"We don't really want meaning from
our photographs. We seek
experiences to feel intensely alive."
A sea of green palmettos. Piercing the palmettos, above the horizon, a branched stalk wavers in the island's dune heat waves. Something is flying up over this century plant, jumping up and floating down.
It is a mating mockingbird. In flight, it rises up from the tip of the plant, hovers briefly, then puts two feet down and wafts gently back to perch atop the century plant.
On the opposite horizon, teal-colored shallows extend beyond the sandy beach.
Once again, the bird flies up ten feet. Comes down, sings loudly, and flies up again. A camera clicks, and a trill of bold, rapid notes pours out from the bird after it lands. Its music is carried out over the soft sand beach and the shallows. Are our courtship dances as persistently choreographed as the one by this mocking bird?
6000 Mile Message in a Bottle: The Courage of Every Day Life
Guillaume Rivest with Bentley Smith
( In Memory of Douglas R. Hansen)
Bentley Smith was sailing in the Bahamas. He found a message in a bottle.
He found it while walking with his dog and his husband on South Cat Island, at Robbin Creek. On their trip from Long Island that day, the live-aboard couple had not intended to anchor at that location. They decided to shorten their sail because winds began to blow from the north, the direction they'd planned to sail. The dropped anchor and rowed ashore at about 2:30 pm that afternoon, in March 2020.
On a rocky shoreline of the creek, enveloped by mangroves, Bentley saw a clear shiny bottle with paper inside. The cork was wet and very loose. It immediately fell out when he took the bottle from the sand. A wad of white paper inside was soaking wet. He took the message in the bottle back to the rowboat, out the creek and back to sailing catamaran Salty Paws.
The next day, after a short sail to Fernandez Bay, Bentley broke open the bottle to remove the paper. Floating the paper in fresh water, he could see a few lines of French, written in pencil, but the only clear text that he could make out was the name, Guillaume Rivest and a date of 27 Juin 2061. He looked on Facebook. There were 20 matching names. So, me sent a note using Facebook messenger and in less than 10 minutes, at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, he received a response.
The message was written by Guillaume Rivest, who four years previously was part of an 2016 historic re-enactment, sailing a square-rigged barq. The voyage was documented in a Canadian video production called La Grande Traversee. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6678790/). La Grande Traversée is film about the adventures of six men and four women, aged 23 to 44, who undertook the challenge of crossing the North Atlantic by sail aboard L'Espérance, a three-masted schooner, in colonial era conditions. The film shows Mr. Rivest, on the widow maker bowsprit in period costume, composing his letter, rolling it up, putting it into the bottle, and then launching it into the sea off Madeira Island, 3600 miles away from the Bahamas (https://youtu.be/haOfgf6Wd5Q).
The fusion of the bottle's discovery, it's drifting on ocean currents, and the film footage were like a rare chemical convergence from which life originally emerged. You might gather the same materials and order their sequence, but you would never be able to duplicate the next part of the story.
Guillaume Rivest added to the story, writing in French on Facebook:
"Yesterday, something amazing happened to me!
Almost 4 years ago, during La Grande Crossing, I wrote a message in a bottle that I threw off the madeiras Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
Yesterday, four years later, by the greatest chance, I get a message from a guy named Bentley Smith telling me he found a bottle with my name inside. No contact in common, I immediately think of a scam, but it sends me in the seconds following a picture of my name, written by myself on a paper in very bad condition.
Bentley found my bottle on the coast of a bay in the Bahamas islands. Living on his sailboat, he had thrown the ink in it to protect himself from the wind. That's when he saw the reflection of the glass on the edge of the water.
The cap had lost its volume and contract letting the water in. The message was in very bad condition only allows Bentley to read one thing: my name. After contacting about twenty Guillaume Rivest, he finally found me.
When they say there's no chance in life! Imagine!!!
The bottle travelled almost 6000 km, for almost four years. She didn't break, she was found and by any miracle, the only thing that was still legible on the message was my name!
Mr. Rivest then posted an English translation of his French message in the bottle. During his crossing for The Grand Traversee, here is what Guillaume Rivest wrote:
Know that this particular bottle you found contains a particular message. A message of courage and hope.
This bottle will have settled in a destination unknown to it at the time of departure. Place where she now delivers her message. His journey is reminiscent of that of the French colonists who left their mother country to settle in America.
In their wooden bottle, push by the wind, these settlers carried a message of hope. Hope for a new life.
Like this message, these settlers did not know their final destination. The unknown, the fear and the doubt had to gnaw them constantly. Despite this, their courage and perseverance have contributed to making the French fact in North America much more than an anecdote.
Newly landed on Aboriginal land, these settlers had much to learn. It is through contact with first nations that they have been able to survive on these hostile and yet, welcoming lands.
I, Guillaume Rivest, one of the 10 colonists of La Grande Traversée, agreed to relive this same journey in the most authentic way possible. This adventure is a tribute to my ancestors, but also a tribute to the First Nations who welcomed us to their land.
The difficulty I have in living this adventure is only a fraction of that experienced by my ancestors.
Wherever you are a reader, know that courage does not only manifest itself in an act of bravery. It is manifested in everyday life, through actions and decisions that sometimes seem trivial, but that will have immense repercussions on the world.
The courage of everyday life is true bravery.
[ Dedicated to the loving memory of Douglas R. Hansen (1945 - 2020) who lived with true bravery ]. La Grande Traversée
Before the wedding uploads began, the groom paused.
Walking down the center aisle of the Church of God, he groom slowed his pace to less than a crawl. Between him and the front hallway, where the couple were headed, a reef of cell phones waved like sea fans in the current. He knew that his bride was tired, her blood sugar levels were dropping, but he felt that, despite being emotionally drained, she was keeping her smiles flowing. The phones rose higher all around them.
Phone cameras were raised in prayer. They glowed aloft, then were brought down, to be scrutinized by their owners. The guests at this Bahamas island wedding were keen to know they'd captured the Bride, safely, on their memory chips.
The couple halted. While the priest found his pen for them to sign their vows, a young father wrestled playfully with his twenty-one-month-old daughter on the side aisle, attempting to have her touch down to earth for a picture, as stained glass colors danced by her on the floor by her shoes. A stunningly beautiful woman with yellow eye-liner and purple-tinted braids charged her iPhone from an outlet next to a stack of Bibles on the floor, wistful because she's missed many moments.
The newlyweds exited the Church of God, passed into blinding tropical sunlight, with a sea of cell phones following. As car doors opened and engines started up, all the guests got ready for a trip to the reception. Social media tags were added. Uploading began . . .
Not a single phone rang during the holy ceremony.
One morning we took our rowboat from our sailboat onto a Bahamas island beach. Rowing though the teal water, we passed over coral formations a couple feet below the dinghy. On the beach, above the soft tan sand, a line of pine trees swayed in the breeze. Landing smoothly on the soft sand beach, I felt the wet grains of sand between my toes. Walking barefoot along the tide line, we listened, and the absence of all human sounds was pleasant. Only the sounds of waves and the rustle of a slight breeze in the trees caressed the soundscape.
Within this quiet, we heard a hiss. I froze. At the high tide line, near a hold in the sand, an eight-inch tall owl stared at me. It hissed. We gazed at the owl, and it looked us over. It's feathers were mottled, it had curved grey claws, and a light-colored beak. But, its eyes !
Exploring along the beach, we found 10 other owl burrows. Two owls flew from their burrows and into an area of palm trees. I waited in the low scrub near the edge of the forest. Minutes passed. I heard only wave sounds. No owls. As the camera grew a little heavier in the hands, I got a sixth sense of being watched. I turned and looked through the trees. A pair of yellow eyes looked back. The owl was ten feet up atop of broken palm tree. It's face was grainy with sand
After the owl cleaned its beak with its talons, it gave a single sharp warning cry and took off through the trees.
WHAT IS TOPAZ SHARPEN AI ?
Topaz Sharpen AI is Topaz Studio2 software with Lightroom and Photoshop plug-in for $79.99 USD that corrects focus, reduces shake and sharpens soft images. Here are some ideas to use it effectively. You can save 20 bucks if you purchase before December 28th, cost is $59.99 at https://topazlabs.com/sharpen-ai .
Topaz Sharpen AI is a free trial, so after you enter your email, you'll get an email link to download a free trial, and the company keeps your sign in and information private.
HOW TO DOWNLOAD FOR 1 Month TRIAL: 3 Steps
1. Put in your name and password to create an account on the Topaz Labs My Account Page. 2. Download Sharpen AI from the Topaz Labs Downloads Page. Then you Log In. Put in your account information. 3. Choose "Start Trial" to start using Sharpen AI free for a month. Easy.
Many photographers capture images with RAW files now. Sharpen AI only supports .jpeg, .tiff and .png files. Convert your RAW files to one of these formats before you open your image into the Topaz Sharpen AI program.
The thinking behind Topaz Sharpen AI is that sharpening, instead of getting applied to both noise and detail, is selectively applied to detail alone to enhance it without boosting any noise that's in the image. This explains why there is a separate slider for Grain (Noise) to balance out and make even the finish of the grain over the image.
Let's look at examples of what the program does. The version used here in 2019 is Version 1.4.2. The program's three modes are Sharpen, Stabilize and Focus. In each mode, there are sliders called "Remove Blur" "Suppress Noise" and "Add Grain".
The first examples, in the Sharpen mode, show how this mode enhances detail in a BW image The slider was adjusted to the lower numbers. For this example where only the Sharpen Mode was applied, the Add Grain slider was not used, and only Remove Blur and Suppress Noise were applied, and again these were set to low settings.
The Second Mode for Topaz Sharpen AI is Stabilize. This mode picks up on how much shake there is, often from hand-holding a shot or having too slow a shutter speed. Then, it corrects motion blur for a crisper look.
If the image focus is off, Focus mode picks up on patterns in the image within ten pixels to recover from slight lens blur.
MORE ABOUT TOPAZ AI SLIDERS
Images vary in their lens blur, their motion blur, and their level of detail. The sliders called "Remove Blur" and "Suppress Noise are best used in small adjustments, so start with smaller values first to correct the image. Other images may need larger effects produced by the sliders. Try not to overdo the sharpening.
If the program is taking too long, the first thing to do is to change the Automatic Preview Update setting. Find Update Preview and change it from On to Off. It is located under the three sliders. You may also choose to reduce your image size. Topaz Sharpen AI needs time to
If there is strange looking smoothness in some areas of the image, consider using the "Add Grain" slider in rare instances. It puts in a bit of noise to make the photo look realistic. Add grain or noise when the Sharpen mode, Stabilize mode or Focus mode you've used applies too much correction to the image. The goal is to restore realistic detail.
BUT I HAVE LIGHTROOM
No worries. Topaz Sharpen AI and Lightroom are fully compatible. First, set up Sharpen AI as external editor. 1)START: Preferences → External Editing 2) From within the Additional External Editor section, choose Preset. 3) Click Choose. 4) Find Sharpen AI 5) Make sure you have the actual icon itself, not the entire Sharpen AI folder 6) Click on the preset drop down menu select the option for “save current settings as a new preset” 7) Type in Sharpen AI for the name. 8)To access from within Lightroom click EDIT IN > Sharpen AI > Edit a Copy. 9) SAVE. To save your file back into Lightroom, click FILE > SAVE and never use Save As.
APPLY and SAVE
Click the blue button in the lower right corner of the interface to Apply your settings. Then, if you are in the stand alone program, Click Save As. Of course, if you are in a plug-in, after Apply is clicked, the image will reopen back in to PS or LR.
Once you are done sharpening a photograph, click the "Save As" button.
WHERE TO BUY?
You can purchase the software directly from Topaz Labs: https://topazlabs.com/shop
Imagine you are out photographing. Someone sees your gear. Questions emerge. With the best of intentions, the questions box you into a mindset: "What camera system do you use?" "Are you a (Nikon) shooter?"
Wait, let's think about the mindset. The idea of defining ourselves by a brand or type is nonsense. You never hear a violinist say "I play Black and Decker." The brand, the gear and the machine always take second fiddle to the idea.
The frame of mind frames the frame.
Sure, there are technically-oriented folks who love the mechanism. And when people ask about gear, they have good intentions. Some want to share the shots they've taken. Some tell you a little about their gear. Yet, others go on about gear 'til the cows come home, steering the exchange away from expressing the essence and into trivia about gear: "You use that big lens?" "This only has 10 megapixels, but...", or "That's so heavy; I use my cell phone- it takes shots just as good, and when I sent the video to..."
When silence is vital to photograph nature's creatures, gear talk can distract, and when such talk becomes debate, vision is interrupted, so I walk on. Now, there are times for gear talk, depending on context; when I am with people and we are not photographing, a lively conservation about gear is appropriate and I love the exchange.
Here's the thing. When the conversation shifts to gear, brands and types, only you can guide it back to what's truly important. Moment. Color. Light. Less information, more interpretation. It is our responsibility as visionaries to evolve, and to frame the best of our craft. Who crafts essential photographs? The creative, conscientious, curious brains that shape each mindful frame.
Let's keep working on the subject matter of our photographs, contemplate scenes that emerge from our inner being. Let light, culture, and expression be first and foremost. As we ponder ways to deliberately practice our intention, we can as "why am I taking this?" Photo gear has been around for over 180 years. Your singular visual creative mind is here, now, in this place. Put the soul before the shutter.
"This morning an osprey with its narrow black-and-white face and its cupidinous eyes leaned down from a leafy tree to look into the lake – it looked a long time, then its powerful
shoulders punched out a little and it fell, it rippled down into the water – then it rose, carrying, in the clips of its feet, a slim and limber silver fish, a scrim of red rubies on its flashing sides. All of this was wonderful to look at, so I simply stood there, in the blue morning, looking. "
~ Mary Oliver "The Osprey"
Looking is an art. We look at osprey. They look too, but with different intentions. While we can see our sushi coming toward us on a plate, an osprey's vision targets its own raw fish.
Due to their visual acuity, osprey excel at catching fish since they can see six to eight times better than humans over distances. They have evolved a stunning set of survival skills to become the only North American raptor to diet on live fish as their major food source.
However, it took a set of human skills, and a sharply defined vision over years, to save the osprey from humanity. Fortunately, decades of sustained efforts to rescue the osprey were successful. Today we all thrill to the sight of an osprey plummeting out of the sky, striking the water, then flying up with a wriggling fish, as Mary Oliver penned so keenly in her poem.
After osprey were deemed a threatened species, dedicated groups of birders and conservationists worked to save them. As a result,osprey are thriving today. They live on every continent but Antarctica and migrate over long distances. An osprey nesting in Québec but wintering in southern Brazil may fly 120,000 miles during its 20-year lifetime. Osprey migration is a special wonder of the avian world.
Osprey are devoted parents as well. Female osprey have between one and three eggs. Their eggs hatch in about a month in the order they were laid. The oldest hatchling has a distinct advantage, because it begins to feed and grow before its younger siblings. When there is a shortage of food, younger chicks may not survive. This process helps to preserve the fittest birds, and occurs among many bird species. It's known as brood reduction.
Young osprey can leave their nest after only two months. Sometimes these juveniles return for several weeks to beg food from their parents until they can hunt on their own. In some areas, young osprey stay within their winter home grounds for an entire year, instead of going back to their breeding grounds. It's possible this improves their chances of breeding when they finally return to the family nest area.
The species declined during the 1960's and 1970's. While the story of the return of the bald eagle is more widely publicized, ospreys have made a special comeback too. Egg failure due to DDT, which made it more difficult for birds to absorb calcium, was the root cause, as DDT blocked calcium, making osprey egg shells thinner. The eggs broke before the chicks could hatch.
POLITICS & PESTICIDES
As I write, I am sailing across the Chesapeake Bay, which has the largest population of osprey in North America--about one quarter of all the osprey in the United States. The use of pesticides around the Chesapeake had a devastating effect on these birds. Banning of pesticides led to an increase in the number of osprey pairs, as many as 2,000 by the 1980’s.
But the success story is now being overshadowed by a worsening trend. Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% in the last 50 years. This news is from the 2018 Living Planet assessment released by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund. If this trend continues, the decline will impact two-thirds of all vertebrates by 2020.
To make matters worse, we are seeing the disastrous effects of our current administration’s policies, leading to costly environmental damage and species endangerment.
USA WEAKENS WILDLIFE PROTECTION
In the United States, the current administration has a destructive view of wildlife. The Associated Press reviewed the backgrounds and social media posts of 16 board members appointed by prior Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. AP's conclusion was that the board members are likely to agree with Zinke’s position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging Americans to shoot some of them.
Mr. Zinke, who left office in early 2019, was a Montana Congressman who approved using lead bullets in our National Parks. An avid hunter, under his leadership the Fish and Wildlife Service moved to reverse Obama-era restrictions on bringing trophies from African lions and elephants into the United States.
David Bernhardt, the current U.S. Interior Secretary, was the Interior’s top attorney during the last three years of George W. Bush’s administration. During the Obama presidency, he worked for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, a lobbying firm that represents oil and gas interests. Bernhardt has weakened the rules of law around the Endangered Species Act—the same law that helped save the bald eagle and the osprey.
According to the New York Times in a July 19, 2019 article on the Endangered Species Act, "significant proposed change, which has been rumored since April when a proposal was posted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, would alter how the Endangered Species Act deals with animals that are categorized as 'threatened,' or one level below ‘endangered.’ " (www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/climate/endangered-species-act-changes.html).
This is important because government agencies are obligated to extend the laws protecting endangered species so that the protections cover threatened species (think about the osprey population in 1983).
Changing these rules could take away some of these protections.
While weakening protections, the current administration is also waging a scandalous war on wildlife. The policies that have been implemented in 2019 are leading to the destruction of North American wildlife. Protections for endangered animals are being erased.Literally and figuratively, the administration is taking a shotgun approach. Hunters typically target the biggest and strongest animals, weakening already vulnerable populations.
GET INVOLVED CLOSE TO HOME
The message here is that as photographers, we can keep our focus on conservation and work to benefit other endangered species. Let us keep our conservation vision, put down our shotguns, and focus on making our photography benefit living creatures. By doing nature, travel and landscape photography, we are investing in wildlife by helping create an economic nest to protect future wildlife populations.
To help species with your photography, start close to home. Find an endangered location or animal species. Choose one you can easily photograph. If you find out it needs protecting, tell others. Visit your site or animal often and photograph everything that makes it special. Work to conserve the area together with a group and use the spending power of the group to help save wildlife and wildlife habitat.
When I was invited to talk about photography for a boaters gathering in St Augustine, Florida this month, I tried to answer a broad range of questions about the creative process to a group of sailors and cruisers from around the world.
The process of sharing to this audience was exhilarating and I told a few stories while sharing pictures. None of the pictures in my talk showed flamingos. We're coming to them. . .
Since childhood, I've been fortunate to have visual story tellers in my family who've told compelling tales about the places they've been. One such story teller was my grandfather Pappy, a creative commercial artist, painter and keen visual observer with a lively sense of humor and a gift for the textual and textural details within many large paintings that illustrated his WWI experiences and were gifts to celebrate the travels of his friends.
When Pappy took me into downtown Chicago on the Loop, he told me stories of how Picasso and Calder made their sculptures. These stories melted into my subconscious, and as a boy, I absorbed vague but powerful impressions of a large, red, abstract, steel sculpture that dominates a plaza in downtown Chicago.
After a visit yesterday in Saint Augustine with my father, a memory of my grandfather surfaced and I searched online for "Calder sculptures in downtown Chicago." A photograph of "Flamingo" came up online (above). Installed in 1974 in the rectangular plaza in the Loop, Flamingo is 53 feet high and made of constructed steel. I've not been back to Chicago since the 80's, and my grandfather has away, but over the decades the form and "Calder Red" of Flamingo stayed with me, even as I forgot it's title and avian reference.
What came to mind immediately, seeing the picture of Calder's Flamingo was a flamingo photograph I'd taken in Florida in 2006. My heart beat faster. A voice inside my head said "Whoa" as I saw the similarity between the two flamingos. This voice convinced me of the lasting symbolic power of art in the way it can bring back memories, over decades of the flock that worked hard to feather our nest, taught us to fly, and sent us out into the world to see.
ONE: EXERCISE IN COLOR MOODS
Here's an exercise in color moods to motivate us to pack up the camera and go outside to photograph in colder weather
EXERCISE: Choose a single color you don't usually photograph. For instance, winter hues of brown, light pink, deep blue, soft grey, cranberry or dark green can be fun to try to see and frame.
Take a least a half hour to photograph the hue you've chosen. If you are up north, colors may be muted and more subtle. In the Caribbean or near the equator, you may have options for higher contrasts colors. If you see more than one color, try to use contrasting colors to balance the single color your chose first. Above, for this exercise in Nova Scotia, I chose soft orange gold hues in the sun to balance the dark green of the forest's edge.
TWO: LOW CONTRAST & BALANCE
Dial down the contrast and hold off on the saturation. Try to avoid the editing approach of maximizing the saturation slider. Ditch the "Max Slider." Posting overly-saturated color imagery can detract from the forms that underlie a compelling image. Over-saturating is the visual equivalent of screaming or writing in all caps. It's unnecessary.
Also, if possible, stay away from off-balance colors. Colors that are in balance, together, resonate with each other like two tuning forks. The joy of this color exercise comes from, in part, learning to think outside our color boxes. For example, in some cultures, light blue and dark blue are two different colors. Our color concepts limit and predict how we see. So, attending to just one color, and perhaps those few colors that are in harmony, helps our awareness of color moods.
Lastly, try to see texture within the object or form.
THREE: MOTIVATION in COLD WEATHER
It can be a challenge to get outdoors when it's cold. Jump start your picture outing by deciding, the night before, that your morning sunrise will be beautiful. Keep positive and dress for winter conditions. Get up and out in the morning, no matter what the weather, and pay close attention to light. Make sure you are comfortably warm enough so you can concentrate and observe.
Observing means moving. Look up, down and inside of things. Shift your perspective to get lower, higher or closer. Like yoga, photography takes energy. Our position has to change. We may be in different poses in order to get distinct camera positions. Ask yourself: "How would a 3-year-old see that dog, or "How could an eagle view that cliff", or "How might would a butterfly see that river?" To continually vary your camera height and position means that you counter the habit of making shots from an eye level standing position. This helps your imaginative seeing.
Now, go even deeper. Change the process of how you make images. If you habitually check your LCD screen, shut it off. If you often take 5-10 shots of a single thing, take only one. Give your workflow a little nudge. If you habitually make photographs that are sharp from corner to corner, experiment with softness and blur. If you spend just a few minutes with a subject, spend an hour looking at it, and come back to it in better light. The reason we shift our position is to push the limits of how we compose. This means investing time finding new vantage points and angles in search of interesting compositions.
FOUR: KEEP GEAR SIMPLE
I like to make solo trips with only one camera body and one lens. This helps keep me from overshooting, keeps me concentrating on light, timing and composition. For landscape and still subjects, instead of zooming or auto-focusing, I often simplify the camera settings to Manual mode. Taking the prime lens minimizes the time spent on focusing and exposure, which keeps my attention on the subject and not the screen or gear.
FIVE: READ TO INSPIRE
Reward your cold weather outing with a special hot drink and a great photo book.
I was inspired this winter by William Neill's book and some delightful moments looking at his photographs of patterns in nature.
I believe it helps our own work to see, not to copy, the work of master photographers.
As photographer Robert Adams said: "Your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other people's pictures too‒photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny, but that carry with them a reminder of community."
Editing our work, we not only improve its appearance, sound, and presentation, we trim down the number of images to share. Curating is vital. All photographers much reduce the number of photos in a portfolio or series to achieve a coherent theme.
We chose the best of the best. Because printing images helps to curate, I first print at smaller sizes, at 4" x 6", or 5" x 7". Then, I hang these on the wall so I can I pass by them often. After a couple months, a few get less interesting, so I may add a few new ones to the series. Later, I choose the 2 or 3 that truly resonate. I print these at a larger size. If its been a good year, 5 or 7 coherent, well-printed images are enough.