Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2)

In the past few days, we’ve bounced from chilly Winter Evening Silhouettes to something that faintly resembles spring. It may not last — who knows what the next six weeks will bring? — but since it’s here for a few days, I spent a couple hours on Friday crawling around in the back yard, poking my camera among the plants and their pots, looking for signs of emerging spring. I do something similar almost every year, periodically getting snapshots of the tiny greenery and flower buds as the garden comes to life and the southeastern winter subsides. I plant mostly perennials and experiment with one or two new plants each year, so there are always some surprises. Photographing the early buds gets me to pay attention to what’s happening in the garden and gives me a chance to practice my closeup photography.

I took 99 shots with my sexy macro lens, using ISO 100 or ISO 200, manual camera settings, manual focus, and no flash for all the photos. No tripod, either, because the three extra legs make me fall down. I’ve learned from practice that with this lens I can use a shutter speed as low as 1/30 of a second and get images I’m satisfied with, handheld and holding my breath, relying on the camera’s continuous shooting of three frames to get me one that’s sharper than the others; and relying on underexposing some and letting Lightroom recover the exposure and detail when I process the RAW images. The continuous advance for macros might be a crutch, though; I may stop doing that since I end out with three times as many images to import and review in Lightroom and I’ve noticed recently that in most cases I keep the first image and throw out the second and third duplicates. It makes sense when you think about it — at least for stationery subjects — that my grip is steadiest on the first of a series of shots taken from a single press of the shutter.

After cranking up Lightroom and reviewing results, I discarded the typical two-thirds of the photos, marveling — as always — about the ones that looked great in the camera’s viewfinder but looked like crap when seen on the monitor. A photographic mystery, that! Adjustments to the photos included some cropping and straightening; basic contrast, brightness, and minor color adjustments; and a quick run through the Nik Collection to add saturation, remove color cast, and shift (your) focus to what I wanted (you) to see. I exported the photos and created nine small galleries by plant type; below are the first four and I’ll share the remaining galleries in a second post.


Gallery One: Clematis

Clematis is a fast-growing flowering vine that turns thin and brittle toward the end of each growing season as the leaves dry and fall from the plant. The spring growth that appears on the woody stems looks like emerging leaves, but is typically the tips of new vines that will stretch their way out of the old ones. You never know where the new growth will appear, so I always leave the hibernating vine intact, only trimming off dead wood when the plant has started blooming. In these photos, the slight purple cast on the plants or in the background comes from the burgundy color of the stairs leading to my back yard, where I have these clematis vines growing in two pots.


Gallery Two: Lamb’s Ear

Lamb’s Ear is a mounding and spreading plant, notable for the soft white fluff on leaves that vary in color from green to blue-green to very light blue. The bulk of the plant dies off with the first frost or freezing temperatures, with new growth popping out from the roots and stems that remain. The red in the backgrounds — especially in the last image — comes from the brickwork in my courtyard.


Gallery Three: Wisteria

The tiny buds below are from one of two wisteria vines in my garden, one growing on a trellis and this one growing in a large pot. The earliest leaves produced by the vine will have a slightly fuzzy texture that is apparent even at this stage. As the vine matures, it grows so fast you can almost see it get bigger as you stand near it; it easily adds six to eight inches of growth every day in June, July, and August. With adequate sun, it will produce clusters of purple blooms in April or May; but even without blooms, the vine grows beautifully.

As a rookie gardener fifteen years ago, I thought it was amazing how the one on a trellis on my deck pulled its way along the trellis and up the side of the house, until I realized one day that it had grown into the attic through one of the roof vents. Pulling out twenty to thirty feet of the vine was quite a chore as it twists firmly around anything it can get a grip on. It’s no longer allowed to grow that much; I keep it trimmed and mostly off the deck, because if I ignore it for even a few days, it tries to take the attic back. It’s sometimes considered an invasive species … why am I not surprised? 🙂

As with the Lamb’s Ear, the background red comes from the bricks in my courtyard.


Gallery Four: Hot Stuff Sedum

Who can resist a plant with “Hot Stuff” in its name? In late summer, sedum produces tiny, delicate flowers in clumps, but for most of the growing season, shows as repeating leaf mounds pushed up from the soil that shrivel and fall off in the early fall. Miniature versions of the mature leaves appear in the fall or early winter, after most of the summer growth has started to die off. They stay pretty much like this all winter, then start to grow out in April or May. I’ve had two of these for about five years, in pots that they’re starting to outgrow, so they’ll get new homes in a few weeks. Individual leaves are barely a half-inch wide and have a thick, rubbery texture, reminiscent of a soft cactus.


Thanks for reading and taking a look! More soon!

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New Year’s Day 2019!!

From Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human by Daniel J. Siegel:

“Sunrise, New Year’s Day. The oranges, blues, and greens of daybreak along the shore at the edge of North America fill the sky with luminescence. The sound of waves gently unfolding now, as they have for infinite nows, in patterns beyond imagination, creates a gentle soundscape enveloping my mind in a lullaby beckoning me back to bed. This body needs more rest after last night’s New Year’s Eve festivities…. But I am up, here with you, wanting to express something of this journey in words we can share, together, in these nows that forever wrap us in existence, life, and the journey of these lived moments we’ve come to know as mind.

“Are we the sunrise? Are we the lapping waves? Are we the creation of time, the denotation of a passing of something marked as a day, month, year…? The hooting and hollering of celebration for this mind-created edge of a year across the world, the display of fireworks in the skies across Earth, the screens shared among billions of humans across the planet: are each of these some shared construction of our collective mind?

“We create meaning from an infinite set of energy patterns and make information come alive. We are the sensory conduits enabling bottom-up to flow freely in our awareness; we are the interpretative constructors, making sense of and narrating our lives as they unfold. There is in reality no ‘new year’ anywhere beyond our mind….”

From Essential: Essays by The Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn:

“Whatever you want to do, do it. Pursue your passions. You deserve to do so. So, what do you want to do?”



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Winter Scenes: Fragile Phenomena (Set 2 of 2)

From The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey:

“The child stretched out her arms and gazed down at the new coat…. It was the cool blue of a winter sky, with silver buttons that glistened like ice and white fur trim at the hood and cuffs and along the bottom edge. But the coat’s splendor came from the snowflakes. The varying sizes and designs gave them movement, so they seemed to twirl through the blue wool….”

From The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit:

“Trees dwindle; shrubs cling to the ground; and farther north nothing remains of the plant kingdom but low grasses, diminutive flowers, mosses and lichens hidden beneath the snow part of the year…. In winter, light can seem to shine upward from the white ground more than from the dark sky where the sun doesn’t rise or rises for an hour or two a day.”

From The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:

“I look out at the dusk and think about its being winter. The snow falling, gently, effortlessly, covering everything in soft crystal, the mist of moonlight before a rain, blurring the outlines, obliterating color….”

The previous set in this series is here: Winter Scenes: Fragile Phenomena (Set 1 of 2).

I took these photos nearly a decade ago, in northern New York in the days following a snowstorm; they’re from a set of about 200 “found photos” from that trip in my archives. I started processing them after coming across the Thoreau quote I included in the previous post…

“Many of the phenomena of winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy.”

… and tried to align the final images with the feeling that quotation suggests. With that in mind, I emphasized blue, white, and gray in the photos by increasing white brightness and eliminating most background color — to highlight instead the color and detail in each photo’s main subject. There are others I’ll be posting in the coming days that are landscape photos rather than closeups like these; but the 26 images I included in this post and the previous one struck me as very consistent with Whitman’s words.

Thanks for reading and taking a look. This will be my last post for 2018 while I work on a new theme for my self-hosted WordPress site … see you on the other side!



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Winter Scenes: Fragile Phenomena (Set 1 of 2)

From Angel’s Crest by Leslie Schwartz:

“He saw how the snow had come and changed the place, had made it new again…. He saw how pristine and stunning it was and he slipped, for a moment, into the past. He saw the glory that had been his life, the wide-open beauty of it, the hardships, the simplicity even when, back then, it had seemed so complicated and difficult. The beauty of the world made him feel, for a brief moment, like a man who had been delivered of all that had ever hurt or wounded him. The land, capped by snow and the splendor of winter, stretched out before him, miraculous and unparalleled in its breadth and beauty. He saw himself floating above it all … flying farther and farther away while the snowy world below disappeared from sight.”

From Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau:

“Many of the phenomena of winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy.”



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Before and After: Exposing Hidden Autumn


“Photographs led me to cameras, and over the years the camera became an object I could think with. I could think about light and shadow, about composing the frame, and about what it meant to live in a certain way, to make decisions at many levels, and to document the world.” — from the essay “Salvaged Photographs” by Glorianna Davenport in Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle

“Nobody can commit photography alone.” — from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan


One of the reasons I’ve always liked photography – and why I’m often drawn to closeup or macro photography – is that viewing the world through a camera creates an opportunity to focus on sights that might otherwise remain unseen. Looking through the camera restricts my view to what fits within the frame, letting distractions fall away, and that remains true if I zoom in or out, or pan horizontally or vertically: what I see through the lens becomes what I choose to see at that moment, and most of what’s outside the frame slides from awareness as I make those choices. I might add to or subtract from that view by manipulating the camera or the lens; but when I take the photo, I’ve selected something that’s captured my interest, or struck me as aesthetically pleasing, or has frozen an instant of time that seems to matter subjectively.

After taking the shots, what I do with them now includes a set of additional (and for me, recently learned) choices that give me the chance to further refine the images toward this deceptively simple idea: this is what I saw and this is what I want to show you.

I assembled the gallery of images below from those I’ve been working on for my Flickr Reboot project; they were all taken at Point Au Roche Interpretive Center or near the city of Plattsburgh in northern New York. While I’ve been posting quite a few similar images (see Autumn Close Up: A Photo Gallery), I set these aside for a couple of reasons. First, as I was reviewing my archived photos, I had flagged every one of these (and quite a few others) to be deleted. Second, I didn’t actually delete any of them and decided to take another look once I got more experience with the tools I was learning, to see what I might do with them even though I originally thought they should be deleted. Other than being on the chopping block for a while, these images had something else in common: they were all hidden bits of autumn, subjects tucked away behind tree trunks, barely visible among shrubs, or nearly buried under fallen logs. Because they were all so hidden – and it was an overcast day as well – the exposures were pretty poor and most of the original images were very dark. I remember crawling on the ground at times to get some of these shots and was disappointed that they ended out being so badly exposed, but I kept them anyway from some vague notion that one day I would figure out what, if anything, to do with them.

With the help of new skills, I wanted to find out if I could recover each of these well enough to create an acceptable image, and simultaneously learn more about how to think about image post-processing. It can be quite a challenge to convey the thought process involved in work like this – words fail and the images help resolve the ambiguity – yet here are a few things, technically and otherwise, that I think I’ve learned:

  • There are limitations to what you can do with an image that is out of focus and most of the tools emphasize rather than reduce the out-of-focus condition. Yet still, if the composition and content of the image seem to matter, those tools that intentionally render the image with special effects (blur, softening, and grain, for example) may help you produce something that is creatively satisfying.
  • Digital cameras capture so much detail that even an under-exposed image may have embedded surprises hidden in the dark. One technique I use often is to over-adjust the image in Lightroom (setting exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows to an upper or lower extreme) to get a look at what I might easily miss, then dial back the settings to something more subtle.
  • Composition and content rule. Spot removal helps eliminate distractions and shift a viewer’s focus to key elements of the image. And I’ve also seen how replacement of foreground elements (for example, removing a stray branch or stem of grass that seems to intrude on the frame) or blending colors in background elements to improve their consistency, both change the image to help direct the eye toward the intended subject. Changes like this also reduce the amount of information a viewer’s mind has to comprehend when looking at the image, something I think is especially appropriate for closeup or macro shots.
  • Knowing what options you will have in post-processing changes how you compose on a photo shoot. But that can be a double-edged sword and it’s a good idea to take the best image you can, regardless of what you might do with it later. It’s better, for me anyway, to think of post-processing as a way to enhance a vision or point-of-view on what I’m trying to convey, rather than assume I’ll be fixing things I did poorly while toting around the camera. This isn’t an argument against post-processing; it’s recognition that learning those techniques is as important as understanding the camera’s settings and buttons, and that the creative arc of photography extends through all the technology and tools you might use to produce your images.
  • The first gallery below includes my final versions of these seventeen images. The second gallery shows the before and after versions of each one, where hopefully you can see by comparison how I’ve used some of the ideas described above.

    More soon; thanks for reading and taking a look!



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