The hummingbirds have long since moved on from where I am now to warmer places for the winter. I don’t blame them. More than once in the past few months I also considered flying south until the weather warmed up.
When they are in town, these little acrobats always amaze me with their antics. Trying to get a picture of them teaches me great patience as well. They move fast, rarely stay in one place very long, and tend to be a little apprehensive around me and my big black camera; even when using a zoom lens and sitting very still a ways away.
The average hummingbird weighs in at a whopping 3 grams. For comparison; the nickel in your pocket weighs 4.5 grams. It seems that the hummingbird is a lot of fluff. They are also one of the most aggressive bird species around and have no hesitation to take on big blue jays, crows, and even hawks that infringe on their territory.
As small as they are; there are some specific species that migrate more than 2000 miles every year. A few even include a 500 mile nonstop journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Makes me tired just trying to comprehend that trip.
As migratory birds, hummingbirds serve two very important purposes. They can transport resources between ecosystems located thousands of miles apart. They also assist with pollination, which is vital to many trees and flowers that would not be able to reproduce without the aid of the mighty hummingbird.
All this is interesting to some degree, but why do I care about this pocket-sized bird?
To me it is a small package with large-sized inspiration all around it.
I’m encouraged that the size of this bird does not impact its vision of what it can achieve. Size plays no part in deterring it from pushing toward the goals it needs to accomplish. The hummingbird doesn’t stop to worry about the bigger competition, larger obstacles, or percived impediments. It can move quicker and in different directions than the larger birds it encounters. There is no indication that this bird spends any wasted time considering areas of weakness and uses all its unique attributes as strengths for accomplishing the task at hand.
The hummingbird does not appear to have a confidence problem; and it proves itself with remarkable feats that would not be considered reasonable by just looking at its stature. I like the way this little bird thinks big.
All business and all great projects start as a small thought or idea, but with proper nurturing they can grow into big accomplishments and a create lasting impact even from a small footprint.
Like the pint-sized squeaker; I’ll continue to focus on the staying power of consistent determination and watch small philosophies become large successes.
There are special souls born of compassion and placed into the lives of others for a special reason. They not only see their glass as half full, they are happy to give you their half just to fill yours up.
Their gift is to give. Pleasure is found in the ability to enrich the lives of others while asking nothing in return. Their purpose is well defined by the lives they lead.
“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
In the mirror they see an ordinary person. In their actions they sense comfort and peace that only comes from following their natural path. They don’t feel as if they are special and they don’t need the recognition of others to know the value of self-worth.
They are not found on the forefront of life’s stage, they toil in the wings; their only goal to assure that all others have the performance of a lifetime.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
They generate kindness and encourage consideration for others; helping us to realize we all have our struggles and the journey we travel is difficult if attempted alone.
They don’t wait until Christmas or other holidays to give because they must breathe to live, and giving of themselves is the breaths they take each day.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
-John Andrew Holmes
Holidays are great times to feel that giving spirit rejuvenated, but I like to think about how wonderful the coming year will be if that same spirit is kept alive long after the holidays are gone.
“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”
I’ve never met a truly happy “taker.” I’ve never met a truly unhappy “giver” either. If my goal is success and happiness, it appears the intelligent road to take is the one that does not try to travel on the backs of others, but rather helps to clear the way for them to proceed.
As the New Year approaches I want to make certain I keep focus on the proven promise by a man who demonstrated its effectiveness may times over;
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
As a wandering soul and curious photographer, I have a tendency to be easily distracted. Some might call this a weakness. I find it keeps things interesting and hold it up as a strength.
Not very long ago while wandering, I took a wrong turn. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a wrong turn, but more appropriately an unplanned turn. While on a journey from one point to another I felt an urge for an adventure and started down a road that I had not originally intended to travel. For a little while I would even say that I was lost.
I didn’t know exactly where I was or where the road I was on would take me. I didn’t have any cell service so I couldn’t pull up a map to help me. Perhaps a wiser man would have stopped and turned around. I just kept driving.
This wasn’t the first time I put myself in this situation and I can confidently say it won’t be the last. Each of these mini treks turns out differently and not always for the better. It’s never reckless and always a calculated risk, however, and a chance I’m willing to take.
The rewards are typically a sense of simple accomplishment when I navigate my way back to civilization and even greater when I have a card full of photographs to document the new sights I encountered. What the camera doesn’t bring back are the soul-stirring moments or the emotional return I get for the investment of time and chance.
On this particular path I encountered an opportunity for solitude and a chance to reflect on a number of challenges I faced. I witnessed a raptor of unknown origin assist a rodent in understanding the circle of life. I felt the pleasure of doing nothing and resting for a while afterwards. I captured some photogenic landscapes and a few idealistic moments posing perfectly just for me. All in all, this detour was a positive one.
I understand the need for direction and goals. I fully appreciate the importance of having a plan when traveling through this life towards a specific destination. But I also find that nothing helps me to appreciate my surroundings more than daring to take a little detour now and then and see if perhaps by “coloring outside of the lines” I might get the boost I need to keep the creative spirit alive.
I don’t do well in a rut. I’m looking forward to my next chance to turn the wrong way.
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.
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.
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!
The sky is clear and the sun is shining. Weather experts tell me there is a chance of rain, but I just can’t see that happening today.
As the day progresses, white cotton-soft clouds start to appear on the horizon. Floating high above the horizon, effortlessly dancing in sea-blue sky. More clouds, yes, but a storm coming? I don’t see how it could be possible.
The clouds start to band together in rough and tumble groups. Fluffy white pillows of moisture begin to push together into light grey gatherings. The blue sky is now the minority here, giving up to the darkened coverings.
The wind is picking up. Rumor has it that the weather could get a little rough, but I just don’t see it. From my perspective things don’t look that bad.
I can’t see the sky anymore. The once white-grey clouds are all grey now and getting darker. On the horizon, it looks like there may be some rain starting. We could use a little rain, and a shower will make the greenery happy.
Folks are saying that a thunderstorm is in the future, but I just don’t see it happening. This rain looks gentle. The wind isn’t that bad. I’m sure it will pass.
Things are getting darker now. The sun is nowhere to be found. I think I heard a little thunder in the distance and the gentle rain on the horizon is now much closer. It looks like it’s coming down a bit harder too. There was something on the radio about a storm warning, but I just don’t see it getting that much worse. I close my eyes and begin to feel the wet rain falling on my skin. This feels nice. Why would anyone be worried about a little rain?
It only takes a few moments for the horizon to suddenly disappear. The sky is black. The wind is howling. The needled rain hurts as it pelts exposed skin. It doesn’t feel so nice any more. A flash of blinding light appears with a deafening crack. Scared is relative. Frightened beyond belief is more appropriate. Where did this storm come from? Why didn’t anyone warn me that things would be this bad? I’m wet. I’m cold. I’m stranded out here, exposed and alone. Why me? I can’t possibly survive!
I hear a voice through the raging storm, and follow the sound to the shelter of a poorly lit enclave. Still cold, still wet, but no longer exposed to the elements. The fear starts to subside. A fellow traveler who was caught in the same surprise storm I was emerges from the darkness.
Interesting; his view of the storm is different. He says he knew of the storm approaching well before it arrived. He says it was predicted and ample warning was broadcast to all. The sudden changes that happened around him weren’t a surprise to him. Huh. I wonder how I missed that?
Could it be that I have become I am a member of that not-so-elite group? Have I joined the folks with the narrowing world view? Am I so focused on myself that I just ignore the world around me until being forced to pay attention, and even then still missing the big picture because I’m so wrapped up in just what happens in my own little world space? No wonder life is not as exciting and full of wonderment as I remembered it in the past!
I think I might try harder to give more notice to my surroundings and be mindful of things other than just myself. It is so true that a happy life cannot be lived fully in a vacuum. Care to join me?
♦Photo Tip♦ Sometimes cloudy days are the best type of day to go out and take pictures. No harsh shadows. The clouds will act like a giant diffusion filter and cast a soft light on subjects giving them a more even tone. The rain doesn’t have to be the enemy either; we just have to be careful about wet cameras and lenses. I use a cheap disposable shower cap to cover the camera on drizzly days-the kind you might find in a hotel room. It will cover the camera without covering the front of the lens. A soft lens cloth to intermittently clean the drops from the front keeps the pictures crisp.
Some of you may recognize this as a rerun of one of my previous blog postings, but it’s one of my favorites so I updated it to give it new life.
It rained the other day. Hard.
I like the rainy days, especially if there is a thunderstorm attached. There is something about a good thunderstorm that stimulates the senses; being able to feel the thunder, see the lightening, hear the rain, and smell the clean air. Don’t get me wrong, I like the sunny warm days too, but I find nothing depressing about a good summer thunderstorm The spirit in the storm is somehow invigorating.
As usual, I had my camera with me while out experiencing the storm. I decided to stop driving for a few minutes to be able to enjoy the symphony of the rain with the companion light show…and because I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me while I was moving.
Out the window, the storm was in full force: The pouring rain, the rumbling thunder, the hurried wind. That wind was grabbing rain drops and splashing them across the pavement like a handful of pennies scattered across the floor. The trees were twisting and flailing to the beat of the storm with the strobes of lightening flashing to create motionless moments in chaotic rhythm.
I wanted a picture that captured the vision I was seeing. I pointed the camera, framed the composition, and snapped the perfect shot.
Except the camera, in all its infinite wisdom and technology, focused on the raindrops running across the window I was shooting through. It had no interest in what I wanted it to focus on. It didn’t ask, but just assumed that is what I wanted it to do. I was in such a hurry to get the perfect shot that I didn’t bother to stop and tell it what I wanted it to focus on either.
The camera and I both had the same view, reviewed the same sight picture, but ended up focusing on two completely different things. The picture I wanted and the picture the camera captured were not the same.
How interesting it is that metaphors for life just jump out and grab me sometimes.
Many times I am presented with the opportunity to stand next to someone else, look at exactly the same path ahead as they see, but focus on a completely different part of the journey. Our sight was the same, but our vision was not. When we moved to capture the vision we each saw, there was quite a difference in the final picture we both produced, or maybe the picture never developed for either of us.
Clarity is more than just clear vision. I believe it requires a sharper focus. A defined goal and the attention to detail that shows the course, the plan, and the intended outcome. I need to make sure I am focused correctly before I take the next action or the results may be surprising…and not always in a good way.
♦PhotoTIp♦ Focus can add dramatic effects to photos. Blurring the background can create a strong focal point in the foreground subject. Blurring the fringes of a photograph help to define your subject better. Sometime blur can show motion in a still photo. Slowing down the shutter speed on moving water causes it to get a soft, silky appearance. With autofocus, it’s always a good idea to make sure that you and the camera have the same focus point in mind before taking the picture.
I’m not a patient person by nature. I really try to be; but like most of us in this encompassing culture of instant gratification, I like for things to happen faster than they usually do. We’re programmed by our surroundings to expect things to happen quickly or we think something is wrong.
I still remember the days when pictures from across the Country had to travel by mail and the journey required 5-7 days to complete. Now pictures from across the world arrive almost instantaneously from people and places I’ve never met or seen.
The hurry up world we live in can take its toll on us if we let it. I feel it tugging at my soul when I try to sit quietly and just enjoy the next minute to arrive. I know there are times when I miss out on moments of clarity or opportunities of interest because I am just not patient enough for them to arrive in my time. But every once in awhile I am faced with a choice for patience and I know that to capture the moment I want, there is no correct decision except the one that says to just wait.
This photo is just such a moment.
One morning last fall I drove up before dawn into the dark of the Tennessee Smokey Mountains. There was a location that I knew had deer, turkey and other wildlife wandering at sunrise and I wanted to see if they might cooperate for some pictures.
After parking my car and walking about a half a mile through the damp air, the sunlight slowly started to filter through the thick morning fog that settled during the night into the area around me. As I turned toward the east, it occurred to me that just as the sun were to pop over the mountain behind this tree, I believed that the resulting sunburst would be spectacular. Should I wait and see if my intuition was correct, or should I wander on and find the “next best picture” that might appear? I chose to wait, and so I sat down. It took about 20 minutes from the time I stopped until the sun peeked over the hill. When it did I was ready. This photo is one of many I got that day, some truly amazing. I still believe that had I kept going, none of the other opportunities that followed me through my day would have been available. The timing would have changed and so would the course of my day and the subjects of my pictures.
Now I try to make certain that I at least take the time for consideration when I feel myself getting impatient. What will I miss if I hurry on? What will I gain if I stop and wait? I think it’s best to avoid being in so much of a hurry that we miss the journey entirely. Perhaps this week is a good one to try and slow down.
♦Photo Tip♦ Morning light is a great photo enhancer. I’m not as much of a morning person as I used to be, but getting up early sometimes is the only way to grab the really great shots. It amazes me how just being out at dawn can cause average photos to become eye-catching photos when the rising sun, the morning dew, and the misty fog all cooperate to create backdrops and enhancements to add a “wow” factor to the subject I want to shoot. Take advantage of the natural light show that arrives early with the sun.
I love the ocean and I love the beach, but there are times when I actually avoid both, even on those beautiful sunny afternoons. The sand is warm and the water is inviting, but the crowds that pack them have the ability to quickly wick the enjoyment from the experience.
Those same crowds will disappear during the evening hours as night moves in. The the sun drops into a distance horizon, and a quiet calm blankets the beach as the moon slides into view. Stars slowly pop out of the dark sky and a kinder, gentler mood mingles nicely with the cooler salt air.
Now I can hear myself think.
Nobody is trying to talk over the sound of the crashing waves or boisterous crowds, vying for control of the soundspace around them.
Interesting how sometimes we tend to fight for that same desire to be heard throughout the day. I used to think that the louder I spoke, the more likely I was to be heard. It wasn’t long for me to figure out a different strategy. Like the beautiful quiet of the night time coast, I have found that by stepping back and speaking softly, many times the world around will get quieter as it strains to hear what I have to say.
Next time you feel nobody is listening stand tall, speak softly and see what happens.
♦Photo Tip♦ Don’t give up on pictures because the sun goes down. All it requires is patience and a steady resting point for the camera. I took the photo above on a North Carolina Beach late one night using a tripod and a long exposure. This will smooth out the water and as you can see; bring out the light of a full moon to mimic bright sunshine with darkness surrounding.