Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anxiety Clogs

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Is there any doubt that anxiety clogs up the arteries in the creative system? Recently, I have had something to say each day (not necessarily something that needed to be said, but something I was quite willing to prattle on about). Just a few hours of real world fears, and the system groans to a standstill. Now, the debris will have to make its way through, before ideas flow again.

Fate Has a Sense of Humor

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It’s a rather cruel twist of fate that I got interested in photography. I hadn’t realized that it is a field ideally suited, in many ways, for engineers, computer programmers, and other folks with minds that work in what I find to be wondrous and mysterious ways—ways that I can’t begin to fathom. I remember well what a dreadful shock it was when I discovered that using a camera involves constant encounters with (shudder) mathematics.

Like many others, I’m guessing, who became interested in photography after the digital age was in full swing, I began shooting almost exclusively in Auto mode. Soon, I became dissatisfied with the photographs I got when I left all the decisions to the Canon A70. I developed a keen curiosity about all those other modes that promised better pictures. Talk about na├»ve. I had no idea that my curiosity would plunge me into a world of swarming with numbers.

Fortunately, or unfortunately (the latter would be in terms of eventual damage to the family budget), The Husband’s youthful years spent in photography school encouraged my belief that I could move beyond Auto and explore the wonderful world of manual mode. After all, I was fortunate enough to have an in-house instructor. But, as soon as I began quizzing the teacher for help, I was stopped in my tracks. When The Husband began to explain terms, my head started to spin and my ears began to ring, He wouldn’t stop spouting numbers—numbers, and more numbers. Every question I asked set him off with the numbers. Numbers everywhere I turned. Aperture? Numbers. And the numbers are upside down, for crying out loud. To get more light you dial in a lower number. Now, that is perverse. Early on, that one put a real kink in my learning curve. Shutter speed and ISO? Stop the numbers, please. You get into flash and all anyone talks about is those infernal numbers. There seem to be no numbers-free zones when comes to operating the camera.

I should tell you that I have never been fond of numbers. Don’t know why. Can’t explain it. Never flunked a math class. Never was humiliated by a math teacher. Makes no sense. I remember clearly coming home from school one day, soon after starting second grade, and announcing to my mother that I wasn’t any good at math. She stared at me with disbelief and said, “How do you know? You haven’t even taken a math class.” I don’t recall knowing how I knew, but I was certain of my facts. Depending upon your philosophy about these things, you may think that because I believed that I wouldn’t be good at math, I created the problem for myself. Or, you may believe that I was precocious for my age and could see the future. Naturally, I prefer the latter interpretation.

Now, I add, subtract, divide and multiply just fine. But, that’s where it stops, thank you. I made A’s in the math classes that I had to take to go to college—but it was only because I was good at memorizing facts. I never had a clue when it came to the actual practical uses of math beyond balancing a checkbook—one of the truly odious tasks in life. I dutifully memorized the material, and then the day after the tests everything I had memorized drained out of my brain leaving behind a fully restored numbers-free zone.

All that math presented a rigorous test of my newly discovered passion and, more than once, I was tempted to abandon the entire venture. I wanted to make pictures; I didn’t want to go back to memorizing math formulas. To this day, anytime I read an article, or a section of a book, wherein the author veers off into helpful rules for shutter speed proportional to lens length, formulas to memorize that will serve as a starting point for exposure in specific types of circumstances, or flash speed sync my brain threatens to lock. I still have to fight the impulse to simply skip over those paragraphs.

And it’s a good thing that I have fought that desire to bail out, because I can tell that a little of the information has seeped into some remote portion of my consciousness. I still couldn’t quote the formulas, and if you quizzed me on any of the “rules”, I would humiliate myself. However, I can see that gradually I have learned to work a little faster and a little more efficiently, even it is all about those icky little numbers. I suppose that exposure (no pun intended) to all those formulas has made a difference—even if they do strike fear in my heart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veteran’s Day Thoughts

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In my mind, two of our most important holidays of the year fall in November—Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. It is symptomatic of our current culture that these two observations, both of which ask us to be grateful for what we have and to express our thanks to those who made it possible, are mostly ignored. Part of the crush has come from Halloween, an occasion that once belonged to children, but has lately been hijacked by adults eager to abandon responsibility in favor of frivolity and make-believe (along with the right to appear on others doorsteps and demand favors). On the other side, it’s Christmas—a holiday that has, for too many, increasingly devolved into not much more than a shopping spree that creates year-long debt accompanied by anxiety and family tensions. Then, of course, there’s New Year’s with thoughtful celebrations revolving around far too much food and drink, as well as uplifting experiences such as football, keg parties, and hangovers.

I certainly am exposing the old curmudgeon side of my nature here, but these things bother me. Our lives are barren without gratitude, and it saddens me to see this human virtue losing ground to the “gimme” attitude—the notion that because I want it, I am entitled to get it, and someone had better give it to me, now— that is celebrated non-stop in popular culture.

Okay, enough moaning. (I really am not some dour Puritan throwback who deplores fun and celebrating life. Veteran’s Day just seems to do this to me.) I do want to say a big “Thank You!” to all the men and women who have served our country. We owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay. Please accept my heartfelt appreciation. When I say my prayers tonight, I will ask to be more deserving of your sacrifices.

In case you are in the mood for a post that honors our veterans, but has a more for uplifting tone—and who wouldn’t be, check Beau Harbin’s post for today.

Morning Walks

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During the summer and autumn mornings, we got out for walks. I often slipped out very early by myself. Unfortunately, it's getting more and more difficult to drag me away from the nice warm house in the wee hours.

The houses up the ridges (such as the one pictured above) got some light snow yesterday. But, I didn't brave the wind and sleet down here to take photos of the scenes. I think I will have plenty more opportunities for shooting snow scenes. Maybe by next winter I will toughen up a bit and get out in the weather more. (Here's a tip: Don't lay any bets on that one.)

Before I return to early morning walks, I have to order a spare battery for the 20D and 40D. I will want to carry one battery in a nice warm pocket, so I can switch out periodically. I just remembered that last winter I bought some of those nifty hand warmers. That will help. (Provided I can find them.) Now, I just need toe warmers and a nose warmer.

Did I mention how cozy warm it is in here when the sun is coming up and there's a layer of frost on the grass? Besides, afternoon walks are lovely.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stormy Nights and Rainy Days

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It's cold, wet, and windy in Bear Valley Springs. I slept through the thunder and lightning last night (this house has soundproofing that is almost too effective), but The Husband was wakened (he sleeps on the window side) and told me what I had missed. Today there is snow up on the ridges surrounding the valley. Down here it's all about mud. What happened to autumn?!

If I can't discipline myself to buckle down and clean for the houseguests arriving Saturday, it would be a lovely day for some more experimenting inside with my macro lens. Hmmm.