Category Archives: Photography

A Forest, A Lone Tree

A block and a half away is the DuPage river and its paths.  As I enter the commons that abuts the river I have two choices, I can turn right or I can turn left.

Turning right takes me down a cobblestone path that leads to downtown Naperville.  Along the way, there are luxury houses, colorful fountains, covered bridges, and public sculptures.  It is beautiful but in a scripted way. Every bend of the path carefully calculated to be the most aesthetically pleasing. However, turning left takes me to a different reality. The reality of a preserve called McDowell Grove.

I turn left. Within minutes of walking, I am on a gravel path that winds through forest and prairie. The path takes me under a railroad trestle, then under a highway, then past a dam.  Soon I am walking among trees, then through an open and wild prairie. A prairie not unlike prairies of the past. Low and rolling, buzzing with life as if to spite the long lingering winter.

I walk carrying an old camera.  My Canon 7D slung over my shoulder on a strap that transects my chest.  That strap designed to counter its gravid 820-gram weight.

I looked to the right and then to the left as I explore photographic possibilities. I have been on this path a hundred times, but I always find something to peak my creative interest. I enter the prairie and force my vision to the right. In front of me stands a lone tree surrounded by tall grasses.  Behind me is a forest of-of trees, each member huddled closely together.

My mind floods as it starts to compare and categorize the two visual experiences. What are the advantages of being a lone tree?  What are the advantages of being a tree among many in the wood?

My thoughts generalize and regroup.  What are the advantages of being in a group?  What are the advantages of being apart from a group? I pull my camera from my hip and press it against my cheek. I squint into the viewfinder and compose.  Click, click, click. I take three shots shifting my field of view slightly with each. I slide my camera back onto my hip and continue walking. Although I move forward my thoughts remain on the trees.

My thoughts generalize and regroup again.  Now I am focusing on my children and the lessons that I have taught them. Those lessons both directed and inferred.  Lessons of ethics. Lessons of integrity. Lessons of justice.

I realize that there are many paths in life, I reflect that I have tried to instill in them the values that will allow them to become strong and honorable adults.  Values that places ethics before gain. Values that place integrity before popularity. Values that place justice before complacency.

My thoughts shift back to the trees.  In some ways, those that stand together are protected.  Protected from the wind and the frost. The tree that stands alone does not have those protections, so it must become strong and resilient on its own.  For its efforts, it gets to grow freely, without pressure from its neighbors to conform. However, to grow freely doesn’t mean that it will grow well. Other factors determine this.

Most trees grow together in forests, but an entire forest can be destroyed by the single lighting flash of a thunderstorm. After such a disaster the lone tree is the one that survives, that continues to grow, that ultimately determines the new direction for its species.

My thoughts shift back to my children. I see them as trees standing in a prairie.  Not bending to those around them. Growing strong and able to battle the wind and the frost. I hope my lessons will help them grow well.  However, I can only plant a seed, they will grow as they wish. I cannot determine this.

Standing alone in the prairie.

 

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom.

My original plan had me walking Tuesday morning at 5 AM.  My friend Tom was going to pick me up at 7:30 AM and take me to do a photoshoot of a recent remodel job that he completed. Monday night I received a text message from Tom, “Can you help me with my computer?  I’ll take you to breakfast.” “Sure,” I replied. An adventure with Tom trumps walking.

At 4:50 AM Tom pulled up in front of my house.  I put my coat on and headed out the door. Once inside the cabin of the car I was greeted by a friendly hello and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee.  We headed into the city meeting rush hour traffic. I was grateful that Tom was driving; traffic makes me crazy.

At our favorite breakfast joint, The Palace, Tom chided me to order “Something decent  this time.” I have been making an effort to be conservative in my ordering, and this unannounced change had clearly been picked up by him.  I went with a veggie omelet. Tom pulled out his MacBook Pro and I fiddled with it and solved his technical problem. I have never had a computer class, but I seem to have an ability to understand computers.  Sometimes the answers to a computer problem will literally flash in front of me. I guess this talent would be classified under the category that my wife refers to as my autistic brain.

Off to the suburbs and the photoshoot.  Tom had several appointments Tuesday morning and so I shot solo.

The remodel consisted of a kitchen and two bathrooms.  He had put a lot of thought and energy into the project and was rightly proud of the outcome. He wanted me to digitally capture when he was seeing for his portfolio.  

Dear reader, there are few architectural shoots that are more difficult than a bathroom.  Consumers see glossy photos in advertisements, but they don’t realize that these images can be bathroom “sets,” and not the real thing.  When a pro shoots a real bathroom the room is sometimes partially deconstructed to allow for proper shooting angles.

Bathrooms are small, and to give photos the illusion of a larger space it is necessary to use a wide angle lens along with a camera capable of using such a lens to its greatest advantage. Wide angle lenses add a tremendous amount of distortion to an image. Objects towards the corners of the lens spread out and tilt in very unnatural ways.

Lighting is difficult when shooting a bathroom, a flash has to be carefully directed to avoid washing out closeby surfaces. Even using existing lighting presents its own problems of unwanted reflection and exposure blowouts.

Reflective surfaces, like mirrors and glass shower doors, are everywhere.  It isn’t considered professional to see a photographer in the mirror of a finished photograph! Doors open into spaces, blocking the room view.  The list of issues goes on and on.

When we view a bathroom in person we are able to take in the whole experience. Our brain makes a composite image out of many scanned images. Unwanted objects are filtered out, holes are filled in.   The camera can only see the room one section at a time which highlights, not hides, flaws.

Door removal and room modification were (obviously) not an option, the best I could do was to try to emphasize creativity, rather than absolute accuracy.

I mounted a borrowed 16-35 mm L series lens on a Canon 5D and positioned myself in the room looking for the best angles… I started shooting. High shots, low shots, inside shots, outside shots, this angle, that angle… click, click click.  A quick scan of the camera’s LCD screen to make sure I was in focus. Another scan to make sure that I wasn’t being reflected in the glass shower door. Click, click, click. It took me hours to shoot the two remodeled baths and the kitchen.

When I arrived back home I loaded the images into my computer.  A tweak in the overall contrast, a little more exposure here, better white balance there, and so it went.  I have some perspective correction tools that reduced some of the most egregious optical distortions, but I’m am hardly a Photoshop expert.  I don’t have the ability to create a geometrically accurate image, or the ability to perfectly clone out imperfections. Even so, I spent the rest of the day tweaking photos.

In the end, I felt OK with the results.  They were a little better than the last bathroom photoshoot that I did.  Hopefully, the next bathroom shoot will be a little better than this one. Although challenging, my project was also exciting.  I pushed myself to think differently, I became more proficient, not only with the photography but also the post-production work. I forced myself to use my own standard as a reference point.  That standard was not perfection.

Dear reader, I believe that last Tuesday’s photo shoot was actually a metaphor for how I approach life and its problems. If I have a problem I tend to believe that there is a solution to it.  I think about the potential issues and plan accordingly. I explore my solution specific strengths and weaknesses. I focus on potential pitfalls and possible workarounds for them. I face the problem and try to learn from both my successes and failures.  I correct my course as needed. I establish what is an acceptable outcome. Perfection does not exist, acceptable is the way to go.

I am not claiming that this method is the only reasonable one, but it generally has worked for me.  When I talk to some of my patients I can see how their problem solving is ineffective and at times causes them unnecessary stress and grief. Some people adopt the impulsive “ask forgiveness” model.  Some plan so obsessively that they never get around to tackling the task at hand. Some use the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” option. Some feel that any outcome other than 100% is a failure, so they do nothing. Some utilize the, “It is not my fault, it’s your fault,” philosophy. None of these are congruent with happy life.

We are creatures of habit, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt and change.  If you are unhappy with the way that your life is going explore what you can do to change it.  Be reasonable and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t blame others, become your own force of change. Sometimes the slogan, “Life is what you make it,” can be true.

Bathroom detail shot.
A beautiful bathroom.
Interesting angles.
A wonderful roll-in shower.
Bathroom detail shot.

 

 

My Passion For Photography

My Passion For Photography

My birthday was approaching, and Julie and the kids asked me what I wanted to do. Since I ask for the same activity every year, my response wasn’t surprising to them. “I want to go somewhat and take some pictures.”

The day before our adventure I sat with my two youngest and searched, “Interesting towns in Illinois.” A list of 15 popped up, but most were over a 3 hours drive away. Woodstock was a little over an hour from our house, a reasonable drive. It seemed like the likely choice.

I charged my camera’s batteries and picked out a lens. Off we went.

Dear reader, my wife used to get annoyed with my constant picture taking. “Stay in the present, not behind the lens,” she would scold me in her best psychologist voice. But she understands me now. When I am wandering around, I usually drift off somewhere else in my head. A camera focuses me. I have to pay attention to my environment. I have to stay alert, as I am looking for anything that could make an interesting picture. I need to be on and not drifting away. But taking pictures always takes more time than just sightseeing. On my birthday my family gives me their time as a gift. They avoid making sighs and other sounds of displeasure when I suddenly stop in the middle of a street and raise my camera to my eye. Sometimes, one of them may even hold my camera bag.

I have always loved taking pictures. In the 1990s I jumped on the video bandwagon and had a whole desk full of editing equipment. Title makers, time base correctors, monitors. All connected with a sea of cables. When technology advanced, I converted to digital editing, building my video workstations to save money.

Video was interesting, but in the early 2000s I rediscovered photography, and I never looked back. Video is like reading a novel; photography is like reading a poem. A single picture can tell an entire story. It can inspire, repel, make you happy, sad, or even cry. Like the different genres of literature, there are genres in photography. Each requires a different skill set, but all are unified by a common language. That language is the language of light.

I find the creative aspect of photography the most rewarding. However, I also enjoy the gadgets and the photo tweaking. It is exciting for me to return home and upload my images to the large screen of my computer monitor. Sometimes I’m pleased, other times less so. No matter what I always learn a little bit more each time I go out and shoot.

There is also a joy in capturing something that is evident but likely ignored by the people around you. An emotion, a scene, an event. I have done professional photography through the years, but I get a different kind of pleasure shooting for the joy of creating something personal and uniquely mine.

So there I was in Woodstock, Illinois. Wandering the streets of its prosaic downtown, camera at the ready. I clicked here and pointed there; soon it was time to head home. The trip symbolic of many things: Seeing new sights, being creative, spending time with my family, improving a skill.

In many ways, my photography interest is symbolic of my life. The combination of creativity and technology is irresistible to me. When I take pictures, I am once again taught that most joy comes from simple things. It is a lesson that repeats over and over in my life.