Pick a leaf. Any leaf. Hanging on a tree or lying on a ground, flying in the distance or caught in a spider web.
What’s so special about it? It is unique!
There is no other leaf in the whole universe exactly like that. Just think about it. You’re holding something so remarkable, so special, so singular. It can be enjoyed only by you. No one else can enjoy it, not now, not ever before and not ever after. Isn’t it amazing?
Look at it. It is so precious, so fragile, unaware of its own importance.
What is it doing here? What’s its story? Where did it come from? Did it come from a big or a small tree? Did the other trees like it or not? How that tree changed the soil it grew in? How much sunlight did it enjoyed?… Suddenly, there is a whole story woven around that single leaf, a whole universe is built around it.
It could be that single leaf you’re holding in your hand is the reason for the universe to exist. It could be a pinnacle of creation.
It is just for you to enjoy. In all its simplicity. In all its complexity.
There are many different things demanding our attention in this modern world we live in. We have to chose many times a day what to let in and what to leave out. I’ve chosen to contemplate a leaf. A leaf I found. My unique leaf. And the universe around it.
The end of the year is a good milestone to wrap up projects, reflect on a year of life, and think of inspirations for the year ahead.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks besides enjoying time with friends and family during the holidays: wrapping up projects I worked on in 2018. More than that I’ve been working through my backlog of projects from 2017 and uploading them to my website. I’ve uploaded 19(!) completed folios from 2018 and 2017. I hope you’ll make time to look at and enjoy them.
There is still much work to do. And that’s probably the first observation and resolution for the next year. I got a bit carried away with traveling and capturing images and did not spend enough time finishing the images. There were hundreds of images that I had not even looked at yet. My resolution for the next year is to finish projects before starting new ones.
Another observation I have had as I worked through the backlog of the images is that my photos are too alike. It might be consistency or style but I wish there was more discovery and exploration in my images, a sense of wonder. So, my next resolution for the next year is to fail more often. Success is a rewarding experience that is very seductive. Failure is a learning experience that can be rewarding it a completely different way.
And the last observation I had is that I have quite a few odd shots, just one offs that don’t fit into any theme. Not a shot that I made exploring some place, working for some project but some shot because something caught my attention or just because I was somewhere and felt obliged to take a picture. It was not an interesting venture into some new area either because I did not follow up with more images of the same place or subject. I delete many of them get deleted while keeping a few, even though I’m not sure what to do with them. In either case it cost me a lot of time at the computer dealing with those images. So, my last resolution for 2019 is to be more mindful at the time of capturing an image, focus on the projects I’m working on and sometimes just putting camera away and enjoying the scenery.
My excuse to mostly travel by car is “to stop and photograph along the way”. I know it is only an excuse though because once I get on the road I keep going without stopping all the way to the destination.
One reason I don’t stop along the way is because I’m putting my tunnel vision goggles on. I’m imagining the photographs I’ll do at the destination and want to get there as fast as possible.
Another reason which is much deeper and scarier is that I’m afraid to fail. I mean I can stop somewhere and there would be nothing to photograph. No, that’s not the right way to say it. There is always something to photograph. But there would be nothing that I’d like to photograph, there would be nothing that connects with me, nothing that relates to me. And I would be just wasting my time.
It takes an effort – it still does and likely will always do – to overcome that and force myself to stop at random places. Sure in 99.99% of cases I don’t find anything that would meet my eye. But then in that very small percentage point I’d find something like this and my heart starts to sing.
Summer is here. Well, not official summer, not astronomical summer, but a northwest summer. I like how summer starts all of the sudden in pacific northwest. One day it is cold, rainy and gloomy and the next day it’s sunny and warm. And it does not get back to the way it was all winter. The trails get crowded with happy faces. Finding isolation becomes harder. No complaining here.
Today is such a day. I woke up and realized that. Birds are singing to the rising sun. Trees have put their green summer clothes. They are not quite the dark green of mid summer but a fresh bright green shimmering in the morning breeze.
As it became my recent habit I went to another hike I have not been to. Just to walk the woods. The parking lot at the trail head was packed. Well, that’s summer. I found a spot, got my backpack ready and hit the trail.
This time I had spent some time researching trails around. I was looking for trails that would cross creeks. It is a good time to walk those trails. Snowcaps are melting filling creeks with water. Many of them will dry up by the middle of summer.
The trail was going to Mason Lake and Bandera Mountain. The trail indeed crossed several creeks. One of them was really full of water and had an impressive waterfall. I’ve composed the frame and it was turning out to be even better than I thought. Except one thing: there was a bright light spot from the sun breaking thru the trees in one corner of the frame. It just did not work. I decided to try it again on the way down.
On the way down I stopped by the waterfall again and the light completely changed. The waterfall was in full light. Which did not work either. Oh, well, maybe some other day.
One week later. It looks like winter has come back. It is cold, overcast, and gloomy. It might be a good time to visit the same waterfall I visited a week earlier. Overcast might be just the right weather for it. The scene might be more evenly lit with less contrast between light water and dark rocks.
Here it is. The overcast might have worked better then sunny. I still wonder how it looks like in twilight. Maybe some other day.
And here is a little bonus. A small creek I crossed on the way to the waterfall.
How do I judge which of my photos are good? The answer dawned on me on my recent hike.
Whenever I drive a highway with a forest all around it I always wonder what it would be like to step into it. The forest seems magical. Just one step and I would be in a place not touched by human, filled with beauty waiting to be captured in images.
Lately this urge makes me walk new hikes randomly picking one without knowing where it leads. I’m looking for a sense of exploration and discovery. And yet walking those trails had not given me as much satisfaction as I expected.
What else could I try? How about stepping off a trail? That was what I did on the last hike. I was walking contemplating the above when I realized I was beating with my boots the same path that many people before me had walked. Then I stepped off the trail.
Now in hard to walk northwest forest I really felt like an explorer. And it was magical. I heard a noise of a water stream giving life to the forest. I followed the sound of it from a tree to a tree trying to find it. When I found it I walked along trying to see where it went until I reached a cliff below which the stream disappeared.
On the way back along the stream I found this nice and cozy spot which I really liked. As I considered making a photo of it my first thought was that there would be nothing special about this image. That was the moment when it dawned on me that impressing others with my photos had become a measure of how good a photo was for me. And that was not very satisfying after some time. Feeling emotional connection to the place I photograph would be much more satisfying.
There is some mystery in images in clouds to me when I can barely make out something in soft whiteness rolling over the mountains. Images like these leave a lot of room for imagination. That’s what I love them for.
There are good images. There are bad images. And then there are images with which I feel emotional connection.
Last fall I was photographing fall foliage in Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth. I was out for two days, photographing in rain and wind, photographing water and leaves, clouds and rocks. On the last day before going back home I went on a hike up the wall of a canyon. That’s where I found scenes with which I felt emotional connection like with no other. It was a very special feeling that brought me inexplicable joy, the feeling of revelation.
. . .
It takes me long time to process images. It helps doing it a while after making them. Over time the feeling of being there wears off and I’m able to look at images more critically. I’ve just came by the images those images that brought me so much joy back there in the woods near Leavenworth. As soon as I saw them something inside me immediately clicked again.
I look at them and hear music, music of color, tone and form. One note transitions to another like one soft color transitions to another. I’d like glide this waves of color following tender curves of leaves over and over.