Changing it Up

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It wasn’t the usual walk in the park. I was fidgety and uncomfortable in my skin, nothing was right. I knew getting out would be better than staying in, but just getting outdoors wasn’t enough. As I walked down the path it became clear to me that proceeding in the usual way wouldn’t work – I needed to change my approach.

It was summer solstice in the northern hemisphere: plants were at the height of their growth, forming deep, complicated layers of vegetation. (Or did the layers look complex because my own emotional state was fraught?) Each plant struggled to adapt to a niche, to attract the appropriate pollinator, to spread its spores or seeds – in short, to reproduce. The plants grew so thick in their dance for light that I could see only a few inches into the wetlands.

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I’d walked this path and seen these trees and ferns so many times – how could I see it all differently? I wanted a new angle on a familiar story.

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I needed to attend to my surroundings differently in order to photograph what I saw differently.

A different attitude, another kind of looking might help dispel the restless, uncomfortable feelings.

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The little bell flowers on the blueberry bushes were slowly morphing into fruit. Willow catkins hung limp and spent, grass tops bloomed with sprays of delicate flowers, horsetails and ferns unfurled an infinite array of needles, leaflets and spores. The endless layers activity seemed impenetrable, unknowable. Maybe I needed to simply reflect that.

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That afternoon, I was walking through a wet place called Mercer Slough. At 47 degrees 37′ N, 122 degrees 13′ W, it’s a stone’s throw from the busy office complexes and commuter highways spawned by Seattle’s growth.  The slough (pronounced “sloo”) is a slow moving channel of water, shallow but wet all year.  A typical complement of northwest wetland plants gathers there – duckweeds and pond lilies lie on the slough’s surface; willows, horsetails, salmon berries, steeplebush, and many others thickly embroider its edges.

They all have stories to tell.

Some of these stories are easy to see, some are easy to miss, some are so familiar we hardly recognize the story any more.

 

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Looking up, looking down:

other stories.

No reason to ignore them.

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Looking close, another story (but no – I didn’t find this until I got home and enlarged the image on the screen!).  The tiny Barnacle lichen is at home on the bark of a birch tree.

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Ferns and fences repeated their patterns. I took it all in.

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I didn’t have an earth-shattering revelation that day but by looking a little harder, holding the camera differently from time to time and taking pictures of a few things I might have otherwise ignored, I slithered my way to a clearer emotional state.

When I got home I continued changing it up, processing the pictures differently – darker or blurrier, brighter or softer. Messing with the colors, looking for more stories.

Here are some suggestions to facilitate changing it up:

  1. Accept what isn’t “pretty.”  Be open to more.  Photograph something you’d normally pass up, like a pile of mulch.
  2. Try different camera angles – askew, pointed down at the ground, whatever. Hold the camera over your head and shoot, maybe blindly.
  3. With a zoom lens and control over shutter speed, set the shutter speed for a second, or a half second, and zoom the lens in or out while the shutter is open: intentional blur. Or slow the shutter speed and pan the camera while shooting.
  4. Try different effects in post processing.  Try sepia, analog looks, black and white. Which image would lend itself to going very flat and highly detailed, or super soft and blurry?  There is more than one way to create a desired effect.  For example, you can soften an image by decreasing the clarity, decreasing the contrast, increasing noise reduction, increasing haze, playing with color relationships, etc.
  5. Take things in a different direction than you would normally. Darken a daytime image until it looks like night, crop like crazy, lighten beyond what seems reasonable, switch out the colors.
  6. Go back to an image again and again, with curiosity: what else can it say?
  7. Walk away. Take a break and come back refreshed.

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36 comments

  1. I’m sorry that you were feeling fraught, Lynn. Your post is enough to reduce anyone’s fretting, and I hope the walk and photographing did that for you. The sixth photo has a double-exposure feeling to it; I enjoy the layers. The next photo takes my breath away. I guess it’s the clarity and range of tones that do that to me. Love the dreamy look to the tenth photo. Number 15 is fascinating—looks like something that would be fun to draw (love those circles). You do ferns so well, as evidenced (again) in the sixteenth photo. I like the layers of interest in Number 18. Am saving your seven suggestions for changing it up. Thank you for the whole post. And may you go back refreshed.

    • Those feelings come and go, and yes, I always feel better after getting out. Thank you for letting me in on some specific thoughts, likes, etc. That photo of the ferns and iris leaves you liked was processed WAY darker than the original, in Silver Efex. I tried several different directions and that look finally worked. I can easily go back and forth between the dreamy, soft focus look of the birch grove and the highly detailed, flat look of the birch trunks, branches and leaves. Maybe I should try to figure out what those looks have in common. Must be something.

  2. I’m not surprised that you took a timeout for the solstice. With your awareness of your GPS position, you merged with Nature and acknowledged those unique details that others might never notice. Seeing the horsetail and fern reminds me of how connected we all are, even when vast geographical differences stretch between us, there are also common threads.

      • Si…. I think I’ve merged with nature tonight.. I drove inland about an hour to a semi-remote community that seems to be even larger than Jama.. that surprised me. The drive was nice, and it seemed there was more primary forest than closer to the coast… I look forward to scouting/seeing what’s ‘out there’ tomorrow. A small museum, an Indian mound and lots of Indigenous history is here…..

      • I would have thought you’d seen it all by now, in your region anyway. Your wanderings sound very interesting – nothing better than making new discoveries…oh, except merging with nature! 😉 Maybe it’s a tie!

    • Thank you – I had my doubts about the 10th image – the birch grove. I thought maybe I should desaturate it more, and maybe the differences in the light on the two sides of the image were too great. So it’s interesting to hear people like it. Thanks!

  3. Really nice set, Lynn. #10, mentioned by others, especially caught my eye too. You know, I think the camera might be the perfect remedy for the situation you found yourself in. I had a similar experience last winter, in my case, I was just empty. I left the house early that morning with an old, rarely used anymore, camera and tripod and no destination in mind. At the first stop I remember looking into the viewfinder and thinking that I was witnessing something very special. I was recharged by that morning; it lingers even now, months later. Hope you find the same…

    • Something in you knew what to do. Luckily, either it was conscious, and easy to heed, or you paid attention even though it was subliminal. I’m sure we all know what to do to fix those negative moods (I shouldn’t say fix, really, they don’t need fixing, just getting through). We just don’t always have the opportunity to do what we need to do, or we ignore the prompts. When I was a girl I stayed home “sick” sometimes, because I knew I needed alone time. My mother would get very irritated because it threw a wrench into her plans for the day – but I knew I needed those dreamy days once in a while, even though i couldn’t have articulated it back then. You went and practiced art therapy via old, cast aside equipment. It’s all you need sometimes – a different viewpoint! Thanks for commenting –

  4. I love how you’ve drawn a parallel between a creative and emotional rut. Many of your suggestions would apply in both situations as well. Hope you’re feeling better. Particularly love the more abstract pieces in this post!

    • It’s interesting to hear your thoughts – yes, you just need to change it up sometimes. I’m drawn to abstract and “realistic” images, so I guess you can bet on getting more of both. 🙂

  5. A wonderful gallery Lynn. These environments are often some of the hardest to photograph because of the chaos that exists as the vegetation reaches peak growth and competes for space and light. I’m reminded of the phrase: ‘Can’t see the wood for the trees’. Life gets difficult especially when we are in a fragile state of mind – being able to concentrate on photography and ‘see’ the pictures is hard, but when we achieve that then our problems seem to fade away even if it is only for a while. There is so much here to delight – I am particularly struck by the Horsetails in No 4 piercing that lacey leaf, and the Ferns in No 16. I have yet to capture a satisfying image of ferns – they tend to sprawl haphazardly and making sense of them compositionally is a challenge – masterful result in your case.

    • It’s gratifying to read your detailed comment, Andy. You’re right – it’s utter chaos, but the more I look at complex mixes of different leaf and stem shapes, the more I like that look and want to try to photograph it. Glad you like the horsetails and the leaf – that was a gift, right? It was so fun to see – I often see leaves pierced by growing vegetation. Another phenomenon you see more often, once you become aware of it. I wonder if the ferns here are less apt to sprawl and easier to photograph. The lady fern, Athyrium felix-femina, is very common here and grows very, very large, which makes it easier to photograph. I have hundreds and hundreds of photographs of ferns. They are a favorite.

  6. A beautiful series of images, Lynn. It’s always hard to come up with something new, but like you did, we need to keep changing our game. I enjoyed your thoughts on how to possibly do so.

    • I’m sure you could double those ideas in a minute’s time. The multiplicity of images on the internet is itself a huge game-changer, but I guess we each try to find a niche, and we also try to stay fresh within that. if that makes sense.

  7. Excellent stuff! Excellent photos and interesting words, and I’m glad you “slithered” your way to a different place! And I also VERY much like and identify with “Walk away. Take a break and come back refreshed.” >>> in years gone by I gloried in working at mindblowing data management and statistical problems with excellent programming software – and your words were exactly my fallback plan, and it very nearly always worked >>> and when I mentioned it to others they almost never took my advice!!! And I LOVE the pic of the ferns with the red background and the pic below that, and also the one below your words “Ferns and fences repeated their patterns. I took it all in.”. All great stuff. And now, as my latest post mentions, I’m into pastures new for awhile. A 🙂

  8. I love that you are ‘changing it up’ and challenging yourself. You found some good subjects. An assignment I had while taking a photo class was to shoot 2 rolls of film in the same general location. The first by looking through the viewfinder and composing and the second without looking …. just aiming and shooting. It was pretty interesting … you might want to try it sometime. The shot with the grass growing through the skeleton leaf is my favorite.

      • I do Lynn maybe I’m an over smiler but yes I am a happy person of course I have all the other emotions to remind me what happy is 🤓 years ago my yoga teacher told our class lift the corners of your mouth before to get up out of bed in the morning…made sense to me but then again i love mornings…soft smiles ☺️

  9. Some of it is inherent, surely, but some is a conscious choice, as you point out. I am a fortunate recipient of a bit of your good cheer almost every day! (But hey, no pressure!)

  10. Great work here on your phototherapy Lyn and so good to see the fruits of your creative restlessness in full bloom here. Those funks are annoying, I guess it’s how some people feel about going to the gym – they don’t always want to do it but are always grateful afterwards for having made the effort. Or so I hear.

    So many of your shots, I’m looking at the bluey/green fern on the red background, remind me how good they would look as wallpaper features!

    • Hi Patti – it was fun to veer off in a different direction. I’ll probably be doing that more, now that I have more time and mind-space – I know you understand!


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