Night Moves


Friday evening I was running late. I needed to finish photographing some guitars for Coop Guitars before I could head out the door. Isn’t that great? “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late. I had to finish up some shooting before I could call it quits tonight.” (I wonder if someone who’s been a full-time pro photographer for a couple of decades would find it amusing to have this as an excuse for tardiness: “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late, I had to finish up a conference call.”)

Even better, what I was running late for was another shoot! A group of adults got together on the riverfront to play with their very expensive toys–or, as I like to think of them, our boxes of crayons.

We met at 7:45 and shot through sunset and twilight and then really went nuts after dark.

Do you remember summer nights when you were a kid when all the neighborhood kids would get together and play hide-and-seek when it finally got dark? We would swear we’d only been playing for a few minutes when parents would suddenly appear out of the dark saying things like “Where have you been that you couldn’t hear me calling you for the past 10 minutes?”

Friday night, no parents showed up to tell us it was getting late. By the time people started realizing they needed to leave, it was after 10PM. Several of us shot on. “Just one more shot” we said to our internal parents reminding us we had other responsibilities.

We swapped tips on getting night time effects. We threw around words like “high-speed sync,” “hyper-focal distance,” “aberrations,” and “stopping down” and we understood each other. We zoomed our lenses at bright bridge lights during long exposures and giggled at the results. We got out flashlights and created ghosts and swirls just for the fun of it.

Suddenly, without warning, it was 11:30PM. I realized I was cold, I’d had no dinner, I’d had nothing to drink for at least 5 hours, and I’d told my husband I’d get home before 11PM. Yet, I still had to convince myself that those were strong enough reasons to pack it up for the night–there were so many more ideas I wanted to try!

Oh, there was also the fact that I needed to get up at 6AM the next morning to teach a workshop.

But feeling that creative spark and losing myself to it for a few hours was a great reminder of what I love best about photography–and life. Getting out and shooting with a bunch of people had the added benefits of both learning from each other and getting to socialize with people with a similar vocabulary.

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Tail Wag

The other night,  I sat at my desk trying to wrap up a few last things.  My dog decided I had already been working too long.  He came over, tail wagging, playfully bouncing, and stuck his nose under my mouse hand, knocking it away from the mouse.  When I turned toward him, he jumped up to put his front paws in my lap and started licking my face and pushing at me with his head, clearly trying to motivate me to get out of my chair.

When I stood up, he started racing around in circles, tail going so fast I thought it might fall off. I couldn’t help but smile as we began our evening routine.

Even though I don’t leave for work physically, I leave mentally.  My dog has tuned into my work day and mostly just naps near by during the hours he’s come to expect me to be working.  But when he needs to go out or is just tired of being ignored, he won’t take no for an answer.  He’s become my alarm dog, telling me when it’s time to take a break if not put work away for the night.

I am reminded of something a friend said to me once about how people should greet each other the way dogs greet their people.  That if we would dance around with wagging tails when we were reunited with friends, we would probably all be happier.  It occurs to me that if we were all as willing to express our feelings and our needs so unambiguously, we’d probably all be a lot happier, too.

I rarely know what I need.  Even really basic stuff like needing to use the restroom.  I will be in the midst of my day hopping from one conference call to the next and have a vague notion that perhaps I should take care of one of life’s most basic and unavoidable needs and then forget until, hours later, comes a sudden moment of urgency that cannot be denied or postponed.

Not knowing what I need makes it nearly impossible to ask for it.  I am surprised and delighted every time my husband magically appears to deposit lunch in front of me.  Realizing I forget to notice when I’m hungry, my husband makes sure I have something to eat without me having to stick my nose under his mouse hand.  I think it’s the most romantic gesture there is, except maybe when he does laundry.

But since he often shows up with lunch in the middle of my work day while I’m in the middle of doing work, I don’t jump up and run around in circles wagging my tail.  He’s lucky if I make eye contact with him and smile before he returns to his own busy day.  Perhaps I will give that a try on Monday.  Note to self: jump up, wag tail, run around in circles excitedly when Pat brings me lunch.

A Missing Dog (or, Gratitude, Part II)

I feel bad that I only made it through 3 things I am grateful for in last week’s post.  Last Monday night, I found myself thinking about this while I was sitting in a running mini-van with the brights on, pointed down railroad tracks.

I watched my husband disappear from sight with my window cracked in spite of the cold, listening in case he was attacked.  He headed beyond the reach of the headlights to an abandoned homeless camp in search of an abandoned dog.

A homeless couple we often see in the park had recently disappeared.  Supposedly, the man was arrested and the woman found a job and is living in a motel.  Rumor has it they left their dog behind.

With temperatures dropping into the low 20’s and arctic winds making it feel like the teens, my husband was determined to rescue this dog.  It was his second of 3 trips down the railroad tracks–so far, no sign of the dog.

How can I not feel gratitude for having the kind of man in my life who is both brave enough and compassionate enough to wander into potential danger to save the life of a dog?

I should mention that this couple has always seemed both lucid and happy.  We are under the impression they have chosen a homeless life for their own reasons and that they are capable of choosing a different course.  The dog, however, has no choice.

And so, I sat in the van on that cold night poignantly aware that I have much to be thankful for:  a reliable vehicle kicking out hot air; my own cuddly dog, healthy and happy beside me; a husband both strong and gentle; a hot meal to return home to; a comfortable bed to sleep in; hot running water; the list goes on and on.

But in the end, it’s the people who have been part of my life and/or who are part of my life now that I am the most grateful for (and yes, I include animals when I say “people”).  While mountains, clouds, and oceans provide much needed respite from time to time, it’s the people that keep me going day in and day out.

From passing acquaintances that make me laugh in the middle of a tense moment to friends who know me well enough to ask the most pertinent questions that allow me to see a situation in a new way, I don’t know what life would be without all of them.  Even the strangers who fail to acknowledge my “hello” remind me that I have been there, making me feel connected to them in an odd sort of way.

The people who ultimately made all of this gratitude possible are, of course, my parents.  I am grateful they were flawed human beings who made remarkable parents.  Of course, I didn’t think they were remarkable when I was growing up.  I’m also grateful that perspective changes.  🙂

Fire over Water

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

If every fireworks display were the likes of the Riverbend Fireworks, I think there wouldn’t be a shortage of explosives worldwide.  That could be a good thing–fireworks are probably among the more peaceful things we do with explosives.  Although I suppose there are a lot of people who would disagree that that’s the best use of explosives–a few of my friends are extremely grateful for the explosives used in their airbags, for example.

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Regardless, fireworks always feel nostalgic to me.  I don’t know why–fireworks displays are so much more sophisticated and reliable than they ever were when I was a kid.  I think I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old when I started anticipating the success or failure of the 4th of July Fireworks based on the weather.  Rain the week before the big display was a disaster.  Perhaps “the fireworks got wet” was really just a euphemism adults used to explain away all the “duds” that would fail to go off with little more than a “ffftttzzz” and maybe a spark.  But the children in my neighborhood grew up terrifies of rain right before fireworks because we were sure there would be lots of duds.

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I remember fireworks taking an hour or more from start to finish.  I remember being blown away by the finale when a dozen or more fireworks blossomed in the sky simultaneously.  I remember the show leading up to the finale consisting pretty much of one, maybe two, fireworks going off at the same time or in close sequence.  I remember lots of time between fireworks when the sky was simply empty.  I remember the first time I ever saw a fireworks display that had been timed and choreographed with music.  It was in the 1980’s.  They played Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as part of the montage.  I can’t remember being to a fireworks display set to music without hearing Lee ever since.  In fact, I heard it again tonight.  That guy must make millions just on fireworks background music.

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Things I don’t remember from the suburban fireworks display my family attended every 4th of July, sharing a blanket in the grass of a local park, include adult men without shirts on, extraordinary traffic jams, closed roads, cops with lights flashing everywhere, people packed like sardines into all available open spaces and fighting over the high spots.

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Of course, the suburb that sponsored the fireworks from my childhood has all of 10,000 people living in it.  While Chattanooga may not be a big city, it’s nearly 20 times the size of that.  So I guess it’s unfair to compare the sweet innocence of the suburb I grew up in  to the issues that arise when you take a very large number of people and put them in a very small space.

The fireworks have been over for at least 45 minute now.  But sirens keep going by outside.  Hopefully it will settle down soon.

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Fairyland

The entrance to Fairyland

The entrance to Fairyland

I have now been to Rock City many times between going up to photograph the birds of prey show, photographing the release of a rehabilitated Peregrine Falcon, taking visiting friends up, shooting the Christmas lights for a local paper, and now volunteering for the Rock City Raptors show.

Usually I spend my time at the Rock City Raptors amphitheater, although I manage to make it to the cliff that has an amazing view.  Supposedly you can see 7 states from the overlook if you use a scope and it’s a clear day.

A cave completely lined in colored corals

A cave completely lined in colored corals

But underneath Rock City, there is a whole ‘nother world for which it is really famous.  The property is lined with caverns and crevices that provide for “fat man’s squeeze” and a variety of other interesting places to explore.  I, however, have never made it through that part of Rock City.  This is because when I’ve had the chance, we’ve either had accessibility limitations with a stroller or we had Tisen with us and I volunteered to stay behind with him so he wouldn’t get upset when he saw me walking away without him.  This summer, I’m going to find a little time to check out what I’ve been missing.  I’m determined.

Hansel and Gretel make an appearance

Hansel and Gretel make an appearance

In that spirit, when John and Dale asked me if I’d seen Fairyland before, I took the opportunity to see a part of Rock City I’d not only never seen, but never even heard of.  John and Dale took me to Fairyland via a shortcut, so I’m not sure I’d be able to find it again, but the entrance to Fairyland was pretty impressive.  They lined a naturally occurring crevice with stone and added on to the entrance to a tunnel to make a rather interesting, if not natural, entryway.

Rip Van Winkle just woke up

Rip Van Winkle just woke up

There is apparently a long tradition of gnomes at Rock City.  They show up as a decorating theme all over the park.  I suppose I should not have been surprised that gnomes would also have a big presence in a place called Fairyland.  It’s just, well, I find gnomes surprising in general.

Little Red Riding Hood is in trouble

Little Red Riding Hood is in trouble

While I am generally more into exploring caverns that still look like they did the day they were first discovered, I have to admit I was amazed by the amount of effort that went into creating the series of scenes in Fairyland.  As we passed down a dark passage, inside cavern after cavern was a recreation of a scene from the fairytales that were so popular in my childhood (and my mother’s and probably my grandmother’s if not may great-grandmother’s).  The figurines and sets were painted in glow-in-the-dark paint and the lighting was black lights.  It made for an intense burst of color in the middle of the pitch black of the cave.

Mother Goose Village rises up out of the dark

Mother Goose Village rises up out of the dark

One giant room was called Mother Goose Village and had a full assortment of characters from Mother Goose herself to Humpty Dumpty.  The whole Fairyland experience was more fun than I expected–and definitely unique.

 

A gnome carnival is in full motion

A gnome carnival is in full motion

Night Time Renaissance

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky--but too much wind

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky–but too much wind

Sometimes at night the clouds lay low over the city and reflect back the light from the street lights below, luminous against the twilight blue sky.  Usually, the phenomena of having low-lying clouds with a clear sky above is accompanied by wind.

If there is no wind, the clouds don’t break up.  They lie like a blanket, impenetrable, creating only a haze of light that just isn’t as interesting as on windy nights.  On this particular night, not only was the wind blowing hard with the clouds breaking up nicely, but the moon was bobbing and weaving amongst the blowing clouds.

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required--a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen's own form of art

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required–a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen’s own form of art

Who could resist trying to get a photo of that?  Of course, Tisen also needed to go out, so being the multi-tasker that I am, I hung my DSLR around my neck and put Tisen’s collar around his.

While I always take my iPhone with me when I wander around Renaissance park, I had no intention of using it tonight.  The iPhone is a light hog, like all digital cameras with tiny sensors.  Getting a night time image with an iPhone isn’t something I’ve figured out how to do and this wasn’t going to be the night I tried again.

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

I’m glad I didn’t bother trying with the iPhone.  With my DSLR set on ISO 10,000, I was still shooting at shutter speeds over 3 seconds long.  This is because I was being greedy.  I wanted lots of depth of field, which meant sacrificing light to get it.

This may not have been the best decision.  Armed with my camera and with my tripod tucked neatly in the closet back at home, I was buffeted about in the wind like a human sail.  I tried leaning against a light pole and discovered the light pole was also blowing in the wind.  We swayed together as I contemplated the hopelessness of getting a good shot in these conditions.

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

I remembered some of the lessons I learned about wind from hang gliding.  First and foremost, it cycles.  If you stand still and pay attention, you’ll feel it start to ease up until it will suddenly drop and be still.  Sometimes this lasts only a split second.  Sometimes it lasts several seconds.  I needed 3 second windows of calm to get any sharp photos.

To make matters more difficult, the wind tossing the clouds was blowing at a much steadier pace, keeping the clouds blowing across my frame during the exposure.  Even the plants in the foreground weren’t settling down when the breeze would briefly die.  Everything was in motion.  There were to be no sharp shots that night.

This is my favorite--the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

This is my favorite–the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

Tisen was happy to return to the indoors–the wind was cold and Tisen’s leg is sore.  He has created yet another hot spot because of his allergies.  We are treating it topically for the time being in the hope of avoiding more steroids.  The pink self-sticking tape was hard to resist–he looks so cute in pink.

Tisen spent most of the day napping--he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

Tisen spent most of the day napping–he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

 

Finding a View

There is a beam of light above the aquarium that didn't quite come out the way I wanted

There is a beam of light above the aquarium that didn’t quite come out the way I wanted

Since moving, I have been longing for a view of the riverfront.  Since this is achievable, I decided to take a few minutes away from Tisen (who has been a very clingy dog since Twiggy went home) to walk to the end of the hall where there is a common room with a balcony that overlooks the river and downtown.

The lighted tree reflects merrily on the water

The lighted tree reflects merrily on the water

I still missed sunset because I worked too late, but it’s possible the sun didn’t actually set today anyway–or, if it did, no one saw it.  Our weather has been shockingly like Seattle of late.  I fear my ties to Columbus, Ohio have somehow drug the weather down to Chattanooga.  The sun rises, but no one can tell if it’s risen or not.  The sun sets and no one notices much change in light.  We are on about our 4th straight day of such weather.  What is it about overcast skies and drizzling rain that becomes so depressing so quickly?

In spite of the dreary weather, the riverfront always looks cheerful

In spite of the dreary weather, the riverfront always looks cheerful

On the plus side, it’s warm.  It feels like a late spring day when summer is just around the corner.  The birds were singing so loudly this morning, they startled Tisen.  They are not the only ones confused–the shrubs are showing signs of recent new growth as if they suddenly burst into a mid-January growth spurt.

But in spite of the cheerful birds and warm mist, I am still hoping for the sun.  As a substitute, I did my best to shoot the mist.  It turns out it’s harder to get mist to show up in night time photos than I expected.

The Bluecross building bounced light into the fog on top of the hill above 27

The Bluecross building bounced light into the fog on top of the hill above 27

Long exposure times seem to make it disappear as it swirls in the wind, moving too much to leave an impression.  Short exposures make it too dark, blending in with the river, a pool of blackness except where it reflects light.  I finally went for high ISO settings to get more exposure out of shorter shutter speeds.

I like the fog at night.  It captures the city lights and reflects them back down in  night-time version of the sunset I missed.  While the colors and contrast in the sky may not be quite so obvious, I still enjoyed the view.

Fog rose off the river and swirled around the Southern Belle.  As I waited, the fog increased.  I might have waited longer to see what happened, but a group of German men gathered to play cards and I felt like I might be intruding.  That’s the problem with a common area.

At the start of my little shoot, there was a hint of fog around the Southern Belle

At the start of my little shoot, there was a hint of fog around the Southern Belle

By the time I stopped shooting, the fog was getting thicker

By the time I stopped shooting, the fog was getting thicker

 

Besides, I’d left Tisen at home alone and I knew he was waiting patiently by the door for my return.  I’ve started putting a sleeping mat by the door when I leave.  Otherwise, he lays on the floor and I’m sure it’s hard on his elbows.  He seems to always pick the position he believes is the closest to wherever I am.  I am alternately honored and worried–time to take him to doggy daycare.

 

The fog reflects light creating an interesting effect over route 27

The fog reflects light creating an interesting effect over route 27