Category Archives: Abstract

Wet Screen, Orange and Scarlet Begonias

Wet Screen, Orange and Scarlet Begonias

This image is a mix of what for me are normal: “found” compositions, and then also something a bit rarer, a set up, a still life. I guess really it’s a still life.

The weather had been a very fine rain overnight, more like a heavy mist. I of course went out with my camera and made a lot of macro photos with the fine droplets on the new summer growth. I think some of them are good. Having finished that work, we were going to go on an errand, but I saw this wet screen on my back porch. I was working on installing some screen doors, and this screen was loose, leaned against the house, and more wet from the fine rain than I could have made it. It occurred to me to move it over by the planters with the orange and scarlet begonias, and I grabbed the full frame camera, still with it’s vintage macro lens attached. I thought the series of images were quite beautiful, but I was in a rush. Surely I could do better if I tried this with more consideration when I wasn’t rushed.

I tried it a few more sessions, wetting the screen with a hose those times. Besides never quite getting the quality of wetness that the fine rain produced, somehow the more contrived attempts weren’t quite as good as the images from the original session.

Of course it’s the case in nature, that the situation, the light, the feel of the moment is unique to each exposure, but you’d be tempted to think that if you set a situation up, you’d have more control. There’s something about that initial flash of connection and insight though, that seems hard to duplicate.

Here is another one. Last year I had a vintage lens I was testing out, an old Olympus OM short tele. I didn’t end up keeping it; it wasn’t quite as sharp as I would like across the frame (though it was sharp in the center even at full-wide aperture), but it did have a unique and pleasing quality of bokeh, it’s out of focus rendering quality. Again, I was in a bit of a hurry, on my way to a meeting. But as I drove past this patch of blue chicory flowers by the side of the road, I had to pull over and try a few exposures with the soft blur quality. I got this one:
roadside chicory, car, vermont

This year I have a couple more vintage bokeh lenses that should be better than that one I culled. Lenses that also draw a beautiful out of focus quality, while also being razor sharp. I’ve been down to that spot a few times now, a year later, trying to surpass my initial hurried attempt. I’ve taken time, because the situation has so much potential. It’s possible that I’ve pulled it off, but I’m not sure yet.

The wet screen and begonias image is a bit of a shame to put on the web, because it needs to be pretty big. The subtle detail and texture of the screen and the water on it gets lost, with a high resolution full frame beautiful file reduced down to a computer screen. It needs to be seen as a big print.

Dune Fence and Shadows, Beach Grooming

Dune Fence and Beach Grooming, Jersey Shore

I was staying near the beach, so I had the chance to go out while the shadows were long and the light was soft. I’ve been meaning to publish this one for a while, and I finally got the spur to work on it.

Photographers out there may have heard that Google is giving away their Nik collection of software for free. I’ve been using Nik Silver Effex for some time. If you’re careful not to get too carried away with its power, it offers some nice additions to a straight conversion to black and white, some ways to get the tones just right. Silver Effex has been crashing on me a lot lately anyway. I was working on making an output file for a print that sold the other week, and it must have crashed 30 times or more, and it was a large file to reopen each time. Ugh.

So I took this news as an opportunity to move on. A new one I’m trying, called Tonality CK, does not crash. So I’ve been taking it out for some trips around the tone poems. This is one.

This photo is for sale on Canson Rag Photographiqe paper

Snowy Roof Through Frozen Window, Vermont

Snowy Roof Through Frozen Window Vermont

This winter we’ve had far fewer cold mornings than usual; each month out of the last several in Vermont has broken all records as the warmest ever recorded. Some of these recent months have broken the record by more than a few degrees. Still, we’ve had a few of these mornings when I open the shades, and I don’t know what I will find. The light and patterns of ice on the glass aren’t always the same. So quite often before I get to work for the day I go all around the windows with my camera. I have a lot of these, but this one struck me in the richness of texture and the way the overall composition worked in its abstraction. I hope to do a series of these sometime soon. Most are quite different from this one.

This photo is available as a print here.

New Ice and Birch Reflections, Hartland VT 2015

New Ice and Birch Reflections, Hartland VT

John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (Though it turns out there are other attributions. Perhaps others said that before John Lennon). This manifests in so many ways for all of us. We can’t, don’t pay attention to everything. We try to go in some direction, but the set of blessings and curses of our choices are never quite what we bargained for.

I’ve been blessed with small bodies of water in the last 15 years. Really odd how that happened. The last place I bought, a fixer-upper that was an 1850’s farm-hand’s house had a few things going for it. One was that I could afford it, and the other was that it was near Post Pond, which was a rich spot to blossom into this stage of my being as a photographer. I knew that Post Pond was nice. I had no idea how much time I would spend there and what an impact it would have on my vision.

Then when we decided to buy this house in Vermont, it had a little pond in the backyard. Deep enough to swim in. “Maybe we could ice skate on it.” OK, that’s a nice touch. The house is has nice character and we can afford it. But it turns out that the pond has been one of my favorite things about this place. In deep winter it’s just white, and maybe not so interesting to photograph so much. In the summer, fall, and early winter it’s an ever-changing rich opportunity to photograph. I would never want to be away from a little pond or big pond or a lake as long as I have a camera to my name.

The pond is ringed with birch trees for about half the perimeter, and they are lovely in many respects. These two images have different days of new ice, and the birch trees reflected on it. In the winter the sunrise is late enough, and of course I’m close, so it’s easy to bundle up and get out there in the first light. The pink on the birches below is the sunrise light.

Blue New Ice and Birch Reflections at Dawn

These are available for sale as prints and in a more high res view here:

New Ice and Birch Reflections 2015 I

New Ice and Birch Reflections 2015 II

Spring Ice, Pine Needles 2014


At this time of year here, we get this kind of ice. Over the years I’ve tried to catch the days when I could photograph it, at first somewhat haphazardly. By now I really try to carve out some time to be with it, and I know some good places where it manifests. It’s not just any ice, but a kind of sparkly ice mixed with layers of the forest floor.

I went out looking for it the day before yesterday. I figured this would be an extra good year for it, because we had so much heavy icy melty stuff early in the season, and then a good snow cover all year. I figured it could build up underneath the snowpack, started by the early season ice. But when I got to the place where I spent so much time photographing it last year, there was nothing but bare patches of ground. The rest of the ground surrounding it was quite snow covered. Oh well. You never know. There are some other spots where I’ve found it, and maybe it will show up there when the snow melts a bit.

I looked for this kind of ice and didn’t find any, but I did have a fruitful session photographing the ice along a little stream through the woods that day, and then yesterday when I went out again. It was really an exercise in anicca, impermanence, because I knew it would be warm and rainy today — the end of that ice most likely.

This photo is available with a higher resolution view, and for sale.

Meditator on Break, Condensation on Dining Tent Flap, Autumn

I often talk about the relationship of meditation on my photography. On some of my deepest retreats, I’m not allowed a camera. But on this 6 day silent retreat, I did have my axe with me. There were long breaks in the afternoons, and I did get to walk in the woods in heading-toward-peak autumn foliage. Maybe some of those exposures might make good photographs — I don’t know yet — but it certainly was good to walk around after so much sitting. The tricky thing is, when I’m opened up so much, and everything is so vivid, and emotional material arises to meet capacity, and the separation of inside and outside is at its thinnest — at that time it’s actually pretty tricky to make good photographs. It may be rather beside the point of being in a meditation retreat, in some ways — but also it is a good practice to bring the openness into the world at large, and to let the world into that open state.

This retreat was at the very end of September in hilly New Hampshire. The mornings were cold, some of the days were cool. Because of the size of the retreat, the largest given up to that point at this center (Wonderwell), they put up a heated outdoor tent to serve as an auxiliary dining hall. The plastic walls of the tent gathered condensation. I only made a couple of discreet exposures on this chilly morning. If it were normal life I would have worked the situation quite a bit more, but I didn’t want to be a spectacle in that context. Of course, in normal life, I might not have seen this as a photograph to make. You never know.

This photo is available for purchase and can be viewed in higher resolution.

Oak Leaf and Hemlock in Spring Ice, Vermont 2014

Oak Leaf, Hemlock Needles, Ice Vermont I’ve spent a lot of time working on these ice-on-forest-floor abstracts and semi-abstracts this spring. It turned out that the window of opportunity was pretty small this year, but I had some nice long days working it hard. The time the snow melted enough to expose the shimmery, translucent broken, leaf-infused forest floor ice, but before the ice melted was only a few days. I spent hours when I could, each day I walked in the woods. I think I mentioned last time that I’m just so tickled with my current micro-four thirds camera with some high end prime lenses for this task. I’ve been photographing this sort of stuff for 30 years with all kinds of high and low end equipment, and this is the best it’s ever been. I have a lot of images to sift through and decide about, from softer images like this that are almost like a little story — to very abstract ones I like too, where the eye moves, the depth of the image seems to go in and out of the plane, and you can get lost in the abstract journey. It’s funny; it’s something of a journey through time in making and sifting through these kind of exposures. On the day I unload the camera and look at them, they are all very exciting. But I know I should wait. After a week or two it becomes pretty confusing — there are so many images, and it’s hard to see what works. By next year it should be quite clear, I imagine. But I’m jumping the gun, diving into the confusion as I did for the last one, and hopefully coming up with a pearl this time.

In the late 80s I saw Bob Dylan in concert, and he was very good, surprisingly good for that period. Dylan had released some not-so-great albums through that period, some good songs and some not so good songs. But the thing is, if you go see Dylan in concert, he knows what the good songs are. He doesn’t necessarily perform the song that he wrote last month that might make it onto an album. I remember being really struck by that ability to be clear for the performance, to not mess around with new material he’s unsure of (even if he can’t resist putting that on an album). I assumed it was harder to know when he makes an album, how much of it is going to be good. Make it, get it down, record it; time will tell.  I remember aspiring to have that clarity and discernment with my own work, and I’ve kept that aspiration mostly intact. But here I go, posting a new photo, fresh, and one of thousands of new keepers/and chaff to blow away.

This is available as a fine print here

Acorn Cap, Pine Needles, Spring Ice 2014

Abstract Acorn Cap Pine Needles Hemlock Ice

I’ve been spending too much time (considering I have work to do and taxes to work on) in the woods on snowshoes. As of Monday, there was still well over a foot of snow in the woods, but it’s melting fast.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked on this theme: the ice over the ground, revealed when the snow melts, is sparkling, full of leaves and bits of flotsam, completely magical up close. It’s not everywhere, just in some places. I used to have a good patch of it in my back yard in Lyme, and now there is often quite a bit of it along a trail in a very beautiful forest. This year though, the snow has been hanging on, and I don’t know if things are melting in the normal way. It’s so late for it to be melting. I’ve only found one patch to work, but I’ve spent hours at it over a couple of days so far this year.

One thing I realized that’s quite funny about working this patch of ice: it’s in a spot with a breathtaking distant view over rolling meadows, to distant hillsides and beyond. It’s all the more breathtaking because on the (long) walk that leads to it, the trail has been in trees for a long time. Then you get to the edge, and it is: “Wow!” It opens up. Life is more dramatic when it opens up suddenly. But the funny thing is that on Monday I went straight to work with this ice, and I didn’t even look up, I don’t think, for hours.

I don’t usually wax gear-head on this blog, but my newer gear is just so perfect for working with this subject. The Olympus 45/f1.8 and the 60/f2.8 macro are just so amazingly sharp and contrasty. I’ve usually worked this subject with a DSLR, which is tricky, because it’s hard to get enough depth of field. It’s flat, but not really quite flat. Things bump up or recede, the plane dips or pops. The Micro Four Thirds camera has just enough more depth of field if I stop down a bit, and like I said, these lenses are amazing. This is so contrasty out of the camera I should almost dial it back. Really amazing.

Yellow Siberian Iris Leaves, Frost, Fall 2013

Yellow Siberian Iris Leaves and Frost

Well, maybe I’ve been a little heavy in recent posts. Certainly my mind feels heavy now; I’ve been coding hard all week, working on the shopping cart for this site with PHP, Javascript, JSON, etc.

This afternoon, sick of it, I decided it’s time for a Photo of the Week, and it reminds me that part of photography is that it’s fun. It just is; hence its current popularity. I opened up a few raw files in photoshop and played with tones a bit, some burning and dodging.

Ahh, the most fun I’ve had all week.

(update: I got the shopping cart working!)

This print is for sale here.

New Ice, Rain, Birch Reflections 2013

Just Freezing Pond in Rain Birch Tree Reflections

It’s funny how we resist change, and yet change makes everything possible. The very energy of life is based on change: chemical reactions and biochemical transformations are dynamic.

Just so in photography too. It’s in those in-between moments where the most happens.

And of course everything is an in-between moment. Still, some times are a bit more dynamic feeling than others, and that dynamic energy is good to ride even when it feels like something we would rather not, a change we’d rather not experience.

This was the part of the fall/winter that is a bit of “Oh noo!” here in the north country. The leaves are mostly down, the world is drab, it’s starting to freeze up. On this day it was raining. From my office window it looked horrible out. Still, a bit restless, I decided to grab the Nikon (pretty weatherproof) and head down to the pond to see what the ice looked like. Worth the trip. And so for all of riding our changing experience. From that “oh no!” bubble of resistance to actually checking it out. What is going on? Maybe something interesting.

This print is for sale here.