Decisive Moments

•July 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Revisiting a photographic concept called “the decisive moment” an idea put forth by Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Take a look and a listen.  

Essentially, all elements of composition and timing come together in one moment. If you miss it, the image is gone.  That is the essential idea I got from him.  

I took the lesson seriously.  It applies to a lot of things in life I think. We live in decisive moments even if our lives seem to us pretty mundane. I think it originates in an idea I have about God, the concept of Imago Dei, and it comes from Jesus, all things I’ve learned in almost 70 years. If “God so loved the world…“, the Bible verse announces, then there are implications.  Life becomes a string of decisive moments for one, strings of decisions that integrate to a life.  I also infer there are moments that are not decisive.  But I digress.

Cartier-Bresson used one small camera and one lens his entire career, famously the Leica 35mm and a 50mm lens. Not a zoom lens. Not a motor drive.  He said the 50mm lens was most like his eye, and the Leica camera and lens were an extension of himself.  Consider for a moment the pounds on pounds of equipment a typical photographer carries about today.  Discipline yourself.  If you have a “standard” single focal length lens, go out for a day and photograph with it alone.

To me the photograph below is an example of how I practice the “decisive moment”.  Coincidentally it was taken with a Leica M4-2 and a 35mm lens.  It could just as easily been taken with my little Canon G11, which is smaller and quieter than the old Leica film cameras.  I still miss the Leica.  Selling it was one of my worst decisions.  I say I could have used a Canon G11.  Maybe not. 

Kids at weddings. They could not care less about the ceremony. They are there for the food. They are lost in a crowd of adults, who are just as unmindful of them. The kid closest to the camera swills down the punch. The second kid behind him is in a predicament. He does not have enough hands. He has not yet learned how to successfully manage a plate with snacks and a drink at the same time. (Has anyone learned how?). I saw them and watched. The image came.

Point being, with “the decisive moment” in mind, if any part of the image changed – the woman’s hands, the man cutting the cheese, the first boy having put down his cup and wandered off… If one tiny element changed, the moment would no longer exist and the photograph would vaporize. If you are like me at all, you probably have a long list of mental images and regret the ones that got away.

C’est la vie. Life and love: The indecisive moments go unnoticed. But the ones where everything perfectly comes together and we just miss it, and worst of all, we realize it. Ah. Regrets of life pile up.

Happy Accidents

•July 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Such a simple error to make. There I am concentrating on one thing, and I think my hand is on the correct action, but it is not. I make a quick adjustment and I have something, not at all what I wanted, and I am not sure how I got it. I start to delete it. Then I take a closer look. Maybe this could lead somewhere. Or maybe it is better left a mistake and removed from further consideration.

I don’t know. It’s not really a photograph although Photoshop Elements was involved. It’s graphic. It’s derived from a photograph. I have to think about this some more to see if it leads anywhere else.

I’m old, old school. I prefer photo-realism and more natural renderings. My influences are Adams, the Westons, the Group f.64, the mid-1900s photojournalism of people like Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, and Dorothea Lange. Some of these folks were real butts personally, they probably would not be my friends, but when I was studying photographs, I was studying theirs.

The image is not at all like any of theirs. It is not like any of mine. Anyway, stop talking and present it. I know now how I did it. Repeatable.

Negative Blue Butterfly


I Went for a Walk: A Different Trail

•July 12, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’m about to head to Cheatham Hill again to walk the trail. I have to get exercise in several times a week. The gym bores the heck out of me. During the week the trail is very quiet, with just enough people around that maybe it keeps the bad guys away. Usually, the only sound I hear are my footsteps and breath, and the occasional pounding and panting of a passing runner. Horses can use the trail, too, but I don’t see them often, only the occasional patty.

The trail passes through meadows, crosses streams, and crisscrosses the battlefields that make up Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield. If you happen to be in the minority, and you are actually from Atlanta, then you understand well the Civil War is never more than a mile or two away from you. There are placards, memorials, canons, earthworks, trenches, and other artifacts of the war all still very visible. There were trenches in the woods behind my best friend’s house, in the neighborhood where I grew up. We were about a mile from the Chattahoochee River, Atlanta just beyond, and I imagine 150 years ago the barefoot Rebel boys were sent especially to Kenwood subdivision. They dug the trenches, and set up there most likely to protect against a flanking maneuver by them “damn Yankees.” God and General Sherman made other plans.

If you live anywhere from Pennsylvania south, through Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia, and you live near the expressways, then you probably have a battlefield close by.

One section of the Cheatham Hill trail shows trenches dug closely together with the signage showing the Confederate brigade which was here and the Union brigade which was there, ten or twenty yards away. Even I can hit something that close. The fighting was bloody.

So I walk silently and photograph. I share some of the photographs here.

The other day I went for a walk and I decided to take a different path. It is such a cliche but I thought of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Well dang if that ain’t true.

I picked a different path this time, one not as worn nor as wide as my usual path, and I saw different things. Pretty trite, huh? But the grander scheme of things is composed of infinitesimally small schemes of things that may hand us a clue if we’re alert to them. Maybe I don’t want to stay with the crowd so much.

Looking toward Cheatham Hill Road

The wildflowers exhibit Southern reticence, charming but reserved, and not much for grand display, except for a few gaudy cousins who show up at the family reunions. Oh, how they put on such airs, like the native tiger lilies who dress in in orange and red, or the Maypops – the passion flower, which is edible. The Cherokee Indians called them ocoee, we think, and in deference, the white settlers named the Ocoee river after them. It is also the Tennesee state flower. They were not out today at Cheatham Hill, but the butterfly pea and petunias, tiny daisy fleabane and a dandelion cousin could be found among the chest high grasses.

The paths diverge and join again, taking you up and down. It is a good place for runners, those who in my opinion are intelligent enough to stay off the roads and away from aggressive Atlanta drivers who fear not the laws of Man or God.

Below my baby, and the point of the story besides me meandering around in a field with temperatures in the 90s just for the sweat of it. I suppose the particular path I was on really is the road less traveled. Even though deer are a very common sight, especially with the never ending bulldozing for more and more houses, I did not expect to see one, and she probably did not expect to see me.

As I rounded the corner this doe was feeding. I stopped immediately, she looked up. I said quietly, as friendly as I could, “Hey little buddy,” and I guess she figured I was no threat even though I was only a few feet from her, because she went back to feeding. I had time to get my camera out and take four or five images. I won’t bore you with them all.

It is too hot for deer season. I don’t think there is any hunting on this land, either. I am not opposed to hunting at all. It keeps the deer healthier to thin the herds with planned hunting seasons. People around here eat what they kill. They might even eat what you ran over. I am sure my brother-in-law would say, “That thar is good eatin'”. I agree, but today this deer and I met and continued on in peace.


Bee Technical

•July 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been photographing a long time, since I was ten or eleven years old. I became “serious” in my late twenties. “Serious” usually means you are making carefully considered photographs.

This is a “serious” photograph of mine. I took it for fun and profit. I think it has commercial value. I hope it is profitable. I’ll post it, but I am not sure where yet.

I present it here with a few general details. I have my own way of working developed over decades photographing. Maybe it will be instructive and help you in some way by learning what I did to make this photograph.

I don’t recall how long I watched the bee fly among the mums. Insects don’t wait on you. This worker was constantly moving. So the Number 1 photographic technique I apply is patience. It may look odd to people who happen to see me just standing there, camera to eye, finger on the shutter release, not doing anything. However, I am doing something. I am waiting and watching.

I usually take the camera off automatic when photographing nature. I do not fire away like a machine gun, hoping that I hit something. Think about it. To me there is little creativity in the machine gun approach?

My nature photography method is different from my wedding and portrait photography, and from my sports photography. If I am photographing a wedding, especially when making a group photograph of the family, there’s always someone with eyes closed or with some odd look. There is nothing more fleeting than human expressions. So once I have the lighting and composition set, I take several images in a burst, and pick one with the best expressions. If I photograph a basketball game, I will use active focus, follow the action or lead the action to where I think it will be, and fire a burst.

Back to the bee.

In order to take the camera off automatic you must understand the relationship of aperture, shutter speed, and the ISO. One setting impacts the others. I won’t go into a tedious description of it here.

ISO first. I set it to 400. I do not let the camera set it. I have to be aware of what effect the ISO will have on quality, shutter speed. Do I want the image “grainy” (digital signal noise)? Do I want blur or not. The lower the ISO, the less digital noise you introduce to the image (higher quality), but the more the image is affected by motion and blurring if you have a fairly small aperture like f8. If the available light is low, then you try to compensate with a higher shutter speed, but the camera may not try to set that. Just be aware of it. Your photos will let you know.

Next, I set the camera to aperture priority and the lens to f8. I allow the camera to set the shutter speed. I don’t want it trying to average things out to the algorithm determined by collecting images from a million happy consumers.

The camera I used is a Nikon D3400. It is a very capable, consumer oriented camera, and very inexpensive compared to others. I don’t think it matters too much whether you use Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, or whatever. My opinion after having photographed with many, many different brands is… OPINION ALERT… Nikon makes the best reasonably priced professional equipment and Canon makes the best consumer cameras. I have use both brands for 30 or 40 years. I won’t argue about it. Use what you like.

The lens was one of Nikon’s consumer zooms, a 55-200mm G, not a macro. It is very light, and inexpensive. Nikon puts them in their D3400 and D3500 kits. This image was taken with the zoom set at almost 200mm. I back off the maximum settings because you’ll usually find the best performance and image quality if you shoot somewhere in the middle. That goes for zoom range and f-stop.

I had the D3400 and lens set to manual focus. Again, manual focus, not on automatic, which is way too slow for a moving insect. Here is where a little more expensive camera body might help, but I would still shoot nature manually focused. It’s a bit of a pain, because the lens has a tiny focusing ring. But get your thumb and finger on it and let it rest there. At f5.6-f8 and 200mm, you have only a tiny bit of depth of field. A soft background sets the subject apart and draws the eye to it.

I photographed this hand-held. No tripod. That probably breaks one of the cardinal rules about nature photography. I will often use a monopod which also works as a hiking stick. I will sometimes use a tripod. But most often I shoot hand held. My hands are still steady, even with a SLR, down to about 1/10 to 1/15 second. I can move around a lot more quickly with just a camera.

Is there luck involved? Was there luck with this shot? I don’t much believe in luck anymore. I believe in practice, preparation and experience. I believe in GOD at work. I cannot count the number of times times I felt Him very close by. When I “get that shot” or whatever you call it, in that instant, that is when I feel Him closest. It’s a deep feeling in my soul. I don’t apologize for it. I read about Henri Cartier-Bresson, the famous French photographer. He made those wonderful, iconic, sometimes surreal black and white street images. He was an atheist, part of the Humanist Photography movement. Believer or Atheist, it is my firm belief that you can’t get away from the Imago Dei.

Now the Big Secret, which is not secret, I photographed in RAW (NEF) format, not jpeg. Almost all the adjustments in exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, noise reduction and sharpness were done in Photoshop Elements RAW image processor which is part of both Elements and the much more expensive Adobe Lightroom. (Get Elements on sale for $69 a couple times a year).

If you want really good photographs with detail in the highlights and shadows and nuanced color, learn how to work with a digital “negative” to control everything.

I brought up the image in Elements Editor. It recognized the NEF format and started the RAW processor. I cropped the image, then I adjusted exposure, contrast, blacks, shadows, clarity. I adjusted sharpness and luminance noise. You must adjust exposure in the RAW processor in order to bring the highlights under control and not lose detail in a big, honkin’ color blob. (BTW that happens a lot in automatic mode shooting jpeg format.) Then I opened the image into the regular Elements editor. I set the image to 8 bit color depth, then I adjusted lighting and contrast. I added selective sharpness here and there. You don’t have to add any more general sharpness, but only to select areas to set them apart.

Posted here is the “Web” version, which isn’t the highest quality. But you don’t need much for presentation on the internet.

Nikon’s original professional digital SLR, the D1 was released in 1999, and the D100 followed closely behind. The owner of the studio I worked at then told me, quote: “Hey we are going all digital, just to let you know.” So I paid $2000 for the D100, and I continued working. Today, you don’t really have to get a $1500-2000 camera body or a $1000 lens to capture great photographs. Not only are cameras obviously expensive, the designated pro models weigh a ton. Some people need them. I also have a D7500 and an older D90. I have to think about return on investment.

I heard there’s no cost justification for a hobby. If there were, there would be no bass boats.

If you are interested in learning more from me, I offer reasonably priced, private and small group classes.

I Went for a Walk – Rome, GA

•July 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

We were in Rome, Georgia for a wedding last weekend. Along with snapshots of the wedding and family, there was plenty of spare time to walk around the downtown area of Rome around the hotel, on Sunday morning.

I stayed close to the river. The confluence of the Oostanaula and Coosa rivers form the Etowah in Rome. Rome was named for Rome, Italy because Georgia’s Rome is also surrounded by seven hills. The Tiber River of course runs near Rome, Italy, the Etowah through Rome, Georgia.

Rome, Italy was founded in 753 BC, and Rome, Georgia in 1834. No fratricide was involved in the founding of Rome. Georgia. However it was built on top of a Cherokee village. This, of course, occurred as the Native American tribes were dispersed to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

There aren’t any majestic ruins in Rome, Georgia, but they have an interesting stone structure visible as you drive into town. It resembles the Roman aqueducts.

In my earlier post, I told about the birds gathering at the river in the early morning for breakfast. Hundreds of birds. They come back for lunch too. I was more observant during my subsequent bridge crossings, and I managed to dodge the bird bombs.

By the way, the very same day I was successfully targeted, we ate lunch outside at the Harvest Moon Restaurant, and my youngest daughter got tagged by a bird as well. It is nice to feel special.

When I was hit she told me it was good luck. She changed her opinion a bit when it was her turn. We should have bought lottery tickets.

I digress. This is not supposed to be about avian scatology.

Here are some snapshots I took around the river and bridges. Enjoy.

Providence and Bird Poop

•June 29, 2019 • Leave a Comment

We went to Rome, the Georgia variant, for a wedding. Lovely town. Home of Ellen Axson Wilson, wife and First Lady of President Woodrow Wilson. I have not been here in years.

True to form, I woke up before 6 AM. I found the fitness room, but thought better of it, and instead decided to take a sunrise walk.

There is a very nice walk across the Etowah River. It flows through the town.

As the sun was just peaking above the horizon, there were hundreds of sparrows flying above the river darting back and forth catching bugs. They flew close by, some just a few feet from me. Their mouths were open the entire time receiving what was freely theirs to get.

Some called, maybe to others in the group. They put on an impressive show of Providential care.

Just as soon as the sun was fully up, most of the birds were gone, except for the proverbial late risers who I suppose did not get the worm, or the bug in this case.

And to make sure I did not take this moment of illumination too seriously, yep I got pooped on by some dang bird. My daughter tells me that a bird pooping on you is good luck.

The Circus

•June 26, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Circuses are ages old. They have been grotesque, like Roman circuses. They have been more or less civilized. Lately they have been sanitized for the age of sensitivity. Animal rights, a litigious culture, the Internet, video games, blame the demise of the circus on what you will, but the popularity is largely gone.

Florida State University has its Flying High Circus which is acrobatic. They have a circus camp. If you are in Georgia you can see them at Callaway Gardens Friday, May 31, 2019, to Friday, July 19, 2019. If you have not seen it before you should.

We all know about Cirque du Soleil . Again, if you have never seen it, you should.

The most well known example I am referring to is Ringling Brothers, which closed the tent after 146 years. So very sad.

I am presenting here a photo essay; the smelly, sketchy circus that travels town to town. The Traveling Circus. In 2017 there were 19 remaining circuses using animals. The photographs are from different ones I experienced for several years, taking my kids during the day, then returning at night. They are from what I hope is the “real circus” of elephants, and acrobats, and clowns, and people shot out of canons, with carnies, and rigged “games of skill.”

During the day the kids and parents come and enjoy the rides. But at night. Ah, night time at the circus. Enjoy the darkness and creepiness.

They are also following Ringling Brothers’ path.