Category Archives: garden

Lobelia, “Tomatoes” Sign, Greenhouse

Tomatoes Sign, Lobelia, Greenhouse

I’ve been posting these color flowers and shallow depth of field images, but they’re not the only thing I’ve been doing. It’s just that they’re the ones that get stuck in my head, and I get excited to print them. I had a summer a few years ago when I was looking at Ukiyo-e (“floating world,” the genre of Japanese prints that includes Hokusai and others). Those images filled my mind and influenced my compositions. In this period I seem to be finding some of my inspiration from my quirky old vintages lenses themselves, the way they draw with light, and maybe especially the way colors mingle and mix beyond the plane of focus.

Last week I talked about re-doing images, and this was in fact a re-do. As regular readers know, I’m not just photographing casually. I tend to work on ideas and places iteratively. I work crazy hard on my photography. Often I get to know a situation better by working on it, while other times I find it hard to make up for the serendipity of new discoveries. The mix of hard work and grace is somewhat mysterious, here, as in meditation, as in all of life.

But I do learn as I go, learn how situations resonate as a photograph, how they will print, how each of my quirky old lenses work at different apertures and in different light. I learn both how to work with situations, to have patience when it’s not working, and to accept the grace of what is simply given.

When I first tried to make this image I was using an ancient film lens on an adapter, and the adapter was (the only time I’ve seen this) interfering with the lens’ ability to change aperture. It was stuck wide open, at f1.4. That would have been great, if that particular lens were any good wide open like that. It wasn’t.

I had a bit of time between meetings, so I went back to this greenhouse. The light was nicer than the first time I was there, by a lot.

I happened to have a different ancient film-era lens, that does have some good qualities wide open, at f2 (though this exposure was stopped down one stop, to f2.8; I prefer the little bit more detail in the background to the f2 exposure). All these old lenses have their own quirks, and this one is sort of the opposite to that other lens, which gives an extremely impressionistic rendering at wide apertures. This one is dreamy, while still sharp, mixing colors together in a nice, soft way while keeping the structure of the image somewhat together.

So this is a case where the re-do worked out better than the first attempt.

Christmas Lights in Botanic Garden, Denver

Christmas Lights Through Branches in Botanic Garden, Denver

A few days before Christmas, I had the good/bad luck to be in the Denver Botanic Garden at night. There was quite a crowd, and quite a few manifestations of themed lighted areas. The good luck was that it was fun with family, and I made a few good photographs. The bad luck was that I had a really nice Zeiss lens pickpocketed out of a side pouch of my camera bag in the jostling crowd. A rather devastating loss, but we go on.

I kept one lens on the camera all evening and it did beautifully. This lens, the Zeiss Loxia 50, would not have been my first choice for this evening, but it was probably the best lens I had with me for photographing the lights in the dark park. And it turned out to be perfect. I’m not sure if anything would have done better. I might have brought one of my old vintage lenses I like for their bokeh, their out of focus characteristic. I did have one beautiful old lens like that, but it was maybe to long to hand hold in the dark. I didn’t even try it. The Loxia 50 stopped down even a little would make those round balls of light have a funny pointy shape, so wide-open, all evening. It gave me a new appreciation of one of my already favorite lenses, and of night photography, which I don’t do very often. Fun!

This photo is available for sale as a print here.

Rose Hips in Snow and Fog

Rose Hips in Snow and Fog

A new-to-me vintage lens I recently acquired is over-the-top smooth and creamy in the background, while rendering the focus super sharp anywhere in the frame. It’s about 30 years old, I guess, and as good as any lens I would ever want to buy new, except that it’s not so good pointed toward the sun. While my modern Zeiss lenses have some aggressive sharpness and unbelievable coatings, there is something about this old lens that is so pleasing I can hardly contain myself. What a joy.

I bought this lens on the internet while I was traveling for my father’s funeral. In that dark time, an online vendor of used lenses was having a big sale, and I took that bait to good result. A relatively expensive lens, I might not have bought it at another time. What a weird juxtaposition.

Since I’ve had the lens, since my father’s funeral and the US election, I’ve been stumbling through the mystery of grief, which has its own rhythms and times and demands. It works without our consent or conscious knowledge — and yet it demands our cooperation in its mystery. It clobbers us, but also has some healing power. If we give it its due, maybe it gives us some insight or blessing in return. I’ve always been intrigued that an ever-recurring theme in world storytelling, mythology, religious texts, is a set of variations on the theme of the hero needing to journey underground in a dark place. Maybe my favorite is C.S. Lewis’ _The Silver Chair_, a children’s book rich in wisdom. We are compelled to go to the dark place, and there we have to keep our wits about us. We have to follow instructions (in my case my meditation and dzogchen practice). Then we gain something. It’s weird.

So this image, with this lens, is to me like the grief, somewhat, though of course I wouldn’t want to have that be your interpretation! This is of course more beautiful than the experience of grief, but that is one point; within grief there are glimpses of the beautiful world. Some murky mystery, luminous; and there is some brightness glowing. There are jewels of insight, wisdom, and growth to be found in grief, if we don’t succumb to it altogether. It has been weird for me this time, a foggy quality, something of this smooth semi-differentiated quality, not strongly articulated, a few aspects strongly etched.

I have mentioned many times in this blog my love of ukiyo-e (“floating world”); the dreamy woodcuts (and sometimes paintings) of Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige, Hoitsu, Kawase, and others. I love that aesthetic in the past, and by masters who bring the tradition forward into the present, like Matt Brown. This is one of my images that feels inspired by ukiyo-e.

Luckily, I love what I do as a photographer and I don’t pine too much to time travel to ancient Japan. I love that sometimes photography can do what other mediums can’t. Both realistic rendering, and the way a good lens can draw and paint with light have their own aesthetic virtues, which sometimes can soar. I can’t do ukiyo-e woodblocks, but I can be inspired by them. I can make prints I am very happy with.

I print this image on fine textured watercolor or etching paper, or it also works well on the smooth baryta surface of my other favorite paper by Canson. If you order a print and have a paper preference, let me know.

Available for sale 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

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.

Frosted Siberian Iris Leaves over Red Maple

I’m working on printing, framing, and generally planning the show that will hang in Hanover NH on December 5 at the Howe Library. Still, I’m working with new images too, even if they won’t make the show. This one might though.

We had a hard frost on Monday, really our first hard one. It was a little late, as far as getting the frost-on-fallen-leaves subject that I’ve explored over the years. I spent a lot of time bending over with the macro lens, and here’s one harvest from that effort.

I’ve also been thinking about the theme of the show, anicca, and how that ties to photography. It’s so paradoxical, how photography makes impermanence so poignant. Photography in a superficial sense “freezes” a view of the world. Oddly, rather than solidifying the world more, this points out that reality is more like smoke than rock. It’s a river we can’t step into twice. We have a glimpse of something, a moment, form, texture, maybe color; and it’s gone. There is meaning, resonance — that can linger, but the moment is gone.

That frost is gone, and it’s raining today, the leaves marching through time toward brown mush.

Gone-by Dandelion, Pink Azalea, 2014

gone by dandilion macro, pink azelea

It’s been hard to put up a photo of the week lately, because I’ve been making so many exposures. It’s a funny paradox, but it comes down to the most precious resource: time.

I spend a lot of time working on photography, and even with that wealth of time spent, I have to allocate resources, of course. Camera time, looking through, sorting, evaluating, and then going down various rabbit holes. The time to push a photo through, and the clarity to pick just one — that’s a challenge in a rich time like this.

I always rave about this Olympus 60mm macro lens; sorry to do it more, but it is just really quite extraordinary. I’ve been actually throwing away some unpublished images made with some good old Nikon lenses, because so much of the work I’m doing now is just plain better. I’ve been making so many images that are so good, it’s hard to choose between them.

So many things make a photo worthy, and I hope that there are more than one of them working here. But the thing is, have you ever really seen the dome of the dandelion where the seeds have gone? A lifetime of looking closely at dandelions, and I’ve never seen that they really look this way as the seeds go.

Dawn Redwood in Spring, Cambridge 2011

Dawn Redwood Mt Auburn Cemetery

Yay!!! I’ve got a new infrared camera! (but the image above is made with my old axe, as discussed below.)

Since 2006 I’ve used tried and true converted Nikon DSLR camera for infrared (I did the conversion myself, taking the camera apart, removing the “hot mirror,” and substituting a 7200 nm infrared filter). Just this week I’ve got a new rig, which is much much better. I sent my E-PL5 micro four thirds camera into a place called Kolari Vision to be converted. I’m so happy with the results, though I don’t have anything good enough to post here yet — only tests. On the whole though it is fantastic to be able to see a live view on the LCD as I work with the camera, and it looks like a nearly Black and White image on the screen, too. With the old DSLR, I looked through the viewfinder and had to visualize the image as infrared. Then, after shooting, I could see a very red and hard to read image on the LCD; it was then that I could see how the exposure came out, and adjust the exposure as necessary. This was still a big step forward from my earliest infrared work, which used 4 x 5 Kodak sheet film in holders.

There was so much trouble with this approach. I was inspired by Minor White’s success with it (at the time, in my early 20s, I was quite influenced by Minor White, who was a bit of an visual adventurer compared to many of his view-camera using contemporaries, many of whom I also admired, of course, especially Paul Caponigro). But at the time, the film holders often leaked a bit of infrared light. I had to be careful with them, and I kept them in a big metal ammo box I carried for my film holders. Then, of course, it was impossible to meter. My spot meter did a pretty poor job, and I was much better just guessing the manual exposure on the view camera. Sunny day, cloudy day — make a guess. Also, the film was quite fragile and was prone to scratching and getting pinholes in the emulsion as I developed it. Quite often the expensive sheets of film were worthless, just a mess of fog or hardly any image on a clear sheet, or full of scratches. I did get a few though, with the sheet film, like this Bare Apple, which was one of my first big successes with the medium, and which inspired me to go on. In the end I probably had a few percent of all my attempts at large format infrared sheet film turn out.

Eventually as I was a parent of young children, it was pretty hard to have so much patience with a view camera, and I found there was medium format film, which I used a bit. But that had its problem; a roll of it would tie up the camera, so I would have to shoot through the whole thing. Usually when I wanted infrared, I didn’t have it in the camera. I don’t think I have anything on the site to show for those rolls of medium format infrared film, but some may be worth scanning.

So, the converted DSLR was great in 2006, and I have done a lot of work with it; far more than is posted here. That camera fell off the seat of a jeep in the jungle in Nepal last year, ruining the top LCD display. It still works and is quite usable, but like I say, I’m very excited for this step up, and I’ve got lower noise, higher ISO, a good choice of excellent micro four thirds lenses, and small enough to carry along with standard-light photo gear. I did that before of course, but it was another entire DSLR bag across one of my shoulders.

When I started doing digital infrared, there wasn’t much talk about post-processing, and I knew I wanted black and white images in the end (even if at times I simulated the split toning I used to do with selenium and silver chloride paper int he darkroom — simulated that traditional toning with a photoshop color layer). But when I revisited the camera conversion this time around, I ran into a lot of talk about post processing, and the different color aspects of the various wavelength infrared filters I had to choose from. The takeaway is that I became newly aware that there is color information in the infrared image which can be useful. While I am not a fan of crazy over-the-top color effects, I became intrigued by the possibility of having a bit of color information to work with instead of just throwing all color away to start working with the image, which I had done previously.

So for the image above, I used this color to separate the redwood tree from the busy background, and I found I could make this image work. Before I did this, I could never find a way to present this image without it being too busy. I’m pretty happy with this interpretation, with just a tiny bit of tonal variation.

This print is for sale here.