Feeling extra ambitious the other day, I set out on an 8 mile hike to see a waterfall. I was anxious to make a trip like this before the leaves were done changing colors, and hoped to get some great autumn vibrancy captured for this year. The decision was firmed up when the temperatures dropped into a pleasant range and weather cooperated to make the trip enjoyable.
Forty miles of comfortable travel on paved roads brought me to the point of entry for my journey. Fifteen more miles of dirt road traveled slowly with muddy ruts and jarring potholes guided me to a flat spot to park the truck and started the hiking part of my adventure. The first of many choice confronted me. A number of routes were available and the wilderness trail I chose was one of the easier ones, but it connected with multiple others that could lead me astray if I didn’t stay alert.
Ahead of me, the trail started out flat; covered with a blanket of colored leaves that recently took flight from their perches and glided gently to the forest floor. A recent rain dampened the path and the familiar crunch of leaves underfoot was missing from my expected nature soundtrack. There was quiet in fact. Lots of quiet. Too far from the river to hear it even murmur, I was wrapped in the silence that descends from large trees when there is no wind to stir them on a crisp fall morning.
I walked on. The passage of time was lost to me and the weight of worldly stress lifted as the sound of the river grew louder; beating a hasty path over the rocks and trees that attempted to impede its enthusiasm. I let it lead me along until I reached the falls and watched the water yell as it jumped into the waiting pool below with a crash. Camera in hand, I wandered beside as an observer to the wet playground and took portraits of the trees and falling water; cascading poses that dancing sunlight used to build rainbows across my lens. A busy setting of active peace that surrounded me with multiple sensations.
And then it was time to leave. I made certain to find the correct trail and start back, occasionally checking my map just to be sure. I walked and listened; the soft leaves slowly beginning to dry and add character to my step. Walking around a corner, I was suddenly startled by another adventurer briskly heading by. He looked up, just as befuddled to run into someone on this otherwise lonesome trail.
We mumbled pleasantries and then he asked me in an offhand way; “how much further do I have to go?” To which I replied, “That depends on where you are going.” He laughed as he realized how vague he had been and how correct I was. More specifics were conveyed, information passed and we parted company; each going in our own direction.
As I continued on I contemplated the question that my fellow traveler asked and how it really was applicable to more than just this tree covered byway. How often do I start off on a new project before I very clearly identify the end goal? Do I take the time to make certain I’m headed in the right direction before I pick up my pace? Am I willing to stop and ask directions when I need them and when I do; am I careful to make sure the questions I ask are clear enough to get a proper response? Do I know what I want to accomplish next in this life so I can correctly figure out how much further I have to go on this leg of my travels?
I made it safely back to my truck before the sun went down and slowly started the rough ride back to reality. I left this journey with both colorful pictures and some added wisdom to take with me into my next tomorrow.
♦Photo Tip♦ I love to get the glowing, smooth picture of water as it runs over falls or down a rocky creek bed. To do this during the day requires two very important things. A tripod and a neutral density (ND) filter. The best way to get the look of blended water smoothly falling over the rocks is to use a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second. This is too slow to hold in your hand and keep the picture sharp. It also will cause the photo to be overexposed in daylight at most settings. The tripod gives you the steady base you need and the ND filter keeps the light down while the lens is open. The pair lets you take pictures like the one above.
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.
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!
As the sun slowly sets over the distant horizon another day comes to a close and our measured time washes another 24 hours from the bank of life. If I am there to witness it, I consider myself fortunate for the chance to use those minutes and hours to write another chapter in my own book of memories.
Time is an interesting quantifier. 525,600 minutes of our time tick off each year. On leap years, we get an extra 1,440 — a days worth. Whether I pay attention to it or not, the background passage time makes is not impacted by my actions. It moves at a constant pace regardless of how it is measured. And while I perceive time to pass at differing speeds relative to the activity I am present in each moment; it cares not about my perception and gracefully or not it marches right along.
One of my favorite aspects of photography is it allow me to freeze a moment in time and put it into a 2-dimensional package for me to hang on to. With these papers covered with no-longer-wandering pixels, I can re-create memories and return to past experiences for any reason I chose. The past is the past, but memory can make it feel real again in the present.
I have to be careful, though. For some of my past is not always good to have with me in the present. I file those memories under the category of REGRET. My favorite definition concerning regret is, “to continually go back and visit untoward memories with the hope the past will somehow change.” I know it can’t be done. I know that others are aware the past won’t ever be different than it was. Yet I can still wander around back there in self-pity and a state of mental destitute for days at a time; but always return with the same history I started with. Those minutes, or days, or weeks are wasted.
Henry David Thoreau made a fine recommendation, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
I still look back. I end up going that way sometimes. Perhaps another opportunity for positive change?
I can’t keep others from traveling into my past; especially to the memories I created with pain or suffering to them or others. All I can do is ask for forgiveness as payment on my debt and then I can travel in the present with a focused goal to not add to those debts. If my plea is ignored and those harmed chose to stay with regret in arrears, it is beyond my scope to belay it.
So I will chose to go forward tomorrow if I am allowed once more to be a part of that next 1,440 minutes of constrained eternity. I will look for good memories to pack into my camera and I will deliver them others. Whenever I can, I will be a positive force on the timeshare of life with my fellow travelers.
♦Photo Tip♦ Most of us are taught to put the sun at our back when we take a picture. Don’t be rigid with that advice. When you stand to take a picture, use the sun to create the effect you are looking for. To you back, your photo will be well lit for details; although people will be squinting for the same reason. The sun to either side; shadows are cast short or long and can add both dimension and contrast effects. Put the sun behind your subject and you get a silhouette as the focus of your shot. Experiment!
There are too many days when I wake up and jump right into the news. I open up the paper and get bombarded with very little information that seems joyous. It tends to cloud my judgment and can even sour my day. I’m not sure why I am, like many others, drawn to bad news and tragedy.
What makes this even worse, is the tendency to start to view the world as a bad place full of bad people. I stereotype by geography and profile by association. In turn, I start to interact with the small world parts that I touch with a sense of caution and suspicion.
But I know there is a way to make the day better. From the mouth of a leader known for his focus on non-violence and peace, Mahatma Gandhi, comes very sage advice. His message is clear; “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”
When I crafted the picture that accompanies this post, I was trying to show the frailty of the argument that I can’t assume to see the whole world when all I have to look at is a part no bigger than a single drop of water. I have to look beyond the dirt and the grime that can cover me in daily news. Every once in a while I need to wash off the grit that obscures my vision and let my eyes see a much cleaner view of what surrounds me.
Dewitt Jones, a well know photographer for National Geographic has promoted a great way to see each day with what he calls, “Celebrate What’s Right with the World.” It’s a fantastic blog and a great way to stay reminded of the good things that make this world a great place to be.
I am going to try and celebrate more good; so I can better handle things when the bad creeps back in.
♦Photo Tip♦ I like to think that creativity is the cornerstone of fun photography. Like not being afraid to laugh out loud, or dance in the rain– photography should be allowed to reflect who you are not who you think others want you to be. I take pictures that I never touch after the shutter snaps and I have pictures that through the magic of Photoshop resemble little of the original. I use photography to express emotion and capture moments in time that need to be preserved. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Before we begin today’s blog discussion…please take a moment and enjoy the picture above. The simple panorama of a forest, filled with a mix of young small trees and slightly larger ones. The ground is a carpet of gentle flowing ferns. Imagine the cool air that surrounds you. Take a deep breath and smell the fresh pine scented air; crisp and clean. The quietness is very loud here and in the distance you can just make out the faint sounds of a small stream journeying down the mountain in search of the sea. This is a great place to contemplate the importance of perspective.
I like to think that I am a pretty intuitive person. I would venture a guess that most of us feel the same way. I am in touch with my surroundings. I understand the plight that my fellow travelers contend with every day and feel I have insight to their trials and tribulations. I am only judgmental in my thoughts and sometimes in my actions because I know so much about what goes on around me…or maybe I don’t.
I know from basic psychology and common sense that there are only two real dynamic influences for my behaviors; the situational factors (or external and environmental) I am responding to, and my disposition (or internal; my own biases or perceptions).
We also know from studies of human nature that how we tend to see the world is reflective of how we see ourselves.
If I am going to be completely honest, I tend to lose perspective in most situations with others and only consider the situation; the external influences. In doing so, I lose the opportunity to consider what might be going on internally to the people and behaviors I so quickly judge. When they act in a manner I don’t like do I ever consider what they might be dealing with instead of just how their behavior affect me? As the old adage goes; perhaps I’m so focused on the trees that I can’t see the whole forest around me.
Like the picture above. Here is another shot taken in the same spot:
That’s me standing in front of a 2500 year old giant redwood tree. Now go back and look at the first picture again. A forest of giant redwoods. Different perspective, different story.
I think about getting cut off in traffic. My thought always jumps to making judgements about the character and motivation of the person in the car or truck that cut me off and it is always focused on how they somehow just did ME wrong and how that makes ME feel. I tend to get angry.
But what if they were distracted because they just received some terrible news? What if they were excited about heading to the airport to pick up their son returning from the war? What if, what if, what if? So many possible reasons for them cutting me off and none of them really had anything to do with ME. Sure, they should be more careful and they should pay better attention, but in the big picture world; I was paying attention and no harm came from the interaction. We could both just move on with our day.
I think it is time to take things from a different perspective and I just bet it will allow me to have a better day.
The dampness of the misty morning settles as dew on the petals of the perfect yellow rose. Sunrise reflects across the garden and blushes red through the clouds of the night storm that swept the hillside. I reflect on the magnificence of the perfect rose as the aroma of their sweet fragrance lifts from the surrounding flowers and fills the air with scented happiness.
With ancestry reaching deep into history, the rose is drenched in symbolism. Once considered for currency and always sought after for their beauty, the yellow rose in particular is held out for happiness and friendship. Perhaps it is the likeness the yellow rose has to the radiating sunshine that can warm a hard heart or pull the chill from a stale, cold room.
This rose was found among many in a special garden dedicated to roses from around the world and rich in tradition. I felt compelled to capture the image of the droplets on the face of the flower just as the sun reached over a nearby tree to bath it in its brilliance.
It made me smile.
I realized as I moved in close to take the picture that many times I walked by this same scene and paid it no attention. I stood tall and walked quickly and missed the chance to take part in the mini drama of happiness playing out so very close to my own life drama of not-so-happy-ness.
There is the old cliché; “always take time to stop and smell the roses,” which I know we all have heard. But how many times do we let everything else take precedent and push the rose smelling to the bottom of the list? For me; it’s often.
This week I am going to try harder to enjoy the small things that happen closer to earth than my mind lets me wander most days. I love to have my head in the clouds, but the yellow roses are calling to my sensibilities and the desperate need to slow down, take a deep breath, and be present in the moment rather than trying so hard to figure out what the next moment might bring.
Stop and smell the happiness and bend down to notice the vision of relaxation.
♦Photo Tip♦ So many times we stand up tall and lean back to take pictures of landscapes and groups and forests and wide open spaces. The pictures are beautiful and the subjects so majestic. But don’t forget to move in close sometimes. Stop looking around and start looking down, way down. Find the small subjects that so many of us miss and take their picture so you can share them with those of us who move too fast through the world to realize that there are small things around us that are just as important and just as beautiful to capture in photo-form.
Every morning we awake and go through the motions of what will be our legacy for the day…until the sun sets and the colorful lights fade, and the moments allotted us for that period once again pass along into eternity.
What we accomplish and who we touch and what we say; these all play together to create other tomorrows for us and for those with whom we have interacted. These contact moments are the lifeless lumps of clay that we give away for others to work with and mold them to create their own life stories. Once hardened in the kiln of memories, and glazed with the colors of love, these timeless moments can be packed away and treasured for as long as we continue to care for them.
Through their power, even in the dark of the coldest night, they give us the opportunity to feel comfort from the warmth of growing friendship and kindred spirits.
So as you travel your life’s journey, always carry the knowledge that you are special. By mere existence, you have the chance to touch another life and spark an ember of warmth that will continue to glow and spread a spirit of joy; always connected. You are now destined to continue to do great things. You are a comforter, a servant, perhaps a caregiver to many, a leader of some…but most importantly…always capable of being a friend.
♦Photo Tip♦ A tripod or a place to brace your camera is essential for early morning or late evening shots. The slower shutter speed will highlight any movement and blur it. For water shots, this can be just the soft focus you are looking for, but for the surrounding area, you want it to be tack sharp with a steady camera.