Category Archives: summer

Morning Glories Dawn, Edge of Fall, Impermanence

Morning Glories Late Summer Vermont

Late this summer I got obsessed with morning glories. Part of it had something to do with a new lens, a vintage macro lens that provided very smooth out of focus areas, bokeh, which worked beautifully with the blue and other colors. Also, the daily display was an ever changing kaleidoscope. Anicca, impermanence, is always somehow an engine in my photography, as I’ve explained in other posts. I had it in spades here. Each morning glory flower lasts for just a day in cool weather. It turns out that a single blossom will last into the next day if it is quite cool, and then the flowers are more purple on the second day. On the other hand if it is quite dry and warm, these soap-bubbles of blue don’t even make it through the day. And then of course the dew, and the changing light transforms everything, whether the light is coming through them or shining on them, it’s completely different.

This image though wasn’t with that vintage new-to-me lens though, but rather one of my other vintage manual prime lenses, this one wider. I did not do some of the things I normally would have, and there are some regrets about what might have been in this exposure, but really it has turned out.

So here we have it in a nutshell. Everything changes. Sometimes we have regrets. It is what it is. These blue saucers were gone by that evening, and now the vines are brown mush. But impermanence works both ways. Gone each day, but only appearing in the first place because of change. Reappearing and transforming each day because of change. The extraordinary beauty only possible and indeed more poignant because of the transience.

We fear impermanence sometimes; we want to hang onto the good and beautiful and pleasurable, and we resist the coming of the nasty. The impermanence itself though is not to be feared. It facilitates the demise of the nastiness just as surely as it enables the blossoming of the beautiful and good. Ah annica. Simply the way things are.

This photo is available as a print, printed like last week’s image on Canson Aquarelle Watercolor paper. Buy the print here.

Ordinary Miracles – Four Morning Glories

Four Morning Glories

In my practice of photography there is a tension. The natural tendency is to look for the unusual, striking, breathtaking, exotic. But my saving grace is an ability to be present with what simply is, and fully embrace that, at least sometimes.

In looking for the exotic, there comes a striving, a discontent with so much of what we encounter — even when we are actually in the midst of something spectacular. We become what Buddhists call “hungry ghosts” — a mental realm where nothing is ever enough. Photography in this context becomes a perpetual bar-raising for more unusual subjects and locations.

On the other hand, by being with whatever is, there is often more interest and beauty available to us all, right where we are — vast rich experience is available in all of our everyday life if we dare to approach it undefended and full of curiosity.

I was struck in a conversation at my dad’s bedside, a hospital visit recently. My sister, a bodhisattva, was talking about a situation where she was helping someone. The nurse’s aid in the room described that person as having found a miracle. And it is true, that causes and conditions have come together in a very lucky way for that person; you could call it miraculous. But what struck me is that by thinking of miracles as distinct from the everyday miracle of every aspect of our existence, we diminish everything. It’s not that this life is a low and dull thing, and somewhere, out there, are rare things called miracles. The whole thing is a miracle. The whole damn manifestation of this existence. Nothing less than miraculous.

In Buddhist meditation practice, we are constantly cautioned to not seek high or extraordinary experiences. Inhabiting the ordinary fully is the practice. I think, despite awareness of this dichotomy in my photographic life, that I wasn’t really fully understanding why we meditate in this way. It’s not just that we “settle” for the ordinary. Fully inhabiting the ordinary, we see its richness, depth, and mystery. To look for the extraordinary, we miss the entire miracle, the whole miracle of our existence on earth. You miss that, you miss most everything. Looking for something somewhere else, something fancy, we miss everything.

So here in my own garden in morning light with a vintage manual camera lens and the blessing of time to really look, it is enough. More than enough.

This is a high resolution file, and it makes a spectacular print at any size. I print it on Canson Arches Aquarelle Watercolor paper. Prints available here.

Bee Balm Through Siberian Iris Leaves and Dew

Monarda siberian iris leaves

“People think it’s the object of attention that’s important, like an object reflected in a mirror. But it’s actually looking toward where objects are reflected that’s important, the capacity to reflect. Look at a flower. Then look at the mind that perceives the flower.”

— Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

I typed this quote in my notes in a dharma retreat the other day, a retreat with my Buddhist teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who is Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s son.

Besides having everything to do with meditation at a certain level, that quote also has everything to do with my approach to photography. It’s not that there is some thing out there, and I’m out to capture it. It’s about perception, resonance, our capacity to reflect and be aware — and aware of our awareness.

This image is available for sale and view at higher resolution on this page

Japanese Iris During/After Rain, Waterlilies

Japanese Iris and Waterlilies

It’s always a mysterious process how I end up creating and selecting what may be the best of my photos (or the mystery may in fact be so deep that the best ones go unpublished). Sometimes everything just comes together — bam! — the way people think photography works. “I just go click.” Umm, not so often, but sometimes sorta, if I’m well prepared.

In this case I had a concept in my mind, which of course made everything hard. I had seen that Japanese Iris blooming on the bank of the pond, so big and saturated and dancing in and out of dapples of light. Of course I photographed it. But when we had a stretch of rainy weather in June, I got this idea. I don’t know if the composition is really influenced by Ukiyo-e (Floating World) woodblock prints of Japan. I’ve spent lots and lots of time viewing those prints, online and in person, and I think I’ve internalized some of the style.

So, unfortunately, I had something in my mind as I kept going back and squatting in the weeds in the rain and just-after rain and trying different lenses and apertures. I made a lot of exposures, and a lot of them were good; though there were many flavors of the composition — different rain and different depth of field and lens character.

Here are two of the many, the same scene, different flavors. After the rain

Japanese Iris and Waterlilies

These images can be viewed in a cleaner and higher resolution presentation, and they are for sale as prints:

Japanese Iris in Rain

After Rain

Moving Slowly with Character Lenses

Dune Fence Sunset with bicycle

This summer I’ve been testing and using some vintage manual focus and manual aperture lenses. They make some good lenses now, for sure, but they also used to make good ones in the past. Also, one modern lens I have now is a modern lens, with modern coatings and all, but it’s from Voigtlander’s “Vintage Series.” It’s extremely sharp and brilliant over most of the frame at least, but there’s just something special about it.

I had that Voigtlander lens on my camera as I was walking slowly along the beach at sunset in about the third or fourth day of having pneumonia, and I sure was moving slowly. I had walked longer and been out longer than maybe I should have. So walking slowly, I saw this, and I had just the right lens on my camera for the situation.

Roadside Chicory, Car, Vermont

I’ve been quite busy using and testing some of these vintage and character lenses in recent weeks, now fully recovered from that pneumonia. Working hard at photography.

So on this day I had to drive to take a show of photographs down in Lyme, New Hampshire, where they were hanging in Stella’s Restaurant as part of an annex show for Long River Studio Gallery. I had my cameras with my, and Lyme was a place I used to photograph a lot, so I left early, driving slowly, with some extra time. It turned out I didn’t make it to Lyme to photograph before my schedule time for the show de-hanging. I stopped along the road in Vermont in my own town. I passed this patch of blue chicory flowers along the roadside and I stopped there to work with it. I tried a few lenses, starting out with a modern Zeiss, but then I put on an old 80s lens, which was the lens that the late Jane Bown favored for her portraits. It’s pretty good, but a little soft wide open, and it has great bokeh. Often, to get these old lenses I’ll go through a series of apertures, starting with wide open. This allows me to get to know the lens. For this image, I was right by the road, and I had just reset the aperture to wide-open, hence the shallow depth of field and crazy bokeh balls. Standing there with the lens set like that, I heard a car approaching, thought, “what the heck,” and raised the camera, quickly (manually) focusing on the foreground flower. As the car approached I tripped the shutter. It worked.

It’s funny, both of these lenses would certainly be rejected by anyone purely looking at lens tests, looking for optical perfection by modern standards. And I myself would have been that one rejecting them about a year or less ago. But something about this spring and summer is loosening up, a bit of wildness is creeping in, and here we are.

These photos can be viewed at higher resolution and purchased as prints:

Beach Fence at Sunset with Bike

Roadside Chicory with Car, Vermont

Dandelions 2016

Dandelions Sunset Hartland Vermont

A couple of years ago I made this successful (for me — I can’t remember offhand if I’ve sold any prints of this) exposure and then very good print of a hillside with dandelions, below:

2014 dandelions vermont barn

I’ve found dandelions to be a compelling subject since I lugged a 4 x 5 view camera around (and I have a distinct memory of stopping by a meadow and setting up my tripod and big camera to photograph them after a very significant event — meeting Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche — in 1982).

Still, it’s a bit hard. They are luminous; they glow, they are full of detail; and they whisper poignantly of impermanence. Even if you’ve got a good composition, you’ve got to pull off the photograph. I was a bit surprised and heartened by that good print from 2014.

Since then I’ve got a crazy high resolution sensor with good dynamic range on my main camera, and I’ve got some brilliant lenses. Zeiss and Voigtlander — some of the most brilliant and full of character glass I’ve ever been blessed to use. Not only that, but I live near some good dandelion hayfields here in the hills of Vermont. This year I’ve gone a bit crazy working with these plants. Some think they are weeds, but I think they are a prize beyond price, but only for that very short while, until the wind blows, the rain dumps, or the first hay is cut.

Another one:

Stone Wall and Dandelions in Vermont

These photos are available for higher resolution viewing and for sale as prints:

Dandelions and Stone Wall

Dandelions, Hill, Sunset

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

Two exposures: Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

not-infrared, from D800e full frame

Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

exposed with infrared-only camera

A few weeks ago I had a chance to make a collection of small matted/bagged prints for a flip-through bin at Frog Hollow in Burlington. They only wanted infrared prints. That’s a little bit of a funny restriction for me, because I usually consider the infrared to be more like an extension of my palette rather than a separate realm. Anyway, I was very glad to have the chance to do it, and I treated it as a little show. Usually in a show I’ll work from a range of prints that I know work, to something very fresh, new to me. I take it as a chance to stretch out and push myself, which is funny, because I can do that any time. For this show, this image was one of the new ones, and I was very happy to see it come out of the printer. I printed it on Canson Rag Photographique, a slightly textured matte paper, just a little smoother than etching paper, but still with a very nice tooth.

After that I was printing some things with a different ink set in the printer, for “luster” paper rather than matte. Then when I had to switch inks again (a process that is a little expensive) for a print sale last week, I decided to print that infrared print bigger on the different luster paper (Canson Baryta Photographique) to see if it would have different qualities. Yes, a very nice print indeed.

In the old days, when I carried around a view camera with a bellows, dark cloth, and boxes of film-holders, I used to also expose infrared film. It was a tricky and squirrely business back then, often failing. So even if I “saw” the image as infrared, I would also expose some regular sheet film as well, just so that I might get something, or in case it worked better on black and white tri-ex or plus-x or T-max or whatever. That’s a habit I carried forward, but the difference now is that the infrared isn’t always the hardest to manifest. At least last year the most difficult camera I used was the Nikon D800e full frame, trickier to get a good image than with the good reliable Olympus or even the infrared. Often on a given subject I might work with three cameras.

I looked through my catalog to see if I had made the exposure with the full frame rig, and I had. And I got a good one! With the infrared reading informing my vision, I rendered this as black and white. It’s very hard to decide which of these I like better. I think for a small image, the infrared might have it, but the full frame version has much more detail, and it will make a much better large print.

In a previous blog post I wrote a bit about how I am letting go of my notion that each situation or scene can only have one definitive print. More and more I’m opening up to letting it be OK to let any particular vision expand a bit into its various facets.

The infrared version is for sale in various sizes here.

And this is from the higher resolution regular color exposure.

Bee on Globe Thistle, Mondarda, Vermont

The Bee Balm (monarda) has rather run away this summer, but I couldn’t bear to try to tame it. I’m finding that the brilliant red is providing a handy backdrop for all kinds of subjects. I think I am going to try a whole series about this bee balm running wild. I just found out that I will be exhibiting at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon NH this October through December, and I think the bee balm series might be something to try printing for it.

This image proves to me some things I already know so well: you can make a photograph in natural light once. After that any attempt to improve or recreate it are rather iffy. It seems like it should be more than possible to refine a vision, but it’s tricky.

This particular image was one of the first of about 200 images I made of this subject. Over a few day period, the bees were reliably working this globe thistle, and the red monarda backdrop wasn’t going anywhere. I tried some different lenses, tried optimizing the aperture for the blur of the background, even making some of those 40 Megapixel monsters that my micro four thirds camera can do with its sensor-shift technology (and those are good because the colors are often better and truer). Still, I think this might be among the best of the batch. Subject to revision. We’ll see.

This image is for sale and can be viewed in higher resolution on its page.