Shadows On the Wall

In Praise of Shadows

Michael Dees guest writing at Eric Kim’s blog, speaking my kind of language:

There’s an inherent mysteriousness in shadows. With shadows there seems to be a disclosure of sorts, but not the full story. Thus, imagination is kicked in gear, and the viewer is invited to complete a fitting story.

…Not only is there ambiguity and unfinished story embedded in every shadow, but often, a visual leading of the eye to the subject proper.

The whole essay is great, as are the images, but the above passage is the nut. It’s what draws me to take photos of shadows – of slices of light and darkness.

I’ve trained myself so that most of what I see is in terms of where the shadows are. Shadows are the reason I’m so against HDR photography (especially in urbex situations).

Why not leave a little mystery? Why not let the viewer participate in the story?


Pumpkin Patch

One of the benefits of living where we live: two orchards five minutes away, out in the southern Michigan countryside.

The seasons come, the rhythm of life beats on, and every year we visit these places to take part in these family rituals. Cider and donuts, apples, fresh produce (squash season!), and picking out pumpkins.

Adams Farm is the closest to our house. It’s less touristy than the other place, farther down the road, and that means less people, less noise, less hornets. This is where we come to grab our pumpkins – a big green field full of orange.

Soon, this place will be a longer drive away. So we soak up all the pastoral goodness we can now, while the season is right.

Distracted Work Environment

Distraction Work Environment

A few years ago, distraction-free writing was all the rage: distraction-free apps, websites, tips and tricks. I even got into the game with classic Mac and Newton hardware.

Lately, I’m coming to realize that my brain needs a bit of distraction to get something done.

Right now, I’m typing out this blog post at the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Center, a hub of activity for arts and engineering students. It’s constant traffic, constant noise, constant conversations. There’s great natural light, plenty of little work spaces, and a lovely view of the changing autumn colors outside. Plus wifi.

For me, it’s perfect.

I’ve learned that my brain needs a steady buzz of activity, whether that’s noise or music, to work productively. As long as something’s going on in the background, my busy brain can churn away on that while the creative side of me gets work done. It feels like it goes against all of those distraction-free tips, but for me, it works.

Since coming to the university, I’ve made it a point to get out of my office and explore some busy working stations – like the Duderstadt Center. Our student unions are great, because I can plug in headphones, hop on the wifi, and get to work. Every once in a while, I’ll pop up my head to see what’s going on, and then dive back in.

It’s why sites like Coffitivity are great for me. Noise is good, especially the background, like the buzzing hum that a coffee shop or a student union provides. Music is key, too. I feel like I don’t get anything productive done without some sort of music (jazz, zydeco, heavy metal – almost doesn’t matter). While editing photos, music is especially important. Working on post production while listening to an entire album is creative time well spent.

Environmental distractions are better than work distractions. Constant phone calls and emails bug me, but an espresso machine doesn’t. Background music is great, but someone playing the piano in the same room is a nuisance (as I just learned trying to get work done in the student lounge).

I’m not sure what to call this pro-distraction working philosophy, although research has shown that for some people it is a help. I guess I’m one of those people.

365 Prints by Jon Wilkening

By Jon Wilkening

Remember what I said about investing in the art you enjoy?

Photographer Jon Wilkening is doing a 365 day project, where he offers up a print each day – and it costs whatever order it’s in. I got day number eight, so I paid $8. Day number 365 will be $365, etc.

Jon’s work is very cool. He does pinhole street photography, with interesting motion and abstract blurs. I waited for the right combination of light and colors for my print, and day eight has this lovely primary color scheme going on.

Order one of Jon’s prints – they’re great.

An Archeological Exercise

Pentwater, MI: Old Fashioned Family Vacation

My family took a short vacation to northern Michigan over the weekend to visit family. On the way back, as I usually do, I made it a point to stop at the little towns along the way and grab a few photographs.

Capturing small towns in Michigan is long, ongoing project of mine. I find the sights of these little communities so fascinating. And it highlights the benefit of getting off the interstate highway system and travel the two-lane highways all across the countryside. It’s on these little side trips that you see the memorable stuff. There’s space, time, and a lack of traffic that makes pulling over easier, too.

Making photos of these small towns is almost an archeological exercise for me. I feel like I need to capture the quirks and personalities of these towns and villages before they disappear. Or in case I never come back.


Photography As Fitness

Photography As Fitness

Since January, I’ve been working on a modest fitness goal: lose 10 pounds and start working out regularly again.

So far, so good. I’m down eight pounds, thanks to a combination of healthy eating and exercise, and I hope to reach my goal before the holidays (when I’ll really need to work on my discipline!).

Part of the program involves photography. Landscape, nature, and street photographers already know this, but including photography in your fitness plan is easy. You walk, you shoot, you get some fresh air – each thing reinforces the other. Heading out to shoot is a great excuse to get some exercise.

So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve made it a point to head out, especially during my lunch hours at work, and take a long walk, camera in tow.

The result has been a ton of new street photography experiments. Getting out and exploring Ann Arbor has been a lot of fun. And after a summer of getting outside, I’m really noticing the benefits.

A few tips:

  • Take your lunch hour and get outside. It’s your time!
  • Pick a new route to walk each day. This one’s easy for me, since I’m working in a new city, but note some new neighborhoods or parts of the city you haven’t been to, and go see those.
  • Your camera’s charged or loaded with film, right?
  • Start a project, and look to these walks as a way to accomplish it.
  • Walk at least once a week. After a while, you’ll look for excuses to do it more often.

Win-win, right? Fresh air, slimmer waistline, and an excuse to make photographs.

At the Break Of Day

At the Break Of Day

What I’ll miss about moving closer to the city? This.

It’s something I’ve learned while we’ve been out house hunting: I need trees, green space, a sense of privacy, nature, birds chirping, and clear seasonal changes.

I need to feel like the woods are only a short walk away. That there’ll be foggy fields on my way into work. That my home will be well shaded by trees.

I need light filtering through branches and boughs.

Celebration of Light

Celebrate Light

Caleb Kerr at PetaPixel:

If I were to give one piece of advice, it’s to study light. Study it in everyday life. Pay attention to its properties and how it behaves. See how it changes after the sun dips below the horizon but it’s still not dark. See what it does when it bounces off a white wall, or wraps around a black sphere, or morning light shines through the hair of someone you love. Then capture it with whatever camera you have.

Light. It’s all that matters. If you’re not a student of light, you’re barely a student of photography.

Celebrate light.

And celebrate the people, places, and ideas that you love.