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.
Life is full of experiences, exciting and mundane, surprising and routine, spending time with loved ones and grocery shopping and paying bills. It is not always that I can find time to go on a trip to some exciting location.
I dream. I dream a lot. I dream big. I dream of a life in a wilderness, photographing, painting, being creative all the time. But…
To be honest, as much as much as the dream of being in the wilderness all the time seems to be attractive it is not all that makes me happy. Having someone I love and who loves me back fulfills my life with happiness that I cannot draw from the wilderness. All the exciting and quiet moments shared together fill me with joy.
To be honest, as much as I want to photograph all the time, I have a limit to my creativity. After the first few active days on a trip I find myself exhausted and numb to everything around me.
To be honest, if I truly want to be creative, all I need is to take my camera and step out into my own backyard. Because that is all it takes to find this…
Sometimes plans change and I’m glad about it.
My plan for the last weekend was to drive around and capture the last signs of fall. I planned to spend first day near Leavenworth. On the second day I planned to go to The Boardman Tree Farm in Oregon. I had never been there and wanted to take a look after seeing some amazing photos from there. After visiting the tree farm I going going to drive down to Columbia Gorge the same day and spend two days photographing along Columbia Gorge.
Everything had been going according to the plan up to the point I got to The Boardman Tree Farm. The place was simply amazing, magical in its fall glory. I did not want to go anywhere. Lines of trees with fall colors, scent of foliage in the air, quite and peace of a forest. I did not want to go anywhere. I was photographing and photographing and photographing. And when I was tired and could not photograph anymore I would just stand still and be part of the forest.
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 an old joke that a human being can look indefinitely at three things: fire burning, water running and another human being working. I whole heartedly agree with each of those. Today’s post is about the second one. That’s why every spring I run around looking at waterfalls.
Especially in spring when the snow is melting in the mounting filling waterfalls with water making them more powerful. Most of all I love water running thru a forest making a new path for itself. There is something raw and uncontrollable about this.
I like photographing water because it changes its face constantly. No two image of the same place can be the same. I can take image after image and each of them is different. It keeps changing direction as a long body of an animal.
Playing with shutter speed from powerful streaks during short shutter to silky smooth during long shutter creates even more different images.
Here is a selection of images from last spring.
For a week the area where I live had fog. Every day. Every night. Whole day. Whole night. It was beautiful, smooth, thick, milky white fog. I love fog. It adds mystery and depth to everything.
Unfortunately, I was busy whole week and could not get out to photograph. But one night I just dropped everything I did, picked up my camera and went out on a walk around the neighborhood. While I may have not done any greatest hits, I still enjoyed reconnecting with what I love using even smallest moments I can carve out of sometimes busy days.
Here is in some sense a good representation of my suburban neighborhood and probably many other neighborhoods across US: proudly displaying their flag on their home, keeping cars outside despite having garage because the garage is filled with things that they still cherish, things that they find it hard to part but which they will unlikely to ever use again.
Sometimes plans don’t work out and I’m glad they don’t. One weekend another photographer and I were planning to hike up a mountain trail to photograph a lake in snow. When time came my buddy bailed out and I did not want to risk hiking in snow after dark alone. Instead I went to Kubota Gardens in Seattle and spent a day there.
Typically, when for places like parks or gardens close to home I try to find time during week or go with family during weekend for one or two hours to do photography. This was the first time I spend whole day in one relatively small garden. And it felt really good – photograph without rushing, lying under a tree, taking time, observing.
I’ve fell in love with this garden.
Early Morning Mist
Let Me Offer My Hand
Bush on Fire
Due Drops Caught in a Web
Simple Yellow on Red
Lying on the Ground Looking Into Sunny Sky
Rick Sammon likes to say “Don’t just take photos, make photos”. It is a great advice. And the photo in this post is a great example of that.
I had photographed this tree a few days before and came back to Kubota Gardens that day with a single goal to make more interesting picture of this tree. I got “inside” the tree. It was cozy and warm inside under the canopy of red and yellow leaves. I started with the same kind of photos at before. They were typical photos of branches with fall leaves.
Then I noticed a single leaf caught in the middle of a tree where many branches were coming out from the main trunk. Now, that was interesting. I took a few photos.
The single leaf did not really stand out it was blending in with the branches. There was a simple solution to that. I grabbed a bunch of leaves that were already on the ground and dropped on top of the single leaf. Now they had a party.
I took a few images again. It was nice but it was plain. The image of something mystical started brewing in my head. What if I make an image of a Heart of Autumn. The heart of autumn would be glowing. And a flash light could help with that.
Fortunately, I had a powerful spot light in my car (well, I always have several flashlight in my car). I overcame my laziness and packed my gear, went back to the car, grabbed the spotlight and went back to the tree.
Now I was shooting with a spot light. It took a few iterations to get light spot right in the middle of the pile of leaves. I still did not feel like I got it. The leaves in the background were as bright as those I was lighting up. it did not feel like leaves at the heart of the tree were glowing. The solution was to make reduce overall exposure of the image, while get more light on the leaves that I wanted to glow.
The end result:
Heart of Autumn
Finally, the colors of fall foliage is behind us. It is my favorite time of year. For photographers October is like August for farmers – time to collect the harvest. The reason I’m saying “finally” is because I felt burnt out pushing myself too much trying to capture it a s much as possible. For some time I tried to keep up with post-processing but then gave up – I was not getting enough sleep that way. And that was combined with two more art shows that I needed to get ready for.
Now, when fall foliage is almost gone in Pacific Northwest and my last art show of this year is behind me, I can catch up on post-processing, blogging, planning.
For a few months I’ve been fascinated with pastel colors. I like their subdued soft feel. So, this fall I’ve done several images with intent of having pastel colors.
An important thing about photographing color is to be clear that the subject of a photo is color, not individual branches, leaves or trees. To me it means getting rid of all those details in an image.
One technique to do that is to take photos with long exposure handheld and intentionally move camera in some direction. It seems to work the best when moving camera along visually strong lines such as tree trunks or branches.