A photograph can be about a single subject. When this subject is in the foreground, they way it compels a viewer depends on many elements. One of these is the background. A background that is in spatial and color synchrony with the foreground subject makes for a more effective picture.
When we synchronize watches, we set them to the same time. A compelling photograph synchronizes foreground and background in time, and within the picture space. To achieve this synchrony with nature subjects, it helps to keep moving. Reposition the camera down, back, to the side and up. In other words, keep shifting the vantage point until subject and background synchronize.
Observation, light and editing are the where we live and work as photographers. Strolling through a damp, grassy field by the Peace River, I saw mangroves reflected in the dew drops suspended in blades of grass. In the sky above, slender cirrus clouds hung like translucent wings. I paused along the edge of a posse of white mangroves and realized I did not remember seeing any of the area I just passed by.
I was not hearing the soundscape either. I turned round, went back, and this time I walked along slowly and tuned out the inner dialogue. Details in the mangrove forest began to appear visually. I heard a soft buzzing. A patch of yellow hues came into view. Paper wasps were making building a six inch wide, umbrella-shaped nest on a tree branch a few feet above ground. Since they are a pollinator and feed on garden pests, paper wasps are beneficial; almost every pest insect on Earth has a wasp that feeds on it. A good buzz, indeed.
The wasps were calm and drying off from that morning's dewdrops. It seemed safe to photograph them close up. They are known to sting only when territory is threatened, and as I moved the lens very slowly, light from the sunrise lit their soporific bodies.
Observation. Light. Editing (OLE). To understand these three elements, let's borrow a metaphor from musical performance. Editing is like practicing a song multiple times to embody the timing and dynamics of the notes and phrasing. Light is like the melody. Observation is timing, rhythm and rest. OLE is getting all of it working together. Editing photographs is not about making them perfect, but the process making them express your message. Light has been my sidekick since my childhood; I love thinking about its qualities, direction and moods. Editing and light flow smoothly for me. Observation takes concentration and dedicated practice. Sometimes our art comes not from arriving, but in being almost there.
To look deeply takes practice letting go of my rabbit mind. Easter Sunday came along to remind me to let it go and pay attention to this land.
* Paper wasps have variable black facial patterns that signal their fighting ability. Wasps with more irregular black spots on their faces win more fights and are avoided by rivals, compared with wasps with fewer irregular black spots. These facial signals help reduce the costs of conflict, ensuring that wimpy wasps don’t waste time battling really strong rivals they are unlikely to beat. Like karate belt colors, facial patterns of wasps are like a biological “ornament” that shows the wasps fighting status. Wasps with elaborate ornaments are a greater social and sexual threat than those with less elaborate ornaments (Elizabeth Tibbetts, PhD, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of MIchigan).
“No matter that we may mount on stilts. We still must walk on our own legs.
And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”
Becoming a teacher is a humbling experience.
This Spring, I taught an online photo course via Zoom called Better Pictures with your Camera. Teaching ten students, I learned a lot. There were memorable moments. Trying to work the Zoom interface, and share examples and lessons, I stumbled. My students forgave me and gave me a lesson in forgiveness, Trying to learn from my failures, but not taking them too seriously, I got help from the students, and on the way my mistakes nudged us into laughter and seemed to generate a relaxed, harmonious group mood.
The students in the class were motivated adults. Each one sent in photographs for review and offered feedback and insightful comments to others about their pictures. When we covered photo editors like Photoshop and Lightroom, one student told me about a editor new to me called Affinity. It is a Photoshop-like editor. I downloaded the free trial and got to work editing some images. The program was so well designed that I recommended it to a few other students in the class.
An insight came for me: assume that I will learn something interesting from each student about the world. Assume each student has something novel and interesting to offer. To join forces with students, a teacher can be humble. I photograph daily. Each time I wander out with camera in hand, I am acutely aware that I know only a little about photography. There is an infinite sky above, and photography is a vast ocean of knowledge. There are large areas of photography of which I know little, so there's a lot of room to grow.
If we get caught up in being “great” as photographers or teachers, we lose the ability to be humble. Now, I'm not talking about self-abasement. Here, humility is used in the sense of being un-selved, liberated from a sense of self, and prideless. Listening to pro photographers, I've learned from some that they picked up a specific ability over their careers. Learning how to shoot famous people who are stars of web and screen, these pros mastered ways of letting go of their own stuff to get the results they wanted, and get better images they might not have planned. Why? They knew how to collaborate. For example, Annie Liebovitz, a remarkable photographer, learned to work closely with the stars she photographed on film, when she worked for Vanity Fair.
Liebovitz's humility did not mean she lacked personality, in fact, she was able to take a humble approach to her subject and be personable. She grasped how to work with movie stars and those who, like Diane Keaton, truly disliked being photographed. To work with strong personalities, Annie Liebovitz learned to let go of controlling the situation. Working with teams of support talent, many of her better images emerged in the context of this collaboration. Yes, it truly matters with whom you surround yourself.
THREE IDEAS for HUMILITY:
I crawled in to a space inside the mangroves. Ensconced there, I sat on the sand, above low tide. Mangrove roots, and the mud they walked in, were one being. I could not tell if the tree roots went up or down. The spot was a quiet place to inhale the greenness. One could just be an silent animal, sitting within this short forest canopy.
An ibis flew overhead. Raccoon tracks trickled along the salty, muddy shoreline a few feet below me. A mockingbird landed, staring, from a perch on a mangrove branch nearby. Mangrove crabs scuttled past.
This mangrove forest biome bordered a canal, one of a canal grid along this section of Florida's western shore. The sound of motorcycle engines came from a highway at one end of the forest, the roar dampened by the density of the trees. These red mangroves, one of 100 species called mangroves, protect the coast from erosion and storm surge. Their roots are home to many living creatures: insects and spiders, reptiles, mammals, fish and birds. They are a source of blue carbon, carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by coastal ocean ecosystems. Here in Port Charlotte's estuary, red mangroves are abundant. Dotting their roots, red berries of Brazilian pepper tree punctuated the greenery. I sat, relaxed in deep shade, exploring how pictures of the berries might look.
Bits of plastic and fishing line strands had washed up on shore from being tossed into the canal. While we may talk about pleasure boats, does their pleasure mean throwing trash into the common waters? We humans do so quickly, without a backward glance, and then we motor on. Possibly I am as guilty; I took photographs, but only packed out my own lunch wrappers, being too lazy to pack out any other trash. A question came to me; was it morally repugnant to photograph a wild area that was home to many species, now surrounded by plastic, without cleaning any of it up?
Having no answer to that, I wiped the mud off the lens shade, climbed onto my one speed bike, and peddled back to our floating home, its roots also at home in the water.
In Florida Bay, sixty miles south of Miami, we anchor in six foot teal water depths. Off to port, there is a familiar tail clefting and swooshing the water's surface: a dolphin is pushing sand around on the bottom with its bottlenose, perhaps hunting a stone crab. A waning full moon dots the sky.
Rowing ashore against the current in our dinghy Dog Paddle: a kingfisher percusses out from the mangrove forest, an osprey call pierces out across the water from its nest atop a gumbo limbo tree. Two white ibis nibble by red mangroves along the shore. We walk down the dock to the historic home and hurricane shelter; the latter has walls a foot thick. The home itself was built by a Miami chemist. Its walls are made of coral reef material.
Except for the osprey, the soundscape is quiet this Sunday morning. No rangers are working this morning on Lignumvitae Key, the highest land in the Florida Keys. We pay the park fee and walk a flat, mangrove-surrounded trail. This brings us close to banana spiders and their webs, which span the path we stroll. We pause, rest, and stroll back to the dock, and rowing home, black cormorants launch off a section of the closed dock and below them are hundreds of fish, hovering in a slight current. Portuguese man-o-war drift over shallows near the shore, where six ladyfish are motionless under the mangroves. On this calm, bright morning in the Florida Keys, we row back, stow the oars and greet a patiently waiting dog. The soundscape is broken by laughter.
"Good photography is like making love, it's best not to go too fast. Years of photographing have convinced me that deliberate attention to the subject itself is the force behind compelling photography. As lovers, when we make love, we pay attention to the object of our passion." ~ Jim Austin Jimages
"No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen."
So said American photographer and educator Minor White (1908-1976). He also wrote " Set aside some time to let the garbage go by so as to pay full attention to the photographing."
As our photography culture expands, conversations about speed take place more often. Speed itself gets confused with quality and meaning. A mythical mantra of today's commercial photography is that faster gear means better images. It's a myth. Speed is garbage going by. I believe we should set aside time for slow photography because it lets our heart beat come into harmony with our minds vision. I believe slow photography means taking time to learn what you can do with a photograph and how you feel as you make one.
Intention, not speed, defines interesting photography. While it is tempting to rush when photographing a scene, this is as mistaken as thinking a scene is a narrative. We do not know what happened by looking at a photograph, nor do we know that working quickly makes the image better. If I am judgemental, and think “that was a good frame,” given more thought in editing I might realize later that a slightly different camera position would have made a more interesting composition: "If I'd moved to the right two inches" and "Why didn't I slow down and take more time to explore the scene.”
TIME FOR EXPERIENCING
To make beautiful pictures, we have to take time to experience, then prepare, get our mental attitude ready, and then let our mind and soul embrace the spirit of a place as we enter its flow. This may not happen on the first round, or second, or fifteenth. Our attention to the idea has to be continual, sometimes for years.
"A photograph takes a 60th of a second to capture, but 60 years to release." Jimages
But what kind of attention? Years of photographing have convinced me that deliberate attention to the subject itself is the force behind compelling photography. As lovers, when we make love, we pay attention to the object of our passion. Why not the same as photographers? This does not imply that the subject is external. Subject matter can be a feeling, mood and quite abstract. At times, compelling images reflect less concrete, ideational themes. There is a balance between feeling emotion and thinking with each frame. Good photography doesn't happen just because we felt strong emotions when we clicked. Like bottling a gallon of maple syrup from 40 gallons of tree sap, a tasty photograph combines experience, patience and a lot of practice to make mistakes along the way.
To acquire and maintain a skill takes practice, so the basics are automatic. Then, our visual imagination is free to improvise, as musicians do, to fine tune unique details that make a frame singular and fresh. For practice, each morning I take a camera outdoors. I take a few boring compositions. and framing. It does not matter if most of the images are deleted. What counts is the practice, slowing down the process of seeing, without time pressure. Then, every so often, rarely, the stones within the frame may turn into a diamond. It often helps me to keep photographing and experimenting even when I feel I have the best image. I believe that frame of mind is the most valuable tool in the gear bag. Our attitudes become patterns. These patterns become actions. Our actions, with repetition, shift into habits. Positive mental habits are our most effective gear. One attitude that works for me is telling myself: "this composition seems good, but I wonder if I slow down and take different views, it will be even better?" These positive mental habits evolve slowly over time. It helps to surround ourselves with the culture of a variety of good art, literature and photography.
INTENTION and ATTENTION
A photographer needs intention. I try to fill my practice with an intentional purpose. This takes time. If the idea of slow photography is to endure, I believe it will not be about time exposures, gear choices, or neutral density filters. Instead, slow photography evokes the meaning of our experiences with the picture world as we train our feet and brain to pay attention.
My photo haiku don't always follow the haiku rules...
I do not believe
my haiku are well framed ̶ they
go from bad to verse
I can't give up making pictures, writing short poems or drinking coffee. After a while, these habits join each other like three lines in a haiku. I don't know when this happened.
Q: What is Photo Haiku?
Photo haiku combines an image and a brief poem to open the minds to a fresh perception. The combination evokes thoughts, and at best a state of consciousness in a viewer. Photo haiku tries to show the essence of human experience or nature. Well-written photo haiku can grabs the mind with an Aha! immediacy.
Q: Why do Photo Haiku ?
Making photo haiku expands our awareness of small delights, pleasures and odd moments. Writing haiku reframes our associations to our pictures. Photo haiku also boosts the impact of our photographs: words and pictures together have more power than either alone. We remember events more vividly when we write a poem about them.
This is not your grandfather's poetry. Modern haiku is playful, social, and even witty. The structure of haiku is no longer bound to 17 syllables anymore. Nope, no more the old 5-7-5 rule that we were taught in elementary school. Photo haiku today is more spontaneous. It has an 'on the spot' lightness.
The haiku form also lends itself to travels with a camera. It's a challenge to pay attention deeply so that I write poems that harmonizes with the pictures I take on the road. Even years later, looking back on where I travelled, my hoto haiku helps me recall small events. Part of the reason is that like haiku, our photo haiku can include a seasonal word that anchors the time of year of the event or perception.
Haiku: The Wordless Poem
Long called the “wordless poem,” hokku was linked to spiritual practice. The non-rhyming short poetry form began with scholars in China as hokku, then spread throughout Japan and came to be called haiku in the 19th century.Traditionally, poets in China wrote to praise nature. Writing poetry was a social occasion. Later, Matsuo Basho, the most renowned Japanese haiku poet, devoted his spiritual life to writing poetry and prose. With his travels throughout Japan and his haiku wiring, Basho remindfully brings the distant past into the present. He explored northern Japan as a traveling priest and his poems from his journeys bring us a feeling of “lightness,” as his haiku summoned ideas from Zen practice such as wabi, sabi and solitariness. Basho's prose and poetry reflects experiences anyone can have everyday. Today, haiku is popular worldwide.
Now, let's see how to make photo haiku - the How To of haiku.
How To Make Photo Haiku
Begin by observing a moment in time. Imagine the essence of what you feel and perceive.
Use familiar, simple photo gear like your cell phone or point and shoot camera. Any subject or human relationship can become a haiku photograph.
Think about the picture, and what you perceived, heard, or sensed. Write a short poem about the feeling you had. Your three line poem can be about what happened or what you imagined could have happened. Use direct, simple words. Think of a group of words that present what you observed in a way that appeals to the senses of touch, hearing and taste. Edit the poem so you "cut out the fat." Use present tense, not past tense.
Apps and Photoshop for Photo Haiku
There are many apps to apply effects to pictures. I've tried Photo Artista Haiku effect. Downloaded, the app lets you easily change the appearance of a photo. If will not make you a haiku poet, but the effects are fun.
PHOTOSHOP: Making Your Photo Haiku with 7 Steps in Adobe Photoshop
STEP 1: START. Open your photograph using File > Open.
STEP 2: Add your text. Click IMAGE > Canvas Size. Change width to 300 pixels wide. If your picture was 800 pixels, make the width 1200 pixels.
STEP 3 : Likewise, add 400 pixels to the height. Note that you can customize the canvas color by clicking Canvas extension color: drop-down menu at the bottom of the Canvas Size dialog box.
STEP 4: Click the Text Tool in the toolbox.
Select your font style from the upper toolbar.
Type in the text of your poem. If you want to move down a line, type 'enter" key on your keyboard.
STEP 5: Click Photoshop's check mark to commit your edits (the check mark is at the top of Photoshop's display, in the middle of the Options bar that runs horizontally across the top of the screen). To view your text layer, open the Layers palette by clicking WINDOW > Layers
( or type the fn key plus the f7 key).
STEP 6: Position your poem by using the move tool in the toolbox.
STEP 7: FINISH. With the text and a picture on two layers, save the file as a .psd file type so you can edit it later (File > Save As). For instance, you may wish to change the color scheme, and this is easier with a Photoshop's .PSD file.
Haiku photography is thriving in the information age as people write haiku in 30 different languages. The rapid growth of digital photography inspires new forms of photo haiku. As a wave of younger artists publish diverse haiku photo work online, haiku photo will reach a global audience with fresh energy, centuries after it first emerged.
HAIKU POETS HUT. For an index of haiku subjects from “inner glow” to “dragons” and a million other haiku, explore Shoji and other poets at Haiku Poets Hut.
FACEBOOK. Join the haiku hut on Facebook .
WORLD HAIKU REVIEW. Find the official magazine of the World Haiku Club.
HAIKU BOOK. The Haiku Anthology , Third edition. Core van den Hoevel.
HAIKU: THE WORLD'S SHORTEST POEM. Youtube video that shows Japanese people in Tokyo spontaneously composing haiku on the street and references Basho and Shiki, two haiku poets.
We took a wrong turn, got lost, and drove around Highland roads in search of the Ballachulish House Bothy. Luckly, the weather was clearing. We found the driveway off the main road, and a rainbow burst out overhead as the brisk wind rocked the trees along the driveway that looked like it led to our Scottish guesthouse.
We parked the rental car, the owner greeted us, and when I asked, told us the village was pronounced BAL-ə-HOO-lish. He invited us to move our gear into the warmly furnished guest house ̶ a white, rectangular, 19th century, slate roof, stone-built abode, described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast. On the mantle above its fireplace, hardbound between red leather covers, was a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels (First American Editions, Scribner's sons). Along its length, this series of novels measured three feet. Stevenson's novel Kidnapped was in the middle of the stack, about halfway in-between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. As the wind howled around Ballachulish house that night, the pages turned in my mind, and I realized that the author Robert Louis Stevenson was part of the same family as the Stevenson clan who built almost 100 Scottish lighthouses.
Built in 1640, this guesthouse is infamously connected to the Appin Murder, known in Scotland for a howling miscarriage of justice. Colin Campbell of Glenure, the Red Fox, was shot in the back in the Wood of Lettermore near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee and managed three estates under the government control of King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. The Kings men took land from Jacobite clans and Jacobite men sought revenge. Thus, the shooting.
This particular shooting of Campbell outraged the British establishment, even more so as it came on the heels of the Battle of Culloden, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites were defeated in battle by the British army. James Stewart, a Jacobite known as “James of the Glen”, was hanged for the Appin murder despite his solid alibi. The psalm that James of the Glen spoke before he was led to the noose, the 35th psalm, is known in the highlands at the Psalm of James of the Glen: Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me; Let their way be dark and slippery. The murder and injust hanging inspired fictional events in Robert Louis Stevenson's aforementioned novel Kidnapped.
The next day, in the windy, chilly, moist air of the coast, we hiked the coast to see the Neist Point Lighthouse on the Isle of Skye. Perched on a promontory, the 1909 lighthouse overlooks the turbulent waters between the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Its purpose is to warm ships away from the Gneiss rocks at Neist Point. Striding over the wet heather and muddy grass along the cliffs, with a steady 35-knot wind cutting through our bones, we could see gannets gliding over the water at the base of the cliffs. We took care to avoid the drizzle-awakened slippery rocks near the deathly drop offs, lest a wind gust propel us over the cliff.
To photograph the lighthouse, we took the cliff trail instead of the steep, single track downward. Looking out over the promontory, made of Giant's Causeway gneiss rock, it was clear how Neist Point came into its name (pronounced Neiss). Given the scale of this remote rock promontory, it seemed improbable that anyone would build there, yet the builder, engineer David Alan Stevenson, a member of the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders in Scotland, had conquered this terrain as well. David Stevenson designed and built 26 lighthouses with his brother and uncle, including the Neist project. The three unique features of Neist are first, its setting on the most westerly point of Skye, projecting into the Minch. Also, a garage was converted into a tea and coffee shop, a blessing to wind-chilled slow photographers. Finally, there is an aerial cableway for getting supplies down and out to the lighthouse building.
After downloading the days scenes from our cameras back inside the guesthouse, its cozy touches-fireplace, hot tea, the pages of Stevenson's book, shelter from the wind-came together to make for a blissful Isle of Skye evening.
In the back yard of my childhood home, a giant chestnut tree spread its limbs.
From far above me, its chestnuts fell and landed with a solid clonk. These gems were colored a deep brown. I gathered and polished them, leaving them in piles inside our family home on Council Crest, a hill known as "Portland's rooftop garden." This heavenly Oregonian chestnut tree inspired me to climb its relatives, photograph its kin and talk to many others. This year, I read Trees, a book by photographer Frank Horvat with an essay by John Fowles (1926-2005). The beauty of the book inspired this selection of quotes by Fowles, the famous novelist. . .
"There is a spiritual corollary to the way we are currently de-foresting and de-naturing our planet. In the end what we must most defoliate and deprive is ourselves.
We might as soon start collecting up the world’s poetry, ever line and every copy, to burn it in a final pyre; and think we should lead richer and happier lives thereafter."
"That two branches grow in different directions and ways does not mean they do not share a same mechanism of need, a deeper set of rules."
"Evolution did not intend trees to grow singly. Far more than ourselves they are social creatures, and no more natural as isolated specimens than man is as a marooned sailor."
All quotes by John Fowles