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Tuesday, 08 September 2020


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There wasn’t any possibility of a picture.

Except in my mind. What if I were at a good vantage point, somewhere where I could see?

Sounds like you need a drone, Mike ;)

the one and only time I saw a tree fall happened to coincide with me teeing off on the one and only time I ever played golf, I struck the ball just as the tree fell, I’m not a superstitious type of fellow but I’ve never played golf again !

If anything, Covid has forced us all to see our current environs anew. That said, long after it has been relegated to a footnote in history, climate change will be the overwhelming sea change of this century, and the next...

One of the best things I've ever done to improve my powers of observation was to take a drawing class. I remember the instructor telling us that to really see the world, draw it. I've haven't looked at things the same since. Even though I don't draw much anymore, I frequently pretend I'm drawing something. It's amazing how much more I notice when I do this.

We live on a hill, but our 360-degree views are blocked by trees. So, while I love the fact that the sun sets a bit later for us than down the hill or that we often get nice light, photographically I can’t do much with that....

Just looking hard feeds the soul; nothing quite like being present for one of those perfect little moments. It can be that divine rose light just before the sun crests the hills to the east. Or the dead-calm an hour before sunrise, when the silence and the sharp aroma of wet earth feels like something you can hug. The challenge of distilling that feeling into a photographic print is precisely what I find so compelling about the craft.
Late October Genesee River

I wish I could give credit to the person that said this, but it was decades ago. In "Outdoor Photographer" magazine a shooter was presenting a portfolio of outstanding images and in the interview said something along the lines of, "Sometimes I just have to tell myself that this sunset is for me."

In other words, the process of photographing and all the problem solving that it entails ( composition, lens choice, exposure, etc...) can rob you of actually "seeing" it.

Sometimes you just need to look at it and say, "wow!"

Possibly a funnel cloud that didn't quite reach the ground?

To me, photography is a way to share a private moment. But trying to capture it can ruin the very moment I want to share.

The fact is, nature has a way of telling you when to put down your technology and simply immerse yourself in the experience. I find that--sometimes--sacrificing a photo for the experience brings much greater rewards. A lot of the time (maybe most of the time), the image I have in my head would never come out the way I see it. If I try too hard to make the image work, I miss the moment.

So, I tell a story with words instead of images.

I can't compete with the depth of your post, but I definitely 'see' photographs whenever I'm out and about. (I think I'm a street photographer whatever that is, so that makes a difference) It doesn't bother me if I don't have a camera at hand. I suppose it educates your eye or your response to what's around you. When I do have a camera a take shots instinctively, without really knowing what I'm composing other than it 'looks like a photo'. Cullling your archive of such shots maybe results in a style, or maybe just your view of the world.

I see much more now than I ever did. I also look more, and notice more. I study the relationships among things, I notice the colours, tones, shapes -- all the things that photographers and visual artists who rely on the "real" take note of.

And yet, I photograph what I see less. I don't carry a camera with me all the time. Even when I happen to have a camera, I regularly spend a lot of time looking and seeing, but not making photos.

I'm not describing a problem or pathology. I just don't feel the need to make photographs of things I see as much as I used to. Sometimes it's because I've made that photograph before, or because I've seen many versions of that photograph. Other times it's because I have enough experience to know it won't work as a photograph. Often, it's simply because I know that the photograph I could make from what I'm seeing isn't going to add anything to what's out there already.

The benefit of being picky is I'm more committed to the ones I do make. I work harder and care more at the taking stage, and I have a clearer sense for what they need at the developing stage.

More seeing, and fewer pictures: that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Regarding the weather report, I can say with confidence ... you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! ;-).

The trick is enjoying the view more than you miss the photo that you can't get!

Hate our new normal, can we please have the old normal back? 109 here a couple days ago and the AQI was higher than that due to the omnipresent smoke, and that won't clear until California gets the first wet fall-winter storm. November, maybe?


Love to read your writings....when are you planning to finish your book on photography....cameras....lenses....and such things. I want to buy a signed copy.

I'm in SF Bay Area and we had temps of 109 and 112 on consecutive days. I picked a lemon from one of our trees and measured its _internal_ temperature with a cooking thermometer. It was 110.

We're no stranger to hot weather here, but many of our plants have died in the past few days.

Hi Mike,
Your gift for words makes the sunrise real and imaginable.
Sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures.

Re the sun sneaking under the Clouds......
I watch for it whenever I'm at my house in Montauk NY
It is at the tip of long island , 120 miles out from NYC, with ocean on 3 sides.
While the phenomenon can happen anywhere, chances are better if you have an unobstructed horizon.
It never fails to thrill, and produces wonderful light. Ive seen it at sunrise and sunset, I've seen it last only seconds or a few minutes.
Always exiting.
Seeing two trees fall naturally in the space of a day, that has to be pretty rare........you might want to invest in a helmet......

I wanted to be an artist when I was young and my father retorted, "You cannot even earn plain water to support yourself! Get a good day job and draw in your spare time." That was his dry humor way of saying not to waste my time.

So I still don't draw in between my day job. Now Mike tells me that poor colour sense is the acid test and I actually failed the colour chart test.

So now I work in between taking photos and particularly am good in B&W square format. Does that make me an "all rounder" who does not have to worry about the colors?

We had a bit of wind recently here in Louisiana. Roofers, contractors, wrecker drivers and arborists are busy these days around town and I live in the northern part of the state, far from Hurricane Laura's landfall. We were lucky at my house, one big pecan limb fell on our patio furniture but did not cause much damage and a smaller limb made a mess of a gutter but missed the roof by inches.

I recall hearing the sound of trees and limbs breaking while sitting in the dark due a power outage. Kinda freaky. Kinda scary.

Trees can be deadly. Remember Beaumont Newhall's wife and writing partner Nancy was killed by a falling tree while rafting on the Snake River in Wyoming. Our pecan tree drops limbs frequently but this is the first time it did so with a vengeance.

I'm sorry, it's the way my mind works: I see "Look Hard" and immediately think of the movie "Walk Hard," a send-up of maybe 50 years of popular music, Dylan, Beatles, Beach Boys, etc.

Recovering first from cataract surgery, then later a protracted recovery from retinal detachment, I wished I had a camera in my head, so that I could share how I was seeing the world. That influence remains: ignore the camera in my hands, take in the sight, and maybe just say to myself, "click!"

There's a weather phenomenon called a microburst. A small parcel of cool air suddenly departs from whatever has been holding it up, and it plunges to the ground. It can affect a surprisingly small area on the ground, and if a tree happens to be there ... (Experienced here May 2019. Two willow trees perhaps 100' from the house flattened, and nothing else. Glad it wasn't 100' closer.)

I first took up photography (when I was 7 or 8 years old) precisely because I could not translate what I saw in my mind onto paper. Nor did I improve with age - too much left brain and not enough right brain, or something like that. I would love to be able to draw or paint with even a talentless competence so that what I saw in my mind could be externalised but I am now old enough to accept that even if I spent every waking moment practising, I would probably die trying well before I got close. But I did learn early that a camera solved my own mechanical limitations, albeit by replacing them with the technical limitations of photography. Fortunately, I have always enjoyed the challenges of the strictures that those limitations carried with them. Most recently, and much to my enjoyment, the relatively low cost of colour printing removed one of the main strictures from my film days.

Your comments about seeing things and not photographing them reminded me of something I seem to do a lot more than I used to. I'll be watching a movie, and marvel at the lighting, or the bokeh, or ask myself,"how long did that photographer sit in a humid forest to get this shot?" We are constantly surrounded by all kinds of excellence. Sometimes it's good to just sit back and admire it.

Nice article—and comments!

Here is a research project that you may have fun with. Years ago I read about an experiment where they attached one of those eye readers, that record where one looks, to different people to determine how they moved their eyes in a new environment. I believe that they had categories like male/female youth/older etc. One of the things that came out of it was that photographers looked around, and probably harder, than any of the other subjects. We are hard wired to look hard.

You may indeed have seen a microburst or even a small tornado. Twisters aren’t always visible except for the debris cloud or the effect on trees. Here’s a video of a tornado a few feet wide crossing right in front of a car in Sweden and then proceeding to strip the bark off a sapling. Skip to 1:20 when the excitement begins. https://youtu.be/r08pzhA1iHM

Also, be thankful you didn’t get the derecho that came through the Midwest. I went to Cedar Rapids about a week after the storm and it absolutely looked like a hurricane went through. There are a lot of videos on YouTube as well.

Several people, including Ctein (who has photographed multiple solar eclipses) recommended I not plan on photographing my first one.

Felt all wrong to me, so I planned on photographing it (though not to insane levels; I hadn't traveled to a great viewing site, just to one of the closer places it would be total). I wasn't heavily committed, I could quit at any time.

And the maybe 6 decent photos I got on that trip (three of them involving the sun as an actual subject) are very valuable to me; I don't think I'd feel the trip had been worthwhile if I didn't have those photos.

Now, we barely saw totality, through thin clouds and only briefly; maybe it would have been different with clear skies? I dunno, that is my only solar eclipse so far.

I've had those perfect moments. Maybe I'm standing on a hill and looking out over a lake and the sun is just going down, and it's perfectly silent and magical.
My experience is that if I try to photograph that moment, the result looks like a failed landscape. It never, never captures the moment.
So I mostly don't do it any more.

Very insightful. I am confined within the small bubble of home, work and pretty much nothing else during the COVID times. In India it's pretty severe and I see no end in sight. Still want to lie low so that this blows over and life gets back to normal. This write-up has evoked a sense of hope. Thanks.

Ah yes, falling trees.

I remember a good few years back sitting in my flat reading the paper when I heard a creaking, cracking sound. Looking out the window, I was somewhat surprised to see a tree go past, in the downward direction.

The one big old tree in our car park (we have a number of small decorative plum trees, planted when the block was erected) had fallen in the wind, completely blocking the car-park entrance for several hours, taking out a couple of cars and proving that a preservation order (the reason our car-park is the odd shape it is) doesn't stop a tree being eaten from within by fungus.

I miss that tree.

Life drawing taught me more about photography and design than any photography or design course ever did. There, I said It

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