Is it Sunday?

I am suffering from an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if it has a name. It’s the inability to keep track of the days of the week. This has led to a second phenomenon: posting my Sunday blog posts late.

Seeking to get myself back on a slightly more planned schedule, I spent some time contemplating why keeping track of the days seems so difficult. Let’s review . . .

Until 3 months ago, I was working long weeks for a large corporation. Monday-Friday, my alarm went off, I picked up my iPhone and checked my email and calendar. I answered any urgent emails from parts of the world that would be leaving work soon and then checked my calendar again to see 1) what time I needed to be ready for my first conference call, and 2) if I had any open time during the day to get anything done or if there were any conference calls I could skip to make time. Then I got ready to start my day.

Saturday and Sunday were days I didn’t set my alarm, didn’t have any conference calls (usually), and could catch up a bit on work I didn’t have time to do during the week as well as fit in some fun time.

That has a pretty definitive rhythm. It forces you to know what day of the week it is because you’re always working against deadlines and constantly looking at your calendar trying to find time to work and/or meet with people.

In comparison, I have not been setting my alarm most days unless I really think I’m going to oversleep. Generally, I wake up an hour earlier than I would set my alarm for anyway, so it hasn’t been an issue.

I have started trying to use my calendar because I do have appointments from time to time–or at least social engagements. But rather than actually looking at my calendar and figuring out what my day looks like, I am ignoring my calendar until a notification pops up reminding me that I have to do something. This does not require knowing what day it is.

There is little motivation to actually know what day it is. First, the only time it’s inconvenient is if you, for example, go to a store on a Sunday that isn’t open on Sundays. This hasn’t happened to me yet. Second, it’s depressing to realize x more days have gone by and you still haven’t gotten the things done you meant to get done, so why remind yourself by constantly knowing what day of the week it is? Finally, knowing what day of the week it is would mean having no excuse for the appointments I have missed when I didn’t get them added to my calendar.

Not knowing what day it is has not deterred my photography any, either. In fact, it may contribute to me shooting more because I am more apt to lose track of time altogether.

Bearing Witness

I imagine I look odd walking through the park with my dog, me carrying whatever toy he’s dropped, my camera, a loupe, and a pair of binoculars.  Probably even odder when I suddenly and without warning drop the leash, step on it, pull up my camera and line a bird in my sights all while talking to the dog, encouraging him to stand still while I attempt to capture a bird that is probably backlit, behind layers of leaves, and likely perched on a tree limb blowing in the wind.

I asked myself the other day why I do this.  I mean, what is it about photography I find so appealing that it’s now been a consistent pursuit for enough years I’d rather not add them up?

I think it comes down to this: photography is a recreation of life. There is in any given image a combination of fact and fiction. A bird, for example, looks the way it looks in a final image based on an endless combination of variables. Some of them I control.  Many of them I don’t.  In the end, any image represents one interpretation of a single moment and the odds of getting an identical image ever again are minuscule–just like the rest of life.

In this act of controlling what can be controlled and dealing with what cannot, there are lessons photography offers.  For example, you can see the same thing a multitude of ways and they are all correct.  And then there’s the expansiveness that results from constraints:  you see more looking through the blinders of a camera frame–it’s as if restricting your view causes better vision.

There’s also the inherent paradox of time.  You capture a moment by being completely in the present with a vision of a future image.  But by transforming that moment into an image, creating that vision of the future, you’ve brought with you a moment from the past. It is the only actual form of time travel that I’m aware of.

Most importantly, when I shoot, I am listening, looking, feeling, tasting, and smelling with the concentration of a hound dog in the hope of gaining a clue about where my next subject will unfold. Thoughts about the past and future get pushed aside, making space for the possibility contained in the present.

Ultimately, photography is an act of gratitude.  Gratitude for having borne witness to something remarkable–whether it’s a weed being struck by the sun, a puffy cloud that happened to show up just when I was looking, or the sudden appearance of a rare bird.  The desire to capture each of those moments requires appreciation of them as subjects worthy of attention.

In this way, photography gives gifts.  It hands me moments I would not have noticed had I never picked up a camera. Never mind the endless struggles and failures at getting exactly what I envision.  Just having been there, fully there, to witness those moments is enough.

Being Busy

Every time I believe I have reached the absolute peak of busyness, that if I have one more thing to do I will simply collapse, I get busier.  I remember when I thought I was incredibly busy 20 years ago.  I had a job that required me to work a lot of extra hours maybe one week every other month.  What was a long day then is just a normal day now.

I played softball in the summer, volleyball in the winter, and even tried the corporate bowling league one season.  I had the highest handicap ever achieved by any participant–at our first match, my highest score (out of 300 possible) was 37.  My handicap was largely responsible for my partner and I taking the league championship that year–I decided to retire from bowling after that.

I went on ski trips, played cards once a week, socialized regularly with friends.  I guess I was busy, but I spent a larger percentage of each day doing things that were just for fun.

These days, the constant incoming stream of information, multiple mailboxes continually filling, Google beckoning whenever I don’t know the answer to a question, Facebook friends posting interesting articles and stories keeps all of us jumping from one subject to the next nearly continuously.  Newsletters, informative articles, and don’t even get me started on YouTube.  It’s not a tube; it’s a black hole–no one really knows if or where you come out if you dare to enter.

Almost every person I know describes themselves as having ADD.  I’m not clear on the medical diagnosis of ADD, but I’m reasonably certain that it’s statistically improbable that every person I know (mostly adults) actually has ADD.

Yet, that doesn’t stop me from wondering about myself.  I walked into the kitchen 3x the other day, forgetting what I needed as soon as my foot crossed the threshold. I never did figure out why I thought I need something from there.  Is being so distracted all the time combined with the overwhelming amount of information streaming through our lives that makes us so scatterbrained?

And what about those moments when you sit down to do something that you really ought to spend time concentrating on only to have your brain start pinging you, wanting to know when the next interruption is coming?  I have to believe that our brains are becoming more and more trained to look for any distraction to avoid concentration and deep thought.

And is that what ultimately leads us to jam pack our calendars for every minute of every day?  Our secret desire to constantly hop to something new?

I don’t know.  All I know is that if I don’t shutdown now, I will be writing in my sleep.

Brain Fog

Ah, Saturday.  A day to get things done that I want to do instead of things I have to do.  But there seems to have been a problem with that plan.

It all started when I made the mistake of logging on to my work computer.  I did this for the purpose of changing my password because it was about to expire and I didn’t want to be locked out.  The problem started in that I had to open my inbox.  One should never open one’s inbox when one only wants to work for 5 minutes.  2 ½ hours later, I realized I was still in my PJs, my dog hadn’t been out yet, and most of the morning was gone.

After taking care of Tisen, I spent some time trying to get my head around my latest volunteer gig–I’m now the photo contest chair for the local photography club.  I had no idea how complicated it is to organize a photography contest.  The good news is that it’s fun and I’m getting to know more people.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but another couple of hours disappeared between testing FileZilla and realizing it was time to take the dog out again.  I decided I was not going to appear for a second time in the park in my PJs and headed for the shower.

. . . .

At the end of our walk, Tisen and I passed a chattering Belted Kingfisher hunting for fish over the wetland.

Now, I know it’s a long shot, but I figured something had to go right today, so maybe it would be getting a shot of the kingfisher?  My trusty iPhone is worthless when it comes to bird photography.  I rushed the last 100 yards of Tisen’s walk to get home and get my DSLR.  5 minutes later, the elevator reached the ground floor at the exact moment I realized the battery in my camera was dead.

Back up.  Back down.  Low and behold!  The kingfisher was still hunting over the wetland!  I crept down the long slope to the water, not looking at the bird.  Carefully, I raised my camera to focus on the bird.  The moment my lens pointed his way, he went chattering off to another section of the wetland, on the far side of a barrier that blocked my view of him.

I tried to move to the other side of the barrier, but as I was climbing over the rock wall, he reappeared, fish in his mouth, and flew off to enjoy his meal where he was never to be seen again.

This is when I discovered it is possible to do landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens and no tripod.  It’s kind of funny, really.  I think I started out doing landscape photography with the “wrong” lens and no tripod.  Today, it felt like a brand new epiphany.  As I searched for a subject, I discovered fog rising off the river.  Now that was fun.

Knowledge and Knowing

I am living and breathing photography and raptors in the most surreal way this week.  In the moments I haven’t been doing my day job, I have been preparing for a workshop I’m giving on Sunday to raise money for an organization I volunteer for.  We’re calling it:  Raptography, a Personal Encounter with Birds of Prey and Photography Workshop.

My partner in this workshop, Dale, the bird expert extraordinaire from Wings to Soar, came up with the name as a joke, but I really liked it.  It sums up the workshop well–assuming you know that the family name for birds of prey is Raptors.

Preparing for a workshop involves taking my material, running through it, reorganizing it, supplementing it, researching participants’ cameras to figure out what features and settings will apply for them, and practicing what I want to say to see if I can actually get it all in in the allotted time.

While this is all fun for me, the surreal aspect comes in that I am preparing to teach by reading, writing, creating charts, and finding example images to use.  One would think the way to prepare for teaching photography and bird handling would be to do photography and bird handling.

This leads me to think about the balance of learning something in your head and knowing it in your body.  For example, if you asked me to show you which button I use to focus, I’d have to hold my camera up and start focusing, then look at which button my thumb is pressing (I use a different button to focus from the shutter button) to tell you.  I know this in my body, but I’ve forgotten it in my head because once I knew it in my thumb, I no longer needed to be able to recall that information verbally.

However, in order to teach someone else how to use that same button for focus, I suddenly have to be able to verbalize what my thumb has learned to do instinctively.  The process of breaking down what you know in your body into an organizational structure that can be verbalized and explained to others is fascinating to me.  For one, it forces me to actually know what choices I make and then articulate why I’m making them.  In the process, I’ve discovered some things I wanted to do differently from what I was actually doing.

I have often pondered the old insult, “those who can’t do teach.”  I have wondered if perhaps this is a truer version:  “those who are spending their time figuring out what they are doing to the extent that they can explain it to someone else are spending less time actually doing it.”

In spending less time doing something, the end result is having less knowing-in -your-body and more knowledge in your head compared to someone who just does it.  The question is:  how much of each do you need to be really good at what you do?

Fear of Fear

*Photos from 2012 Acres of Darkness

I have spent the past two evenings hiding in the woods trying to get pictures of terrified people in complete darkness.  Darkness is a funny thing.  We talk about it like it’s a bad thing.  Analogies about being in darkness and being brought into the light start with the notion that we hide in darkness and we are seen in the light.  After all, there is nothing inherently bad in darkness–it just makes it harder to see.

But why is darkness required to make something scary in the first place?  If we had the night-vision of owls or the sonar of bats, would we find the dark so frightening?  Is it only because darkness provides a “cover” for what frightens us by tucking it away where our human eyes can’t penetrate that we’re so startled when someone jumps out from behind a tree and says “boo!”?

Recently, I walked through the living room while thinking about something intently.  I passed my husband, who claims I looked right at him.  I went into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of water and then turned around to discover him standing behind me.  I screamed and threw up my hands, throwing water all over the kitchen.

I believe this incident proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that darkness is not a requirement for fear.  Rather, our history as a species dependent on detecting threats and potential meals largely based on the detection of movement causes us to be largely rational people who suddenly jump out of their skin if they failed to detect there was something present that might move.

Interestingly, expecting someone to jump out at you can actually serve to make it more scary when they oblige.  I frequently startle during movies and TV shows when suspense is climbing and then the bad guy suddenly jumps out at the hero(ine).  This startles me so much that my husband has taken the tactic of forewarning me.

Warning me seems to have quite the opposite effect.  The expectation that someone is about to jump out only increases the feeling of suspense and anxiety, making me jump even higher than I would have with no warning.

What is that mechanism?  At the haunt I’ve been volunteering at, we had two young girls who went through our haunted trail with a young man who was apparently one of the girl’s boyfriend.  He was walking ahead of the girls asking the actors not to scare her because she was really upset.  We found out later she’s actually got sick earlier on the trail because she was scared so badly.

I found myself puzzled as to what is the difference between a girl who gets physically ill from the fear of a staged scene in the woods while another person of the same age and experience may walk the same trail laughing at all our attempts to scare her/him.

Like so many things, fear is, in fact, all in our minds.

Two Years of Blogging

I started the quest to develop a habit of writing 2 years ago.  I chose to try blogging because I thought it would create a sense of commitment by publicly stating I was going to post every day.  It did.  This is my 731st consecutive daily post.  I’ve written about 435,000 words–about 1740 pages–and posted 4921 images in the midst of life changes, long work days, illness, injuries, business travel, personal commitments, and the general chaos of life.

There’s something to be said for that.  I didn’t prove I’m a great writer, but I did prove I am a prolific one.  🙂  I once read Stephen King’s autobiographical book called “On Writing.”  (Great read if you have any interest in writers or writing.)  As I recall, he writes 8 pages a day, every day.  Of course, he probably writes 8 good pages a day as opposed to random dribble.  But that’s not the point.

The point is that something as large as a book is in reach if you can take it on one small piece at a time.  If you can find the one step that you can take today and take the next step the next day and the next and the next, you will find you can walk across a continent.  It may not be the fastest way, but it’s a heck of a lot faster than never taking any steps at all.

This is not a revelation.  I’m sure we all intuitively know this is true.  But the physical body of work that I have accumulated over the past two years makes the message seems far more tangible to me than it ever has before.  I did this.  I created a habit and realized just how much I can do by setting aside a sustainable amount of time to do one small thing.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as “I don’t have time.”  We have time, but we spend it elsewhere.  Without making conscious choices and commitments to how we will spend one of life’s most limited resources, the time gets spent anyway–just not necessarily on the things we would like to spend it on.

However, choices do have to be made.  Will I sleep or will I write my blog while I’m half awake?  Will I go to the gym, or will I sleep in an extra hour because I stayed up writing my blog?  Now that I have a second blog, snapgreatphotos.com, I am finding that I need to make room for the time that new commitment takes.

I’m not quite ready to give up this blog–I love that it keeps me motivated to both write and shoot on a regular basis.  But, I need to downsize my time commitment.  For that reason, I am going to a once-a-week post schedule as of today.

My new goal will be to improve the quality of my posts while keeping to a once a week schedule.  See you next Sunday!

Fire Tower

Inside the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, along side the gravel road that leads to Snoopers Rock, there is a Ranger Station.  Like many ranger stations, it looks like someone’s home.  Unlike any other ranger station I’ve seen, in the grass-covered yard outside the house sits a tower.

The tower stretches impossibly high for it’s width.  Just looking up at the top from the ground makes me dizzy with the probability that it will topple over in a strong wind.  I am not the only one who thinks so–the national forestry service, or some such official organization, saw fit to tie the tower off to a post on one side, presumably to prevent such toppling.  It’s left to the viewer’s imagination as to why the wind blows from only one direction at least in the minds of the people who added this safety precaution.

There is a sign at the bottom of the tower.  It tells visitors that they may climb to the top of the tower at their own risk.  The first time we stopped to see this tower, I thought I might be brave enough to scale the steep and narrow wooden steps that lead some 70 feet straight into the air.  I was wrong.

Like a giant mouse trap baited with the promise of a spectacular view, the tower felt poised to spring the moment I set foot on the first step. The steps creaked and groaned their surprise at being asked to bear my weight. There was nothing about their rotted appearance that promised they would be strong enough.

I crept up one flight, and then two.  As I got higher, the structure seemed to sway more.  When the wind picked up momentarily, I felt like I was high on a tree branch swaying on a branch.  I have more faith in a tree supporting me than the tower.  By the time I made it up the third flight of steps, I was paralyzed with fear.  The vision of the entire tower imploding with me deep in its belly was too much for me.  I turned and made the even more frightening descent, learning how truly steep the steps are as I reached one foot downward in space, finding the faith that another step would be there as I shifted my weight past the point of no return and gratefully landed on solid wood.

This trip.  I did not attempt to climb more than half of the first flight of steps.  I went up just far enough to sit down on the steps, my back to them, and lay back so I could take some shots of the belly of the beast.  Even then, I could feel the entire tower swaying in the wind.

Busy Bee

The bee escapes Tisen and lands on a flower

The bee escapes Tisen and lands on a flower

A word of advice:  trying to get a good macro shot of a flying bee is best accomplished without a dog on a leash attached to your wrist.  Tisen is not always the best photographer’s dog.  Particularly not when it comes to bees.  He is not fond of bees.

At least he didn’t eat my subject.

I sometimes wonder if I have an unconscious desire to make achieving the image I have in my head as difficult as possible if not impossible.  After all, you really cannot expect to get a good shot of a bee on a flower with a macro lens while you’re standing in the park with a dog trying to chase said bee.

I have a tendency to disguise creating obstacles as efficiency–I was both getting some shooting in and walking my dog at the same time.  Realistically, my dog didn’t enjoy his walk half as much and I didn’t come close to getting the images I wanted.

Once out of Tisen's reach, he flitted from blossom to blossom

Once out of Tisen’s reach, he flitted from blossom to blossom

It may have even taken more total time because I was constantly getting tangled in the leash and having to convince my dog to stop for a while in the midst of biting flies and mosquitos.  Perhaps I need to re-think my approach to time saving.

On that note, in case you noticed my blog posts have gotten a lot shorter the past few days, it is because I have started a second blog that has a simple photography lesson each day for want-to-be photographers who are using iPhones (or other simple cameras) and who don’t want to know any of the technical details.  Check it out at snapgreatphotos.com if that’s you.

It’s a fun challenge to work out lessons that aren’t technical at all. But, since I only have a small amount of time in the evenings to work on blog posts, I’m finding it’s tough to keep up on both, especially since I’m getting used to the second one.

For my friends who read my blog during breakfast, it should be a lot easier to get to the end of my posts before you finish your cereal now!  🙂

By the way, for my readers who are Tisen fans, Tisen is my main model for my other blog, so you can get your fill of photos of him there.  But, since he is my favorite model, here’s an iPhone image just for you:

Tisen modeling for me on a breezier day with fewer bugs

Tisen modeling for me on a breezier day with fewer bugs

 

Post Post-Processing Blues

Custom guitar from a very special tree

Custom guitar from a very special tree

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was working on a project that got me doing a more intentional shoot on Sunday.  I have now completed post-processing of those images.  I am going through the general post-post-processing blues of not being that happy with the resulting images.

The post-post-processing blues actually start at the beginning of a project.  It’s that initial excitement that gets the creative juices flowing followed by flashes of images in your mind of the things you want to try to capture.  The promise of creating something really cool gets the blood pumping a little faster.

Guitar bodies in the rough

Guitar bodies in the rough

Then, there’s the preparation for the shoot.  Thinking through the shots you want, the lenses you’ll need, making sure you have backup batteries in your bag, and deciding whether a portable light stand is in order.  It reminds me of the excitement I had as a child when I would start pulling out toys I wanted to play with and imagined whatever it was I was going to do with them.

Next comes the actual shoot.  The place where your imagination meets reality.  This is when I realized I should have brought a step ladder and I needed a big sheet or something to cover up some of the distracting background clutter and create some better contrast than the cream-colored walls.

Maneuvering around obstacles, finding angles where backgrounds are cleaner, running into physical obstructions and lighting challenges start out as fun exercises, but as the clock ticks and the sunsets, the pressure to complete quickly builds and the challenges turn into annoyances.

Necks waiting for the final fitting

Necks waiting for the final fitting

In the end, I have to call it quits because of time, not because I’m done.  I didn’t get to work on any of the macro images I had in mind.  I didn’t get to shoot the building lobby or down the hall.  A million imagined images begin to dissolve, fading from possibility to forgotten.

Relief that the job is done replaces any remnant of excitement.  If I were a tired child playing with a favorite toy, I would probably toss it across the room at this point.  But, these are not the kinds of toys that would survive a toss and I am an adult.

I downloaded the images, but didn’t look at them until the next day.  I was left with the feeling of holding my breath in the hope that some post-processing would make me happier with them.  When I finally did the post-processing, I can’t say I was any more satisfied that I had been the day before.

Part of me wants to go back and reshoot.  That part of me doesn’t need sleep and doesn’t worry about work the next day–the rest of me does.  I decide sleep is more important.  I go back to my day job and forget about my images until now.

There they are.  Not quite what I was shooting for.

Finished and ready to ship

Finished and ready to ship