:30AM and cuddled with him for a half an hour before going back to bed.

Then, Pat took him for his morning walk and made him breakfast.  And still he acts like Pat is not allowed to touch me!  Maybe I shouldn’t have cuddled with him on the couch.  I am having a hard time with kicking him out of the bed.  He acts strange and distant sometimes now.  He’s a stubborn boy who knows his own mind, that’s for sure.

He just woke from a dream again, jumping off the couch and running towards the open balcony door.  He stands at the door looking at his bed lying outside and seems confused.  He stands there for a good 30 seconds or so like he’s trying to get his bearings.  He looks around and then heads for the water bowl.  I’m certain he had no idea where he was.  I wonder if he is relieved when he realizes he’s with us?

After a long drink, he returns to his spot next to me, licks his paws and settles in for another nap.  I wonder if he will ever stop dreaming about whatever it is that makes him suddenly run away?

I can’t help but make a video when he starts snoring.  He cracks me up.

For today’s photography experiment, I decide to do landscape photography on the vertical.  I head down to Renaissance Park and see what new ways I can find to look at the things I see 4x a day.

I look for an interesting angle to shoot the wetlands overlook from.  I head off the beaten path and soon find myself crawling in the grass, trying to get a low angle.  Once again, I am attracting the stares of strangers.  I wish I would have gotten a little more water in the frame, but I have to get used to composing while lying on my belly.

Staying Grounded

Normally, I would be writing about our day on the hang gliding training hills on a Saturday.  However, it wasn’t worth getting up early only to find out we couldn’t fly given the wind predictions.  Tomorrow doesn’t look any more promising.  I think I hear my knees sighing with relief.

Instead, we are doing exciting things like pulling together our tax documents.  Sometimes being an adult is unavoidable.

I wish I could have enjoyed the laid back morning, but we were out of coffee.  When we’re out of coffee, I feel like I’m in a race–can I find a source of caffeine before I get a withdrawal headache?

Eventually, I gather up some bags and head towards the grocery store.  But I make a pitstop first.  It’s time for a new pair of fivefinger shoes.  I opt for a running style with a nice squishy sole that feels luxurious.  I decide I like them so well, I will wear them home and put the trekking pair I was wearing into the box.

I head on into Greenlife and pick up groceries.  Every time I go there, I think of our empty refrigerator back home and am reminded of my sister-in-law’s visit.  I pointed her to the fridge for filtered water and when she opened the door, she found a pitcher of filtered water and a 12-pack of beer.  That was it.  She laughed out loud.  I suppose it’s one of the ways we avoid adulthood.

Returning home, I am loaded with a bag on each shoulder and the bag with my old shoes in one hand.  I’m glad I only have to walk a block.  I return home to an excited dog that doesn’t know what to do with himself now that I’m home.  It’s as if he wants to punish me for going somewhere without him.  I help him find Lamb so he can have something in his mouth other than my hands.  Then, I pretend to play keep away by periodically acting like I’m going to chase him and saying all the right things.  In reality, I am putting away the groceries.

I think back to my intention of eating right all the time when we moved to Chattanooga.  Is it human nature to think that making one major change in your life will change all of it?  I must have forgotten the crux of the issue–I brought myself with me when we moved.

For today’s photography lesson, I decided to go outdoors.  I have a request for shots of our balcony, so I carry my tripod and camera across the street and start shooting.  I’m not sure what is so remarkable about a person with a tripod and camera, but I certainly attract a lot of stares.  Or maybe it’s my fivefingers shoes they’re staring at?

I am still torn on whether I like the HDR processed images as well as “traditional” processing.  It’s a lot of fun to play with, though.

Not 25

Today was a hang gliding day. I didn’t take the helmet cam this week. This is mainly because I got to the car without it and going back up 4 floors to get it when we were already running late was just too much for my “don’t go backwards” approach to life.

I hand my iPhone to Pat when we arrive in the hope that he might take a useful video from the Kubota, but he was too busy driving to do any filming. I did take one still shot from the hill of the gliders lined up on the small hill in the distance.

I have a really good day flying. My first flight is just plain fun. Even though I flared too late and didn’t land on my feet, it felt good to be in the air. It’s flights like these that make me think maybe I really do want to fly off the mountain–after all, wouldn’t it be nice to have 8 minutes in the air instead of 8-12 seconds?

All the landings on the training hills–all 150+ of them–have taken their toll. My knees and hips feel like they’ve aged 20 years. While I joke about getting old, I’ve usually had a hard time remembering I’m not 25 anymore. My knees and hips scream “YOU’RE NOT 25!” at me every time I stand now. I’m sure walking dogs in heels all winter hasn’t helped. I’ve started wearing my fivefingers shoes again now that it’s warming up. It’s helping, but it does look pretty silly.

I wish it was warm enough to wear them on the training hills today, but it was only in the 20’s when we first arrived. Fortunately, it warmed up quickly. After getting in about about 10 fantastic flights, 8 of which I totally stick the landing, it’s time to head up top.

The wind isn’t acceptable for a novice rated pilot, so I am relieved I don’t have to decide if I’m really ready to launch from the mountain. Instead, we do some paper work–I am now an officially rated pilot with a membership in the USHPA and Pat and I are official members of the Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Since it doesn’t look like the weather is going to be good enough for a tandem training flight either, I cancel my tandem flight and we head to the Longhorn (not to be confused with the chain steakhouse) to gorge on eggs and bacon.

Apparently Tisen is not the dog-years equivalent of 25 anymore either–his walk mimics mine after running free all morning.

At sunset, I continue my HDR experiments with some high-contrast photos. This time, I find the info button so I can make sure I get the exposures I need to maximize the effectiveness of this technique. I figure this will be a better test.

In the end, I still like the lighting effects achieved this way in the black and white shot, but generally prefer the manually adjusted photos over the multi-exposure combined images. Which do you like?