Ah, Wilderness!

Living in the suburbs of a major city has a lot of advantages.  There are almost too many things that you can do.  Museums in the city offer new opportunities for discovery.  There are restaurants to go to, with a sampling of cuisine from all corners of the earth.  Traveling bands of musicians fill indoor and outdoor venues with music.  The local sports teams give the city an identity.  A wide variety of neighborhoods to explore and live in.  Places stay open late into the night.  The health care system is fairly robust.

The urban landscape, with its wide and narrow streets, with the movement of people going about their daily lives, the buildings tall and short, old and new.  Sounds and smell that give each city its individual flavor.  Photographic subjects galore.  Cityscapes, abstractions, street photography – images created by the boundless imaginations of denizens and visitors alike.

And here in the Washington D.C. area, a scant few miles from Washington itself, on the road that leads to Washington’s Mount Vernon, lies a small wildlife preserve that gives pause to the routine of suburban living.  Parking near the marina, a short walk on the sidewalk leads to a dirt trail marked with a solitary sign.  Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

The trail runs close to the banks of the Potomac River.  The trail is an incomplete semi circle that leads to a boardwalk and then it ends with a view of a small island, separated from the abutment of land by a channel in the river.  In the early morning, walking the trail towards this island, you pass by several glades where the sandy shores meet the waters of the great river.  Can the city be only a few miles away?

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Blue sky, clear water, trees and river grasses.  An oasis that seems so far away until you hear the airplanes overhead, getting ready to land in nearby Reagan National Airport.   A turn to another direction and you almost run into a swamp.

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You can see a solitary heron in the water nearby.  Further down the river, you see a tree laden with egrets.  The percussive sound of woodpeckers hammering away in the woods, the eagles and ospreys soaring overhead in search of prey, the terns and gulls in majestic glides.  Ah, Wilderness!

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Relaunch!

Three or so years ago, I started this blog with the intention of regularly posting my musings about photography and other random things that interests me.  Even with the best intentions, that never happened.  I had fifteen posts, a short burst, a brief follow-up, and then nothing.  Silence.

Since the time of my last posts, I have become an even more avid photographer.  I’ve become a “birder” – which means I like taking pictures of birds.  And other wildlife.  Now, if you ask me to identify a bird that’s sitting on a tree or wading in the water, you will be sorely disappointed in my scope of knowledge.  I can probably identify less than two dozen birds without having to consult a book or a web site.  And this includes chickens, geese, turkeys.  And some variety of raptors (bald eagles, ospreys), water fowl (wood ducks, mergansers, mallards), waders (egrets, herons) and some warblers.  There are a lot of birds out there.  I’ll take pictures of them, especially if I can spot them (just because I can hear them does not mean I can find them).

I also love macro photography.  The small world around us is utterly fascinating.  You can take pictures of bees without being stung.  Hornets and wasps?  Well, take your chances.  I know I am weary.

I love landscape photography.  I enjoy going to national parks, taking pictures from the various viewpoints, hiking to other spots to around the parks and refuges that allow one to fully bask in the beauty that surrounds me.  I love sunrises, I love sunsets, and I want to sleep at mid day (when I have my camera).  And yet.  The interesting things in life are somewhat unpredictable, and so are the interesting things that happen when you have a camera in hand.  I keep saying that to myself, but heck, when there are no shadows and the light is harsh, well, it can be a challenge.  And an opportunity.

Though I now shoot with digital cameras, I took my first picture with a plastic “Diana” camera that used 120 film.  Then I used my grandfather’s twin lens reflex camera.  My first picture with that?  A cat.  Oh, I can tell you this.  I don’t take many pictures of dogs.  Or cats.  There are a lot of pet owners out there who take amazingly great pictures of dogs and cats napping, jumping, lying down, looking coy – the whole myriad of expressions that an animal can show – someone has captured that.  And posted it on Instagram.  If I REALLY need to see (or want to see) a picture of a dog or cat, I can safely say that there will be no shortage of well shot, awesome, amazing, inspiring pictures of dogs or cats that I can readily see just by typing a few words and clicking my mouse button once or twice.  It just so happens that my desire for doing such a thing is minimal to non existent.

My father bought me my first real camera, a Fujica ST-705 screw mount camera.  I soon replaced it with a Pentax KM.  Then in college, I saved some money and bought a Minolta XD-11.  A fantastic tool.  It felt like an instrument that would last a lifetime.  And guess what?  I still have it.  I need to have it fixed (a little), but it still works.  I then graduated to a whole slew of Minolta auto focus cameras.  I started with the Maxxum 7000i.  I bought a Maxxum 9xi which I brought with me to my honeymoon.  I still have that great camera.

Then digital cameras became affordable.  So now, with my Sony digital cameras, I am constantly using them and post processing the images that come out of them.  In the old days, when I was going broke having film developed, the “one third keepers rule” worked wonderfully well.  For photo finishers.  Yes, one third of the pictures in the roll were worth keeping.  I always wanted the better shot.  Shoot more film.  Get them printed.  Or shoot slides.  Look at them on a light table.  Have a few pictures enlarged.  A cycle that ended when digital cameras became the main tools for image making.

Now, it’s easy to shoot hundreds, even thousands of pictures in a day.  I do it.  Everyone does it.  And then I copy the pictures to my computer and start looking at them.  The good ones are post processed.  The rest of them?  The marginal ones are saved, the terrible ones (a great majority of the pictures) are deleted.  That old “one third keepers rule?”  If you’re lucky, you’ll keep one third of one third of the images that you take.  It is so easy to click and not think about what you are doing.  It’s wasteful, really.  Not of pictures or camera clicks.  Of time and experience.  When it’s easy to delete, it is easy to think that something wonderful will be in the midst of all those clicks.  Sometimes, one loses track of what one is doing with a photograph.  One gets lazy at times.

Now, mind you, when you take pictures of flying birds, a whole lot of the images are of marginal quality at best.  Still, now that I have gotten the macro photography bug, the attention to detail that macro photography forces you to do has improved my image taking process somewhat.  I think, I look, I see, I imagine, I visualize, I click.  Still a lot of marginal images.  The difference, I think, is that instead of pressing the button when I see something interesting with my eyes, I look at something and try to see what’s interesting in the thing before my eyes.  That additional process, thinking about what you are looking at.  It makes a big difference in my photography.

For this second attempt at starting a blog, I am posting pictures taken with my film cameras.  I have my film processed in the one remaining photo processing store that’s within five miles of my house.  I take the negatives and use my macro lens attached to my digital camera and take a picture of the negatives.  I then process that digital image using Photoshop.  It’s not nearly as messy as processing the old Tri-X in smelly chemical solutions in an improvised darkroom, but the joy of a good photograph is as exciting now as it was when I first took a picture with that first camera decades ago.  Here, then, are some of the black and white images taken with my Minolta film cameras.

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The thing about film photography is that it forces you to think about the image that you are taking.  To think about the image you want to take.  To pre visualize.  Maybe even plan.  When you turn the focus ring to focus on the subject, that split second of extra time you spend looking at the viewfinder while the world focuses before you makes you think of what you’re looking at.  And then think how you will process that image to make it come alive.  Even before you press the shutter button.  When I first started to shoot film again, I was pointing the camera almost randomly and pressing the shutter.  It was disappointing to look at the first few rolls and realize that some bad habits have creeped into my image making process.  I stopped looking AND thinking.  I saw.  I clicked.  I deleted.  Film photography forces you to do things differently.   A few film rolls later, I’ve learned to slow down, take a deep breath, think about the image that I want to create, look at the world before my eyes, and then press the shutter button.  Analog in a digital world.  Try it sometime.

The “one third keepers” rule is alive and well.  The big difference that digital technology brings is that I can actually process the pictures the way I want them to look.  It would have been great if I had Ansel Adam’s skill as a master printmaker (not only was he a great photographer, what he did in the darkroom was equally impressive), but with Photoshop, I don’t have to mess with the chemicals, darken the room, turn on the safe life, turn on the enlarger, dodge and burn, etc.  The computer as my darkroom.  Where what I saw and what I imagined come to life.

When I wrote my first computer program so many years ago (tic tac toe anyone?), little did I know that the computer and the camera, together, will be the impetus for a tool that has become as ubiquitous as the automobile.  Holy iPhone, Batman!