For a photographer, every time the seasons change we are presented with the opportunity to record it in digital admiration. Summer is good for green and thunderstorms and outdoor action. Winter is good for black and white and high contrast pictures; ice and snow and crisp mornings. The spring time brings new growth and colorful flowers, gentle rain and windy fields of flowing grass. The Fall, though. Wow. Trees compete to see which can show off the most spectacular transformation and present us with shows that rival broken clouds in vibrant summer beach sunsets. The picture above was taken a few days ago while flying over the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. The one below was snapped while wandering through those same mountains last year at this time.
For a few precious days the colors are amazing and mesmerizing and emotion-creating…and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone for another year. The leaves fall to the ground and the naked trees are left just standing in perhaps a bewildered embarrassment before they go to sleep. They must then wait patiently for mother nature to wake them up and tell them it’s time to get dressed and get back to providing shade once again.
Although the colors are spectacular, as they go away so does my excited spirit. This time of year tends to be more melancholy as I feel the changes from warm and bright to dull and white.
But my mood is mine to control. If I don’t take an active role in what direction is wants to take, it will pull me down quickly. I start to dwell on the cold of last winter or the somber visions of grey boney trees.
So I pull out the colorful pictures and use them to remind me of the things I have to look forward to and rekindle the memories of the bright and warm days I know are still possible.
Sometimes I need to do this with my personal goals as well. I lose my focus on the end-game I am striving for and allow myself to get distracted when the changing scenery around me starts to become less than spectacular. I get pulled down by the memory of past failures and dwell on flaws.
In the same way I use the pictures to boost my spirits I can use the past successes to keep me motivated towards my goals. I reflect on the many challenges I faced head on in the past and realize that I am who I am and where I am because of the tenacity needed to keep going.
I recall that one of the key character traits that distinguishes those who are successful in life from those who are not is that those who succeed will always get up again when they miss their mark. They don’t always reach their goals or get to expected outcomes. They just never stop trying.
If I stop when I fail, I chose to remain identified by that failure as my last act. I make a decision to be unsuccessful.
Once I get up and try again I immediately move back to the category of a potential achiever. My past becomes my past. I don’t need to drag it along to the future with me. Although it will always be part of who I am, those times when I was less than stellar do not become my prime source of identification.
I will be successful right up until the day I decide not to be.
The air is crisp and biting as it grasps at the light fog that travels through the tall stands of majestic trees. They proudly keep watch as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years; guarding the path of the water below. The quiet is broken only by the low roar of the falls and the sound of the river as it travels it course; keenly directed by its banks and purposeful in motion. At the top of the falls it almost seems to rush in excitement to the edge and bounce along with joy to the waiting pool below. There, fine fingers of mist try to climb the walls in the hopes of running the gauntlet once again, only to be picked up by the wind and tossed playfully along, quenching the thirst of the plants that hang on with anticipation and turn their leaves up to the cool, comforting moisture that envelops them.
I watch this river, and I am envious of the journey. I imagine the excitement of being able to travel with such purpose and guided direction, but also with constant anticipation of the unknown ahead. I relish the excitement generated by the falling water and the fun it has sliding over the smooth helpful stones.
Such a expedition is mesmerizing. I contemplate how each day I would awaken and drink in new surroundings; it would change the person I become. On this type of path my future would be assured to develop itself tremendously different than the course I considered a year, a week, or even a day ago.
So why can’t I live this way? During my muddled existence every day, doesn’t each new adventure or obstacle encountered create new character traits to master? Somehow, I must learn to appreciate the opportunity afforded me with each new sunrise and eagerly embrace my voyage with the same enthusiasm that the river takes to its course. I need to jump off the waterfalls of life with the confidence of knowing there is a waiting pool of refreshing water to break my fall; pushing me down life’s river to see what might be waiting around the next bend.
♦Photo Tip♦ Framing your subject helps to guide the eyes in a photo. This can be accomplished with anything that provides a “border” to the picture, and does not mean it has to be present on all sides of the picture. In the photo above, a large tree is used to frame one side of the composition, while also providing some added depth to the picture. It is important not to get stuck thinking that framing always has to be something that provides a straight line. Shrubs, symmetrical clouds on the horizon, a road sign, the side of a barn…realize that being creative is the most important aspect to keep in mind when looking through the viewfinder or at your screen.
I admire the mighty saguaro cactus; an amazing adapter to the harsh desert environment where it thrives. This plant can grow over 40 feet tall, weigh in at many tons, and live well beyond 100 years. It is the giant overseer of the arid landscape it calls home.
I took this picture on an afternoon hike through the mountains of Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. This is the only place on earth to see these remarkable cactus. I was surrounded by saguaros of varying size, but this one stood tall, high up on a rock out-cropping; a guardian surveying its leagues and I imagined its stentorian commands echoing through the rock walled canyons through the ages.
The saguaro survives by acclimating to the unpredictability of a desolate landscape that counts raindrops as a precious commodity. Plunging a taproot up to 5 feet into the desert sand, and then stretching out a network of shallow finger roots to capture surface water; the larger saguaros can gather up to 200 gallons of liquid from a single rainfall.
Adaptability like this is so important, especially if I want to able to leave any legacy. My environment changes daily. Weather changes, social circumstances change, financial positions change, locations change, attitudes change. The list goes on and change is one of the few consistencies I can count on in life. How I adapt to these changes plays an enormous part in my ability to be successful in negotiating the passing days with a positive outlook. Failure to adapt moves me from the chain of events each day, discarded as the weaker link. Like the saguaro, I must be adaptable.
I do wonder if I should always be willing to bend to adapt all the events that make up my day? What if by giving in at times I compromise my integrity just a little? Adaptability is key, and I have to be willing to compromise at times; but what determines the limits of my compromise? Interesting comparison here that once again my friend the saguaro can teach.
If this immense and prodigious succulent allows the hardiness of its wooden support structure to be compromised it can fall the entire cactus. This same inner skeleton is what keeps the longest living legacy of the desert upright in the blowing sands that attempt to topple it. A spiny exterior fends off the larger predators that can harm it, but certain birds can create a small hole in just the right place, and the cactus will form a barrier that keeps it healthy and allow the two a symbiotic relationship. Standing straight and true give this beauty the strength it needs to hold strong to its roots.
I cannot compromise the values that make me who I am or I too will start a downward slide that eventually will lead to my own demise. I have to keep up my guard each day and be aware of my surroundings. I have to be present in the moments I have and make certain my relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. I have to be truthful in the dealings I have with others, and keep myself healthy in mind and body to perform at the level of expectation I set for myself.
I must adapt, but never compromise my integrity. I must be able to stand straight and work only in truth. If I am careful to do these things, I can weather the storms, survive the droughts and hope for the chance to live a life worthy of legacy.
Not too long ago I was driving through Tennessee and came across a field of southern snow. It was white and expansive and from a distance looked like a bunch of small shrubs covered with icy white stuff. Of course, it wasn’t really snow, and I knew what it really was, but it was pretty to look at nonetheless.
I pulled over and stepped out into the thorny field to survey the white puffs of soft cotton. This was my first real close-up encounter with pre-clothing. I felt moved by what I saw (which is a prerequisite for me to capture pixels in the form of a photograph) and started taking pictures like the one above.
Cotton starts as a simple little seed and grows into the plants that produce bolls which contain the cotton fibers. Although there are a number of types of cottons, they all grow very similarly to become the plants that give up the fibers. From that point, what a handful of soft cotton becomes varies greatly.
Don’t stop reading yet. I promise not to bore you with too many more details…and I do have a reason for going down this path.
Some cotton is absorbent, other types not so much. The seeds can be pressed to produce cottonseed oil, and the remains fed to cattle for roughage. The cotton hulls are used as feed, fertilizer, fuel, and packing materials. Once cotton is spun into thread, it becomes a shirt, pants, socks, blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, a rope, a bag, shoes, a hat, and even automotive tire cords in some older tires. The list goes on and on.
As I pondered the life of a cotton pod I realized that people are like that too. We start off very similar on the day we are born. We may have different environments that we are born into, but we all have the chance of becoming many different things. Our advantage over the life of cotton; we typically get to pick or at least influence our direction. We have a chance to set goals and work for what we want to become. I may not reach all my goals, but each day I wake up I get to decide if I want to work toward my those goals or not.
I wonder if I take full advantage of my options every day. I wonder if I am using my full potential every chance I get. Do I have a clear picture of what I want to accomplish with the time I have or do I spend more time bouncing around aimlessly? What a waste it will be to get to the end of my days and look back with a regret that I foolishly squandered too many of my gifted days. I have to be more careful with my passing 86,400 seconds I get each time the sun comes up.
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Why do I take pictures, you ask? I am happy to explain. I believe we all should take more pictures; and here is why.
There are very few things that get me to the relaxed state faster than sitting on an open beach like the picture above.
Taking pictures is one of those things.
You see, I am drawn to the sound of the ocean and the lullaby that the waves can whisper in my ears. The feel of warm sand on my feet and the smell of the salt air pressed against my face by the ever present warm breeze waltzing in from it’s watery voyage. The blues and greens of the sea and the sky mixing colors that artists envy. Cotton-soft clouds that float through the air and bounce invitingly on the atmospheric currents. All of these things cover my spirit with a gentle blanket of peace.
But I am limited right now in the time that I can spend in this coastal Arcadia; so I stare at the picture above and I imagine all the sounds, scents, and scenery that I felt when I snapped the exposure.
I struggle daily with the harsh reality of the world and I allow it to overwhelm me at times. The levels of cruelty that we can reach with each other and the conflict that I and the souls I mingle with face each day all pass before my eyes and are seen with unfiltered vision.
But when I raise the camera and peer through the viewfinder my vision clears. The chaos and anxiety created by the world is removed and I see a picture. I see a story. I feel a calm developed by a sense of wonder pushed toward me through the lens with creative earnest. I snap a picture. I stop time. I grab a reprieve and I carry it away with me in pixels full of color and form. The camera stops the insanity that is our world and settles it down to red, green, and blue channels and mixes them together to show me something more wonderful and peaceful, and simple.
As I have said on my photo website; I selfishly take these pictures for me, but I happily share their vision with anyone who will take a look, in the hopes that they offer a moment of reflection. Although I have a specific tale to tell in each of the pictures I take, the story seen by others in each one is theirs to do with as they please.
I think we all need to take more pictures of the good things and take the time to narrate our fond memories with the hope of easing the strain of life’s journey just a little at a time.
Comfortably resting on a sturdy branch high above the forest floor, I surveyed the nature scape that surrounded me. Life was simple. I provided shade for the creatures below me and turned sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar energy for my tree while happily making oxygen. Those were easy days, hanging out in the sunshine.
Easy I should say, until that day everything changed. I went to sleep a leaf and dreamed I was a starfish. When I awoke, I had fallen from my tree and landed in a puddle. The experience was exhilarating, but now I’m wet and cold and want to be back where I belong. I fear that things will never be the same again.
Life is full of surprises. Especially if you are a leaf and unprepared for the changing seasons; but us human types have to be on our toes as well.
I know that my whole world can change in the blink of an eye. I can’t plan for every contingency, but I can learn to adapt to those surprises when they do present. The years of surprises and unexpected change have taught me that having the right attitude is just about the most important part of being prepared.
My attitude is one of the only things that I have complete control of every day. Circumstances and the world around me can bring changes in the weather, changes to my plans, and present me with new and exciting challenges every day.
But no one can affect my attitude without me allowing them to.
I used to make statements about how others made me mad, until I came to the realization that no one on earth has the ability to control my emotions other than me. Period. Others can act in a manner that has the potential to upset me, but happy, sad, or mad; all these are ultimately mine to decide and mine to control unless I give up that power to someone else.
…and between you and me; I don’t want to give that much power and control over my day and my spirit to anyone…
I am not a big fan of surprises and I don’t like to be upset any more than I have to so I work to face my challenges on an even keel. Sure, I still get angry and I still get sad, but I let myself feel those emotions when I want to or I feel I need to; not because someone else decided to try and ruin my day.
The leaf in our photo had a life changing event and now has to deal with it. Life in the tree is gone, but playing starfish for a while may turn out to be the next best thing.
I believe that if I control my attitude I maintain control of my satisfaction with life and I remain ready to take on the next best thing that shows up for me as well.
The symphony of nature can be wonderful to hear. The melody is everywhere. Gentle cresting waves lapping onto an otherwise quiet southern beach. The single cricket playing a first chair solo in a distant wheat field. The chorus of bull frogs who echo their a capella rhythm across great distances on a hot summer evening. The sound of the wind as it plays through the swaying pines on cool spring morning. A serenade of rain drops across a tin roof with echoes of thunder rumbling in the distance. Nature conducts the tune in the chords of its character.
If your life was added to the music already playing around you, in what chord would it be played? I think mine would be E minor.
Major chords are just so happy. They resonate with fortitude, strength, and determination. They announce their entrance and need no resolution before moving to the next gusto of vibrato. I guess that there are days my life could be a major chord. Those days when I have no choice but to stand and deliver what is expected of me. Those days when everything is falling into place with precision and timing. Those days I could pull off living in the spirit of a major chord.
Minor chords are much more moody, though. They tend to convey contemplation, a more somber emotion, and evoke a melancholy reply. They sound the call of the mystery and mark time for curiosity. They don’t always need resolution, but they can draw out a strong anticipation for the upcoming tone. I think my life would be played in a minor chord; lost for periods in thoughtful consideration of what transpires around me, always feeling hope that the next note played will lift the tempo and the mood. Sometime life is so much of a mystery that a minor scale is all I can manage.
I have to be careful, though. I wouldn’t want to let myself fall out of tune and wander into the company of diminished chords; they can be unsettling. They create tension and emotional confusion, they long to be followed by a major chord, or even a transitional minor chord as they hang on the scale. No, my life is definitely not a diminished chord.
Why does any of this matter? Plato said it best, “[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and adds charm and happiness to everything”. The song of my life has meaning. The concert started long ago. I am allowed an occasional intermission to gather my thoughts, but the show must go on.
It is important to me that when the curtain closes on the symphony of my life, I want the audience to feel as if they have not wasted their time or money on the ticket for the show I provided. I do not get the benefit of an encore on this earth so I have to do my best the first time around. I am not sure what movement or act I might be on, but it is time to perform once again!
The sound of rushing water becomes almost hypnotic; the steady rhythm of wet dripping notes pounding out on rock drums far below. A cooling mist blows from the falls as the energy of the descending water creates its own wind. Painted ferns dance to the music and shine in the kaleidoscope of sunbeams bouncing around on natures stage.
I sit in the quiet company of elder trees and listen. My thoughts turn to the words of an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he is not the same man.”
Heraclitus was big on change. In his writings, he spends a lot of time contemplating and philosophizing on what would be termed in present day as “Universal Flux.” Some attribute another famous saying to him, “the only thing constant in life is change.” I believe in many instances this quote holds true. Change. A difficult and vast contemplation for sure.
I’m not big on change. I’m glad for opportunity to see the changing river flow, the change of the seasons, or the downward change in the price of gas; but when it comes to me and my life, my excitement for change quickly wanes in most professional circumstances.
Resting on a fallen log in natures den, I breathe in the forest air, strong in scent of woody pine. I know that to shy from change sets the foundation for stopping progress, for without embracing the new, we are stuck with the old and the evolution needed for success is cut down in its prime. I realize that change means moving forward into the unknown. Perhaps it’s not the idea of change that causes my angst, but this idea of the unknown. Change will, many times, actually be a good thing and bring about a positive movement for the future. But can the unknown ever provide the same confident look into tomorrow?
Under the shimmering water of the flowing stream beside me sit multicolored rocks smooth from the constant polishing of the every changing river. The rocks don’t move much without considerable force, and yet even sitting still they are impacted by the water moving over and around them.
Sometimes I’m a rock. Sometimes I will just sit still and yet will continue to find myself being influenced and moved by the world going by around me. Sometimes the world pushes a little harder and I have no choice but to move in the same direction. The world is ignorant to my wishes, and I am forced to adapt with some change. But even as I am forced to change, I am guided down a path that is full of unknown and the question remains; how do I get comfortable with what is coming that I can’t see?
A large pine cone drops solidly beside me with a loud, “Thump!” I’m startled. I didn’t know that was going to happen. My heart rate jumps and my sense of awareness is heightened. More unknown.
I don’t think I have to necessarily be OK with the unknown. I think being a little on edge about what comes next in my tomorrow or even in my next few moments will help me focus more on being present in each of them as they are passing. I’m already aware that time will continue with or without me. I can’t influence it at all. To be the best person I can, I have to pay attention. I have to maintain awareness of what goes on around me. I must make certain that I remain as prepared as I can for what happens next, but not spend so much energy worrying about it that it consumes my ability to be fully present in the “right now” moments as they occur.
What are you thoughts on this philosophical quandary; Is change good? Is the unknown to be feared? If a large pine cone were to fall in the woods and I wasn’t there to get startled by it, would it still make a sound?
♦Photo Tip♦ One of my favorite ways to photograph water and waterfalls is with a slow enough shutter speed set to let the glowing smooth water gather a visual motion. There are a few things that will help make your same water pictures turn out the best they can. A good, steady tripod is really a must for tack sharp pictures with the slow speed shutter. You want to try and get a shutter speed that is slow enough to smooth the falling water, but fast enough so you don’t blow out the whites with over exposure. For most waterfalls, the tumbling drops will start to blend around 1/30th of a second or slower. The time of day, angle of the sun, and weather will all impact what settings work best, so don’t be afraid to take lots of pictures with different set ups until you find the one that works for your current environment. If you have the ability to take bracketed exposures you can really make these photos pop. If you’re not sure how that works, just stay tuned to this blog and we’ll get to it sometime I’m certain!