Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion at Sol Duc Falls

On my journey along the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City that is creative photography I've been able to provide my photo Tin Man with a brain (learned craftsmanship) and my photo Scarecrow with a heart (passion for creativity). My photo Cowardly Lion, however, still needs some work.

"I'm sure I could show my prowess
Be a lion, not a mouse
If I only had the nerve!" 

I lack the nerve to take photos of people or do street photography.  I don't trespass on posted property. Hell! I don't even step foot on unposted private property in the middle of nowhere. And I certainly don't take chances when it comes to putting myself at risk in precarious situations when trying to catch "the shot."  I can't tell you how many times I've passed up great photo opportunities because I lacked the nerve to "just do it."

Well, all that changed on a recent hike to Sul Doc Falls in the Olympic National Park.  After hiking to the Falls along the groomed trail and capturing my collection of shots of the iconic falls, I discovered a small footpath on the far side of the river.  After bushwhacking about fifty yards along this path, tripping over vines and roots all along the way, I spotted a small streamlet plunging over the edge of the cliff on the far side of the gorge.  My photo Scarecrow was immediately excited by the prospect of capturing a rare, personal shot of a seldom photographed falls.  But to get the shot I would have to plow through brush and stand on a little bushy outcropping at the very edge of a ledge suspended about 50 feet above the jagged rocks in the raging Sol Duc river below.  My photo Cowardly Lion immediately roared "No way!" But - as if with the help of The Wizard himself - I responded with a determined "Forget it man! We're doing this!"

I was literally terrified as I stood on the ledge trying to set up my tripod, getting the legs tangled up in vines and thickets as I tried to find enough real estate to support its splayed legs.  Afraid that I would trip or lose my balance I wanted nothing more than to grab a couple of quick shots and scramble the hell back onto the path.  So shoot and scramble I did.  Before leaving this unique opportunity, my photo Tin Man reminded me to check the shots to be sure everything was in photographic order before leaving the little falls.  And so I did.

What the hell!  The focus was off!!! 

Undeterred, the matter-of-fact Tin Man calmly concluded "We'll just have to go back and shoot it again - the right way this time."  

"NFW!!!" exclaimed the Cowardly Lion. "We're not doing that again!" 

But to my surprise the photo Wizard of Oz once again infused the Cowardly Lion with a shot of courage. Repeating the intimidating sequence of machinations required to position the camera on the edge of the precipice a second time I captured the image at the top of this post.  

My Scarecrow was content with having captured an uncommon shot. My Tin Man was satisfied that the shot showed some 'prowess'. And my Cowardly Lion? He just boasted "I was a lion not a mouse!" Thus satisfied, we packed up the gear and returned to the security of the groomed hiking trail with a new found confidence in our step.

Who knows.  Maybe I'll take some pictures of people next.

Then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Up Your Arsenal

Post-processing of digital images often gets a bum wrap.  

Image files from digital cameras require some processing to compensate for compromises introduced by the optical and electronic properties of digital image captures. Beyond compensating for digital capture, post-processing is the capstone event in the construction of expressive imagery, topping off careful composition and exposure in the creation of compelling images.  Post-processing proficiency provides the photographic artist with the creative tools to make images reflecting their personal vision; expressive as opposed to illustrative images.  The spectrum of creative options is only limited by the artist's vision and proficiency in the use of the tools.  

To illustrate some of the possibilities I've included four different versions of the same image. The sun was shining on an island of grass in the middle of a river as a storm started to move in.  The sunlight was hitting the top of the grasses contrasting their brilliance with the growing darkness.  I wanted the image to tell the story of the transition from the peace of a sunny afternoon to the drama of the impending thunderstorm.

Image 1 - Unprocessed
The first image in the series represents the unprocessed RAW file directly from the camera.  Like all RAW image files, it lacked contrast, saturation, and sharpness - among other electronic imaging deficiencies.  In short - it was flat. The sky was also slightly overexposed at capture making it appear brighter than it was in reality. I adjusted the sky exposure and processed the image to recreate the sense of foreboding associated with the approaching storm, while accenting the terrific light on the scene.  For the third, I converted the image to black and white, which accentuated the differences between the light and dark tones and increased the menace of the stormy sky.

Image 2 - Adjusted exposure and processed

Image 3 - Black and White conversion

Finally, as I viewed the sky in the processed images I was reminded of the terrific skies painted by landscape artists of the Hudson River School tradition.  I decided to process a fourth image in that painterly style. 

Image 4 - Hudson River School-inspired

All three processed images satisfied my creative intent each in their own way and will no doubt appeal differently to different viewers. But having creative versatility like this is an asset to creative photographers.

According to landscape photographer and educator Guy Tal "An important juncture in the evolution of photographic artists is the point at which their photographs become expressive, rather than illustrative."  In the course of my own evolution I will continue to heed the advice of photographer and artist John Paul Caponigro - "My recommendation for myself and other artists is to follow your vision first and use the tools and techniques that empower and deepen that vision."

It is time to unashamedly embrace post-processing for what it is - an essential tool in the arsenal of "expressive" photographers.  So 'Up your arsenal!'

Friday, January 6, 2017

Project 66 #8: "A mood in the soul"

I always experience a mysterious sense of inner peace upon entering a Japanese garden; a sense of serenity I seldom experience in any other type of garden. This impression doesn’t descend upon me as much as it ascends from somewhere deep within me, as if I had crossed some type of mystical threshold between restlessness and inner harmony.  Perhaps the origin of this metaphysical transformation is rooted in the spirituality and peacefulness I have always associated with Buddhism, Taoism and Japanese meditative traditions collectively referred to as ‘Zen’.  Shamefully aware that my knowledge of eastern teachings and philosophy are predominantly informed by my youthful exposure to the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine (Grasshopper) of television’s Kung Fu fame, I decided to explore the history of Japanese gardens in the hope of discovering how they might exert their calming influence on my psyche.  What I discovered was that my limited knowledge of eastern philosophies was eclipsed by an even greater misconception of Japanese gardens and their very deliberate 'zen'.

My greatest misunderstanding about Japanese gardens was a most fundamental one.  Unlike other types of gardens with which I am familiar, Japanese gardens are not flower gardens nor are they plots primarily dedicated to the cultivation of plants.  Rather, a Japanese garden is first and foremost a landscape garden.  Some, like the Karesansui waterless rock and sand gardens, are devoid of plantings all together.  Even among planted gardens symbolic inanimate objects feature prominently in the design of a Japanese garden’s layout, reflecting their spiritual importance in the cultural heritage and mythology of the Japanese.  The goal of master Japanese gardeners is the creation of a harmonious landscape honoring the beauty and harmony among all the gardens constituents, a harmony capable of creating a ‘mood in the soul.’

‘Its artistic purpose is to copy faithfully the attractions of a veritable landscape, and to convey the real impression that a real landscape communicates.  It is therefore at once a picture and a poem; perhaps even more a poem than a picture.  For as nature’s scenery, in its varying aspects, affects us with sensation of joy or solemnity, of grimness or of sweetness, of force or of peace, so must the true reflection of it in the labor of the landscape gardener create not merely the impression of beauty, but a mood in the soul.’ L. Hearn, In a Japanese Garden, The Atlantic, 1892
Buddhism divides the world into things without desire (hijo), like trees, stones and water, and things having desire (ujo) such as people and animals.  It is no doubt the master gardener’s very intentional inclusion of the spiritual essences of hijo in garden design that contributes to a Japanese garden’s unique spiritual 'feel'.  The images in this post of hijo commonly found in Japanese gardens were captured on recent visits to multiple Japanese gardens.  Each is paired with a brief description of their history, symbolic significance and contribution to the unique sacred nature of Japanese gardens.  Some passages have been cited verbatim from a fascinating article by Lafcadio Hearn entitled “In A Japanese Garden” published in The Atlantic in 1892.  Hearn’s prose is just far too beautiful to paraphrase.

I found in Hearn’s descriptions an explanation of the Japanese gardens’ unique metaphysical impact.  Hearn explains that ‘The dead art that made the beauty of this place (garden) was the art, also, of that faith to which belongs the all-consoling text, “Verily, even plants and trees, rocks and stones, all shall enter into Nirvana.”'

And there it was. If even plants, trees, rocks and stones shall enter into Nirvana then there is hope for me. Even without my full knowledge of how or why, these gardens evoke a peaceful, hopeful mood in my soul.  

“All-consoling” indeed.

"In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand -
or at least to learn to understand - the beauty of stones.  Not of stones quarried by the
hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only.  Until you can feel, and keenly feel, 
that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning
of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you.'  L. Hearn, 1892

"All these verdant elevations rise from spaces of pale yellow sand, smooth as
a surface of silk, and miming the curves and meanderings of a river course.  These
sanded spaces are not to be trodden upon; they are much too beautiful for that.... 
But they are traversed in various directions by lines of flat unhewn rock slabs, placed
at slightly irregular distances from one another, exactly like stepping-stones across
a brook.  The whole effect is that of the shores of a still stream in some lovely,
lonesome, drowsy place,"  L. Hearn, 1892

Ishidoro, or stone lanterns, have spiritual as well as decorative significance. Originally,
they served as votive lights at the entrance of Buddhist temples. Although the size
and styles of the lanterns are varied they all share certain features in common.  They
usually consist of five sections corresponding to the five principal elements of
Buddhist cosmology - earth, water, fire, wind and sky - thereby symbolizing the
universe.  The roof is often a stylized lotus blossom, the Buddhists' sacred flower.

Yukimi-doro, the snow-viewing lanterns are squat, broad-roofed lanterns lacking a 
pedestal.  They are so named because they collect snowfall on their broad roofs.  Yukimi
lanterns were developed specifically for garden use around the 16th century and have no
counterparts in lanterns found in Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines.  Yukimi-doro symbolize
the mother figure in the cycle of life.

Shinto and Buddhist traditions often required ritual cleansing before entering into holy
sanctuaries or prior to participating in sacred rituals.  Stone water basins were located
near entrances of shrines and soon became common features in Japanese gardens.
A wide variety of shapes and styles can be found. Many are placed low to the ground
requiring visitors to prostrate themselves while engaging in spiritual preparations.

While mountains and stones are the solid skeletal elements of the earth according to
ancient Japanese mythology, water represents its fluid lifeblood.  Water symbolizes the
flow of life, renewal, and continuity with the hereafter.  Waterfalls abound in many

gardens. In addition to their mystical  significance, waterfalls add sound to the other
sensual perceptions of the gardens.  Ten distinct types of waterfalls are recognized
in the canons of Japanese garden design, indicative of the subtlety inherent in garden