Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes an abrupt shift in how you see yourself occurs. Things you believed about yourself turn out to be unfounded. As my statistics professor repeated enough times that I cannot forget even 25 years later: “correlation is not causation.”

Just because we behave a certain way on a regular basis doesn’t mean this behavior is driven by our personality, character, core values, or anything that is uniquely “us”. Rather, our behavior may be driven by the particular set of variables in play at a given time that make it easy or rewarding to behave the way we behave.

This is a hopeful message for anyone who thinks people can’t change. It’s actually quite easy to change behavior. The most direct example of this I have is from working with sales people–I always knew when their compensation plan changed because they instantly behaved differently.

We are, it turns out, so easily and frequently influenced in what we do, what we believe, and even how we feel that it’s impossible to tease apart what is our “true self” and what is one of humanity’s most basic survival skills: fitting in.

Realistically, we cannot know what is part of our “core” self vs social influence until the moment we are tested–the moment we are called upon to make a choice.

These moments usually go completely unnoticed. There is no sound track with dramatic music telling us this is a pivotal moment in our lives. Often, there is not so much as an intake of breath before we go forward and do or don’t do without deciding.

Defaulting gives social influence amazing power. It’s also incredibly efficient–imagine if we consciously examined every choice we could possibly make each day and pondered all the possibilities? It would be hard to get beyond brushing our teeth in a 24 hour period.

But every once in a while, many variables in our lives shift. In this shift, a void appears. This void is either not knowing what is expected of us or suddenly having cause to reject what we feel is expected of us (such as when a loved one dies and we find ourselves wondering if what we have been doing with our lives is worth it).

These are the moments when social convention comes in handy. It gives us a framework to either fit within or to rebel against. The trick is figuring out what the rules are. And when there is no one to influence you, to find that influence.

This is, perhaps, the most surprising thing of all for me. I have seen myself as an independent thinker. A creative spirit. Someone “different.” The mirror my life is holding up right now forces me to realize that my independence, creativity, and different-ness are merely a rouse.

Without the boundaries of social expectations, there are too many choices. The greatest irony? These expectations were the product of my own imagination–this should be an easy problem to solve.

Super Moonrise – At Last

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At long last, the super moon rose last Sunday evening.  I suppose it wasn’t really the super moon–after all, the moon was officially full nearly 12 hours earlier.  But whether you count it as the full, super moon rise or something less than that, it was dramatic.

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At first, I was afraid the moon would not be visible at all that night.  The low-lying clouds around the horizon threatened to ruin the view altogether.  We watched and watched and suddenly a reddish glow started to show through the clouds.  The glow turned from a faint hint of red to a full moon with a silhouette cloud in the foreground in a matter of moments.  I barely had time to breathe before the scene before me was changing.

The moon disappeared behind a strip of clouds

The moon disappeared behind a strip of clouds

After a quick exposure adjustment, I managed to capture the red-glowing moon.

A second moon rise in the same night

A second moon rise in the same night

It rose a second time–or at least it looked that way.  It passed through a stretch of clouds, appearing to rise all over again, when it crossed over the top of the cloud bank.

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As it rose above the last trace of clouds, I switched lenses.  I’m not that excited by close-ups of the full moon and I was shooting with a 100-400mm plus a 1.4x extender.  There’s not much you can do wide with that combination.  I switched to the 24-70mm lens instead.  It was a good decision.  The extra bright moon over the Market Street Bridge was far more interesting than a close up of the rock.  Plus I got some serious topics to study up on as a result.

A helicopter forms a bright streak in the foreground

A helicopter forms a bright streak in the foreground

 

Switching to wide angle brings the Market St Bride into view

Switching to wide angle brings the Market St Bride into view

 

Sun Before the Moon

A rising cumulous cloud forms a silhouette in front of the setting sun

A rising cumulous cloud forms a silhouette in front of the setting sun

After shooting the moon from the Market Street Bridge the evening before the full moon,  I got to share the view from the common room in our building with a group of photographers from the local photographic society chapter.  A neighbor of mine and I organized a bit of a field trip.  Since the common room has a wonderful view of the river and of the anticipated location of the moonrise, it seemed like the perfect choice of destinations for photographers interested in capturing the full super moon rising over the Tennessee River.

The setting sun highlights the low-lying clouds at the horizon--they don't bode well for the moonrise

The setting sun highlights the low-lying clouds at the horizon–they don’t bode well for the moonrise

The thing about the moon is that it’s not particularly cooperative.  It really can’t help it.  It just has a lot of dependencies.  It’s light is determined by the sun.  It’s visibility determined by the clouds.  It’s appearance above the horizon dependent on the objects between the moon and the viewer.  When you consider that there are nearly 239,000 miles between the earth and the moon, I suppose it’s a wonder that we are able to see it at all.

Back on the other side, the cloud stretches tall in front of the sun

Back on the other side, the cloud stretches tall in front of the sun

But the first problem is figuring out when to expect it.  There are tons of places to find out the time of the moonrise, but none of them are ever right for exactly the place where you might be standing at that given time.  Not unless you happen to be in the same spot the time of moonrise was calculated from.

The second problem is figuring out when the sun will set.  The opportunity to capture the moon in full glory while the surroundings are still visible becomes increasingly difficult as the moonrise falls later and later relative to sunset.

Wispy pink clouds decorate the Northern sky

Wispy pink clouds decorate the Northern sky

On this particular night, the moon would not rise until a good half hour after sunset.  We, of course, scheduled our field trip to begin much earlier.  We probably should have taken the group on a tour of the riverfront while we waited for moonrise to approach.  However, we got to talking and snacking and decided to find a spot to shoot the sunset instead.  Finding a perch on an outdoor staircase with a view of the setting sun afforded some nice views of the clouds forming in front of the sun.

As the sun fades, the pink haze turns darker

As the sun fades, the pink haze turns darker

The sunset is no more reliable than the moonrise from a photographic perspective.  The clouds were interesting, but didn’t quite result in the super-dramatic sunset one might hope for as a prelude to a rising super moon.  After shooting the sunset long enough to end up with many wasted images, we returned to the opposing view to watch for the moon.  The setting sun cast a warm glow across the Market Street Bridge and set some of the clouds aglow as well.

While it may not have been the most dramatic of sunsets, it still seemed photo-worthy.

A saucer-like cloud captured my attention

A saucer-like cloud captured my attention

Super Moon

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

I made it back from Monaco and Nice just in time for the super moon.  The super moon refers to when the moon is closer to the earth than usual, resulting in an extra large moon.  The point when the moon is full is the point when it appears the largest.  I’m not sure if this is because the moon is actually the closest to the earth at that point or just the effect of it being a full moon. In any case, I have now chalked up a couple of years of experience shooting full moons.  I remember the words of advice I got from a fellow photographer when I first started shooting full moons.  They were, “Don’t.”  He went on to explain that the full moon is too bright to make an interesting image.  It simply looks like a flat, smooth circle with some gray areas in it compared to the much more pock-marked, three-dimensional moon one can get when shooting a crescent moon.

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

I experimented with this advice.  I found that he was absolutely right that if you just shoot the moon, once it’s much more than half full, it becomes a very flat, uninteresting rock.  However, I also found that if you shoot the moon rising at the the horizon or going through architectural features or clouds as it rises, it’s much more interesting. Since this discovery, I have attempted to pay attention to when the moon is full (or close enough to full) and where and when it will rise in the hope of getting interesting moonrise images. I’ve gotten a few I like, although there’s always room for improvement.  The hardest part about shooting moonrise is how fast it goes.  While the moon is usually quite late appearing in the sky compared to when the official moonrise is supposed to start, once it appears, the period of time when it’s most interesting to shoot lasts only a few minutes.  The moon moves so quickly that you have to watch your shutter speeds–too slow and you start to get motion blur from the movement of the moon.

Moon over the bridge

Moon over the bridge

On this night, it was a pre-cursor to the actual full moon.  While the moon was fullest the next morning, it was still close enough to full to get a full moon effect both the night before and the night after the moment of total fullness. I decided to walk out to Market St Bridge in the hope of catching people walking in front of the moon on Walnut St bridge.  Unfortunately, low-lying clouds along the horizon prevented the moon from being visible until it was too high for people to be in front of it.  When it finally appeared, it was barely a glow through the haze with the sun still relatively high in the sky (although it was headed towards sunset). It was still beautiful, though.

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

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.

Big Moon

Yes, it’s that time of the month again–the full moon!  But not just any full moon.  No, this is the super-moon!  Not only is the moon at perigee tonight, but it’s also Cinco de Mayo.

Seems like a recipe for disaster, but according to one article, there is no truth to the belief that crime and wild behavior increases with the full moon.  I’m not so sure.

Another special aspect about tonight’s moonrise is the time.  The moon will rise before the sun sets.  This means there will still be light on the trees along the ridge top.  I’m excited about the possibility of capturing the moon in this kind of lighting.

Pat and I had some logistical issues in our plan today.  I volunteered at the Audubon Society’s visitor’s center most of the day and Pat worked.  Tisen got to go to doggy daycare.

By the time Pat came home, it was 6:30PM.  We wanted to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Taco Mamcito’s next door, so Pat jumped in the shower while I took Tisen for a walk.  Then Tisen had to be fed and we had to wait for him to eat before we could leave (he won’t eat when I’m gone).  By the time we were headed out the door, it was past 7:30PM.

While this may seem plenty early to begin a Cinco de Mayo celebration, the problem was that the moonrise was going to happen at 8:21PM and I didn’t want to miss it.  By that, I mean I wanted to be set up on the roof of our building with my camera ready to start shooting by the time the super-moon appeared on the horizon.

We went next door quickly, but when we saw the crowd, we gave up all hope of getting food and just ordered margaritas.  Fortunately, the margaritas were small because a margarita was probably the last thing I needed having still not eaten.

We drank our margaritas quickly as we huddled in a corner of the patio, trying not to crowd the people sitting next to us.  At 8:15PM, we are racing out the back door to get me up to the roof on time.

I manage to grab my gear and Tisen and get set up on the roof before the first glimpse of the moon appears over the ridge.  I am helped by the fact that it takes an extra 10 minutes for the moon to get from sea level to the top of the ridge.

I shoot and check focus and exposure and shoot some more.  I don’t know what it is about this giant, orange moon rising over the ridge that I find so exciting, but I wish the moon would pause for a few minutes so I could get all the adjustments just right and perfectly capture it as it hangs as a glowing backdrop to the ridge.  I never get tired of the moon.