Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Get a life? I don't know what that means.

Here I am: unemployed, unhealthy, wishing I was healthy enough to have a job, wondering what kind of job I can have, someday, when I get off disability (hopefully).

And yet, sometimes my life feels so full. There are days that the busy-ness and variety of my life makes me feel guilty. "If I'm able to do all these things, shouldn't I be working?" The answer is yes, I should be working and no, I'm not yet healthy enough to work.

During the Western Idaho Fair I worked the photography booth as a volunteer for the Boise Camera Club. The shifts were 4 or 5 hours, during which I was basically sitting at a desk, answering questions fair-goers had about the exhibit. Afterward I would come home and go right to bed. Those few hours exhausted me, and disappointed me that I didn't have more energy.

Today I took a ukulele lesson. Piko told me I'm progressing well. He could tell I've been practicing, which makes me feel good. I know I could practice more (should practice more), but I'm seeing improvement and I  enjoy playing and practicing.

I'm exercising regularly, trying to improve my swimming skills. At one point I had the goal of competing in an Ironman Triathlon. I'm pretty sure that's an unreachable goal. I don't think I'm ever going to be healthy enough for that much physical exertion. There are shorter events that I will definitely participate in, like the upcoming Mini-Tri at the Nampa Rec Center in October.

I'm learning Spanish. I've been learning for years now, and I keep trying to improve my fluency. During the time I had no voice it was difficult to practice. I could practice reading, writing, listening. But speaking just wasn't possible. Now that my voice is back enough to be audible, I'm getting more practice. I like listening to Spanish Radio (Radio Nueva Vida) and watching some Spanish movies and TV shows. I like the kid shows best because my language skills are similar to those of a 5 or 6 year old Spanish speaker.

I'm doing some adjunct teaching for the NNU Graduate School Counseling program. I enjoy the challenge of teaching future school counselors and getting to interact with some great people. If I can't work directly with students I can enjoy training the next generation of counselors.

I'm working on my photography, learning new techniques, new creativity, new ways to process. I think I'm getting better. And I love being part of the Boise Camera Club. I'm learning so much by being around amazing photographers.

Lastly, I'm writing a book. I have no deadline so I'm working on it a little bit at a time and enjoying the process of recording my thoughts (other than on this blog). I don't know if anyone will ever want to read a book about me, but I sure like writing it. And yes, I've already had people say they want to read it, and no I don't understand why someone would want to read a book about me.

So my life is full, even though there are days it feels empty. I keep reminding myself that life is not what I do. It is not my activities, not my schedule, not my lack of activity or schedule. My life is full of people and relationships and learning, and for now that is enough.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monochrome: Sunset

As part of my photographic plan for the year, I'm working through the photographic classes of the Western Idaho Fair. This is my attempt to photograph a monochrome sunset. It might sound easy: photograph a sunset, process it B&W. But the real question is: How do I capture the essence of a sunset without the amazing colors of sunset?

I like this because it has a definite foreground (the soft, wavy water), middle ground (the stark strip of lands),  main subject (the setting sun), and background (the fading gray sky). The tonal range may not exactly capture the broad spectrum of a color sunset, but I think the various shades in this photo imply how varied the colors are. I also like the composition, with the dark strip along the bottom third. Although the water probably has more interest because of the texture, I prefer giving the sky more attention. I also like that the sun is not on a thirds axis, but offset on the right edge. I think it adds energy - the sun is moving out of the frame. It feels dynamic and serene to me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Plan of Action

During the last week or so I've been considering what I need to do next, as a photographer. I want to improve my photography, my creativity, my eye, my processing skills, etc. And I think I've developed an idea.

Although I'm not interested in changing my photography to meet a judges criteria, I am interested in creating photos with more impact. I'll focus on images that impact me, and if the judges are impacted too, all the better. Over the next year, I'm going to work through the different classes of photos in the fair, creating images in every category.

My goal is to better understand and interpret the category. For example, "Monochrome: Human Interest." What does that really mean? Obviously it's not a color photo, and by definition it "should include actions of animals or people." That's a pretty broad spectrum of possibilities. The important question then: How will I interpret a non-color photo showing actions of animals or people?

Another example, "Abstracts – lines, geometric forms, shapes and patterns that are enhanced but not manipulated.  Enhanced means changes in color, tone, or ordinary darkroom techniques where elements have not been removed or added." Where will I find interesting lines, forms, shapes and patterns? How will I photograph them to create interest and impact?

I think it will be a good exercise for me. I may or may not end up entering any of them in next year's fair, but that's not the point. I'm not trying to create fair entries. I want to learn how to interpret an "assignment" and to shoot it with a definite plan of creativity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Follow Up to: What's in a Photo

A friend of mine (thanks Cherish) posted a quote that made me ponder. It's still making me ponder; the meaning seems to get deeper the more I think about it.

"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not."

It begs the question then, who do I think I'm not?

I think I'm a decent photographer, but that's not holding me back from getting better, from improving my skill, my eye, my creativity. I think I'm not a great photographer, and that's what's holding me back. I don't think I'm just supposed to start thinking of myself as a great photographer, but maybe I am. In counseling I often talked with clients about changing their thinking and the benefits of a positive mindset. So maybe I should just start thinking, and even saying aloud, "I am a great photographer." I should start acting as if I am a great photographer and that will propel me toward greatness.

But this also means I need to do the work that great photographers do. If I'm going to act like a great photographer:
I need to get up early to catch the best morning light.
I need to scout out the right locations.
I need to educate myself on proper photographic technique.
I need to learn new ways to see and photograph.
I need to try things I've never tried before.
I need study great photos and great photographers then
I need to emulate the best photographers

More pondering necessary.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What's in a Photo?

The Western Idaho Fair is this week. As a member of the Boise Camera Club, I've been volunteering in the Photography Booth. I worked on receiving day (taking photos from the entrants), and judging day. That was an interesting experience. Before the judges started looking at the photos, several of us volunteers went through the photos, picking our favorites. Some of our picks coincided with the judges' opinions, others - not so much.

I entered three photos this year. Before the fair I told myself and some other people, "I don't really care if I win any ribbons, and I don't expect to win any." Apparently, I wasn't being honest with them, or with myself. Turns out I did want to win ribbons. I wanted external validation that my photos are good, worthy of accolades (and a blue ribbon or three). Of the three photos, only one garnered a ribbon, and that for second place. In the judging process, the judges would review tables full of photos, choosing a limited number that would receive closer scrutiny. Two of my photos, which I thought were good examples of photography, didn't even warrant a second look. The judges passed right over them without stopping. This tells me that my photos lack impact. They must have seen them and thought, "a photo of a bird, a photo of poles," then quickly moved on to the next photo. Nothing about mine grabbed their attention, apparently.

I am really disappointed, although I don't know if I'm more disappointed in the judging, or in my own abilities and expectations. I like to think I shoot what I like without being concerned about what other people think of my photos. But there must be a part of me that does care.

I suspect, my disappointment goes to the very heart of my creativity. Of the 13,000 or so photos that I have on my hard drive, there are two that I think are really good photos. And one that I think is the best photo I've taken. But that "best" photo is only worth 2nd place in a small state fair competition. Talk about small fish in an even smaller pond - that's me. This also brings into question my ability to determine the value of a photo. The photos I think are great are apparently mediocre at best.

So, where to go from here?

I have a year to change my mind, but at this point, I won't be entering photos any more, not in competitions. I will still submit photos to the camera club. There, I get in-person feedback and valuable critique. At the fair, I get nothing - literally.

I also need to spend time working on my skills. I need to study great photos, learn what makes them great, and incorporate those qualities into my photography. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. My photography will continue to improve, of that I'm sure. But it's time for me to spend more time focusing on what I like instead of what some "objective" judge thinks of my photography.

Edit: As I reread this post, I notice parts that sound like I'm disparaging the judges, and their opinions. And that is not my intent at all. I think the judges did a great job identifying the best photos of the fair. My disappointment with the fair is firmly attached to my own expectations and performance. Had I presented better images, with more impact and of higher technical quality, I would have received more recognition. Next time I share photos I will work on those two characteristics of good photos.