Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hands That Flung Stars Into Space?

I am often floored by God's creation. I stand at the edge of my garden in the spring, watching tulip buds poke their way through the ground--again!--after a long, winter sleep. I stand at the edge of the ocean, listening to the undulating crash against the shore. I stand at the summit of a mountain, the rocky view going on forever. And I am filled with words of praise like 'awesome', 'peaceful', 'glorious', 'lovely', 'expansive', 'refreshing', 'humbling'. Words that try to--but still don't quite--speak to the superlative nature of the Creator and the fact that he has chosen to bless my senses.

Such is the same when I find myself outside of the city, looking up at the night sky. There are SO many stars! Some are so far away that they have already burned up by the time the light has traveled far enough that I can see them. And yet, I see them. The sky is so vast, and the stars are so many. I feel like such a small part of the universe; and yet, not in a bad way. More like, I am a very small part of this universe, but obviously an important part if God chose to create me amongst the whole of His creation around me. The whole thing just blows the mind.

Last night, I had my first opportunity to see and photograph a meteor shower. The Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual event, though this is the first I recall hearing of it (or perhaps I've just never been in a position to check it out, so I've never paid attention).

I drove out to the quiet of the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, about 45 minutes east of the city. There were a few other star-gazers watching from the hoods of their cars in the gravel parking lot, and one couple who had set up camping chairs about 15 feet from where I set up my camera in the adjacent field space.

Perseid Meteor I by gina.blank
While I only managed to capture three meteors across my camera sensor, I saw at least a dozen in the three hours I was there.* Short and long bursts of high-speed light, moving every direction across the sky. And we have been given this light show every year for the last 2,000 years.

Sitting under the infinite sparkle of the sky, I was reminded of something I read years ago. In her book Believing God, Beth Moore talks about God's simultaneous ability for order and creativity. She says,

G.K. Chesterton wrote of a God who "is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old." 
Ours is a God who delights in a perfect concoction of creativity and order. Though He could have thought out the entire cosmos into existence in a millisecond, instead He brought it about with great patience in six distinct increments. 
Then rested on the seventh. 
Then later insisted that His children do the same. 
God likes order. He likes repetition. A God of fundamentals, He brings up the sun every morning and the moon every evening, but His creativity within that order is gorgeously displayed in the changing sunsets and sunrises surrounding them.

In reflecting upon this--the repetitive nature of this astronomical event, as well as just the multitude of stars above me--I found myself curious. I found myself wondering: when God was creating the stars, did He place them around the universe one by one, setting each one just so? Or did He hold them like a handful of sand and toss them out all at once?

I'm not sure why that--of all the possible ponderings I could possibly have during an evening of star-gazing--was the question I had, but it was.

And the answer was, I don't know.

And I'm okay that it's I don't know. (I'll find out one day!)

What I KNOW--and am so blessed to know--is that there is an amazing Artist, who can create a million of the same thing, and yet have each one be unique. Who plays with the entire colour spectrum--sometimes one colour at a time, and sometimes all at once. Who bends and moves light. Who blesses the senses.

And all we have to do is sit, take it in, and know.

* That may not seem like many, but think about it--how often do you see even ONE shooting star? Exactly.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So What Next?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last year of putting together my 365 project. Over the course of the year, I have also taken time to peruse the projects of others--to see what challenge they've set for themselves, and the creativity that has come out of that.

Even before my project had ended, I was already thinking of 'what next?' Will I do another project? What will be the theme/challenge/goal? The answer to the first question was an unequivocal YES! I enjoy the way my first project stretched my photography skills just that extra bit. And despite the occasional days where the last thing I wanted to do was set up a shot, I had a ton of fun creating so many different portraits.

So, what to shoot, what to shoot... In thinking about the next project, I wanted to make sure I would still be challenging and honing my photographic skills. I wanted it to be qualitatively different than the first project. And I still wanted to make sure it would be fun.

Two ideas came to mind.

1. Shoot in film.
2. No digital post-processing.

I REALLY like the first idea. I occasionally play with film, but not nearly enough. It would really test my skills as a photographer, because the instant feedback of the LCD display would not be there. I really would have to get it right the first time.

That being said, the practicality and price point of shooting film all year would be insane. The cost of film and printing the photos would probably be about $150-200, if I only took one shot per day. Not so bad over the course of a year, I guess, but the digital is absolutely free. I feel the real hassle actually comes in the publishing. While you can get your film images scanned and burned onto a CD when you get them printed, that costs even more, so of course, I would opt to scan and upload each of these photos myself. Which means I'd have to scan and upload chunks of 24-27 pictures at a time. ...Well, I guess I wouldn't have to scan the whole roll's worth at once; still, I would never be posting current material. I just have the sense--based on how I managed to upload my content with the last project--that I would take photos for a year, but spend the next six months after that finishing up the scanning. That doesn't sound fun. Perhaps as a Project 52 idea down the road....

So, then idea #2 came to mind. I could still take digital images as if I were shooting film. That is, I would not post-process my photos in any way, with any software. There are people already challenging themselves this way on Flickr and other photography sites. The "technique" is being called Straight off the Camera (or Straight Out of the Camera); SOTC (or SOOC) for short.

Yes, but, you could still alter it in Photoshop and just say it's SOTC.

Well, first of all, I don't work like that. I value honesty and integrity. Second, technology has advanced far enough to hold me accountable. For those unfamiliar with the ways of digital media, digital photographs have something called EXIF data. This data includes the time stamp, info on the lens used, shutter speed, ISO, etc. But EXIF data will also tell you if the photo has been post-processed with any sort of software.

Compared to many digital artists, I don't use Photoshop a whole heck of a lot. Generally, if I'm editing an image, I'm doing fairly simple things like brightening it up a little, boosting the saturation, straightening out a horizon, lightening up dark shadows. Not generally altering the composition significantly. Still, these are all things that--with a little more attention or patience--I could do in-camera.

So. I have a challenge.
A photo a day for an entire year.
Any subject.
I must take the photograph.
No post-processing allowed.

Straight off the camera.

Starts September 1.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Project Complete OR 365/365

A Project Complete OR 365/365 by gina.blank

Wow! A whole year has come and gone; my 365 photography project is complete! The original goal of this project was simply to give myself a reasonable challenge doing something I enjoy; and enhance my overall skills as a result. Of course, I have learned so much more than what I originally set out to achieve—and I don’t just mean in photography skills. I have learned new technical skills, for sure, but I've also learned a lot about how I feel towards certain processes in photography. And I have also learned quite a bit about myself.

For example, I quickly learned that I do NOT like taking my photo in the first hour between when I wake up and when I leave the house in the morning. I’m just NOT a morning person, and it shows. There were a couple exceptions to this—they usually involved pictures of me in bed, and thus my eyes were closed or I had slept in and didn’t look like I’d just been jarred into consciousness for the day.

I also learned that the iPhone begets laziness! I only acquired my iPhone in April--I was already 244 days into the project. That being said, the ratio of mobile phone images to camera images is much higher in the days after acquiring my iPhone than in the 244 days preceding it. In many instances, the iPhone takes fairly good photos. Pair that with not wanting to pack a camera around some days, or the ease of file transfer via iCloud, and you've got a simple way out of having to set up a dSLR shot. Oh, technology!

In 365 days, I only missed taking my picture three times (oops, oops, and huh?). Nevertheless, between a leap year bonus day, and a perfect summer Saturday where I posted two extra pictures, I’ve still ended up with the original goal of 365. I have to tell you, though, some days, this project was really quite challenging! It is easy to take photos of special events, or regular events in special places. But slogging through the fall and winter often left me sighing in apathy or exasperation at the end of the day, wondering what on earth was exciting enough to warrant a photograph.

75% of my photos were self-taken (i.e. I hand-held the camera myself, or put it onto a tripod and used a timer/remote). And I have to tell ya, it takes a lot of UN-natural to get natural-looking poses. I took anywhere from 2-20 shots each day. Occasionally even more. Sometimes, it was just because I needed to position myself slightly differently in front of the camera. I often tweaked my original vision. Occasionally, I changed my vision entirely. (On the plus side, I found myself Photoshopping less.) Only very occasionally did I get the shot in just one take.

Thankfully, 22% of my photos were taken by friends and acquaintances, which provided some images that were a little more true-to-the-moment. My friends are so gracious. I cannot even count the number of times I would get together with friends for the evening, and announce, “at some point, I need someone to take my picture.” Only one or two of my friends were comfortable enough with my camera to 'fire at will', so to speak. Often times, if I was handing my camera to a friend, I got the sense that they wanted to take two or three shots, and give the scary black box back to me as quickly as possible. I learned over time that people were more willing to take the picture when they could use cameras they were familiar and comfortable with (I know, it seems obvious, doesn't it).

And yes, several photos were taken by complete strangers. They generally didn’t turn out to be the greatest composition, but hey, they’re authentic!

Most (93%) of my photos were taken using my own cameras. This included my dSLR, my compact digital camera, my Polaroid, my mobile phone cameras, and Macbook webcam. Oh, and my scanner. The remaining 7% were obviously taken using other people’s cameras—the office camera or those of friends. …Or the studio at Victoria's Secret.

71% of my photos were taken indoors, and 28% outdoors. This is about in line with the percentage of the year we spend in winter vs. summer. Hmm…

Only a mere 15% of my photos purposely included other people. I really am an introvert.

These stats are interesting.

And yet, despite taking 365 different photos, I sill notice patterns throughout, clearly indicative of my particular ‘style’ (whatever that is). For example, I really like to focus right in on my main subject, using a shallow depth-of-field to blur out the rest of the image. I love that effect. Also, if only a part of me was in the photo, it tended to be my hands more often than any other part. Finally, I really just don’t care to get overly artistic with my photos. I had fun with a few different camera techniques or Photoshop tricks, but outside of those, I really just like to capture life as it is. I always knew this--that I tend to keep my photography pretty realistic--but I think I’ve come to know it even more through this project. For example, I tried to put together one very conceptual shot, and I have to admit, I don’t really like it. I’m just not that right-brained enough to do a good job of it. Which I’ve come to accept is okay—I don’t need to be that photographer. There are plenty of those individuals out there already. I need to be me, and take the photos my brain was designed to take.

I have had a lot of fun with this project--even on those dreary winter days! Aside from being yet another way to visually chronicle daily events over time, it has made for great conversation, worthwhile skill enhancement, and inspiration for future photography projects (oh yes, there will be more!).

A hearty thanks to those who participated in and supported my project by taking pictures, being in pictures, or simply by following along on the blog. It has made the whole process that much more fun and memorable.

Harvest to Harvest; done and done!


364/365 by gina.blank
'Traveling home' days are never good for creative photography. But a little bit of boredom, a little bit of fatigue, and a ceiling fan on a hot evening....


363/365 by gina.blank

Dip, dip, and swing.


362/365 by gina.blank