52 trees – week 50

Autumnal hawthorn leaves, Lensbaby

Well I promised you light and colour, and here it is!  I took the Lensbaby out for a walk one sunny day, as you can count on it to come up trumps with colour.  I don’t know enough about optics to know why it produces such amazing colours, but it finds wonderful colours even where you don’t think there are any, and where the colours are already good it enhances them beautifully.  For once, I managed to get the focussing absolutely right.  I’m not using the Lensbaby much these days and when I don’t use it for a while I tend to lose the ability to focus it accurately.

The lens only fits my old camera, and it was good to go back to that for a while.  I’ve been having some problems with the new camera – I’m not convinced the Autofocus is working as it should, although some of that may be down to my lack of commitment to getting to know the settings properly.  However, while I was on holiday one day, if I held the focus lock down for any length of time the image on the LCD screen started seriously jumping about, and there have been some occasions where it struggles to focus in conditions where it shouldn’t be a problem. It also never seems particularly sharp compared to my previous camera.

Possible faults aside, the position of the video record button is extremely annoying – it sits just under the middle of my right thumb and is easily activated by accident, meaning that I’m constantly producing unwanted videos.  Overall, it’s not nearly so nice to use as my old Sony A350, to the point that I’ve seriously considered changing it for something more enjoyable to operate.  However, I’m not sure I’ve given it enough of a chance – I just picked it up and expected to use it straight away, without taking the time to go through the various settings and check them all out, and I’m still not at the stage where I can change settings without thinking about it.  I do like the fact that it’s a lot lighter than the old camera, and of course its added low light capability is the real reason I wanted it.

It got me thinking, though, that it’s often the case that things I think I want don’t live up to expectations.  I upgraded, around the same time I got the new camera, to Elements 14 (from 9) and I don’t like it nearly so much.  In fact, I find it very annoying to use in many ways.  It does do a few things that the old version didn’t, but overall I much preferred version 9.  The only reason I don’t go back to it is that it can’t cope with the RAW files from the new camera as it isn’t supported by Adobe any more.

I also took the free upgrade to Windows 10 (from Windows 7) and I don’t like that very much either.  I’m beginning to think I’m rather grumpy and stuck in my ways – I may well be – but it’s always been the case that when I find something I like I just want to stay with it and I’m not bothered about looking for anything ‘better’.  Unfortunately, this just isn’t an option in the digital world and, also unfortunately, most times they ‘improve’ something it actually seems to get worse.

I guess that what I want is to be able to get on with what I enjoy most without getting bogged down in relearning something that I already know how to do in the existing version.  I don’t particularly like technology for its own sake, only for the way in which it enables me to get the results I want, and I only want to learn what’s necessary for that.  To be forced to constantly readjust and relearn is a major time and energy drain that I could happily do without.  Ah well, I reckon I should stop ranting and get back to simply appreciating autumn’s stunning colours 🙂

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52 trees – week forty-nine

Yellow leaves, blue sky

Autumn’s last dance – a brilliant autumn day with a cool breeze that rustled the last of the yellow leaves on this tree.  How wonderful that autumn goes out in such a fanfare, giving us these gorgeous colours before the dull greys of winter set in.  I’m on the last few weeks of my 52 Trees now and I’m aiming to end on a surge of colour and light.

It’s gone rather quiet on here, lately  (is there anybody there??)  I often notice that when I feel a little bit removed from my blog and uncertain of how to go forwards, I also lose readers and the comments dry up.  I guess people can sense my hesitancy and occasional reluctance to write anything.  I’m debating whether or not to start a new weekly project – in some ways it’s been really motivating and has helped to keep me going, but at times it’s felt a bit constraining.  I also think I might have written more blog posts on other topics if I wasn’t doing this.  I’ve got a little lazy, perhaps, and on many weeks have settled for just the tree post.

I’d like to change the WordPress theme again, too.  I’ve never been terribly happy with this one and I know it has a number of glitches that I just haven’t been able to sort out.  It’s a free theme, and I’d much rather pay for one and get something better.  At the same time, I rather dread trawling through all the themes, getting more and more frustrated as I try to find one that does what I want it to do.  An ability to do CSS coding would help a lot, but it’s just one more learning curve for which I feel no enthusiasm.

Life itself is changing rapidly at the moment – I’m going out more, meeting new people, trying new things, making new friends, and finding new opportunities.  I’m not sure where it’s all going right now, but I feel as if I’m on the move again and it’s a good feeling.  With our life and finances finally having gained some stability, I feel free to explore in a way that I haven’t for years.  My blog needs to change to match this, but how?  Not sure, but I’ll sit with the uncertainty and sooner or later it will become clear.

 

 

 

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52 trees – week forty-eight

Royal Mail van with tree shadow

I ran my first Street Wisdom session today, and it went very well.  We met at the Bandstand in Newark Castle Gardens, and facilitating it meant spending a lot of time sitting on a bench there while the participants were off doing their stuff.  I had wondered if I’d get bored, but it was one of those perfect autumn days where the air is fresh and cool and the day is sunny, and the sky is a bright, bright blue, and it was a real joy just to be out in it.

The second part of the session involved the participants going off on a ‘street quest’ by themselves, leaving me about 45 minutes to spend how I liked. I’ve been feeling uninspired again lately, but had brought my camera with me to fill in the time.  I think it must have been the sitting doing not very much for so long, but suddenly I was feeling excited about photography again in a way that I’ve felt I’ve lost recently.  I spent some time down by the river and in the castle gardens, and I could happily have spent much, much longer.

As I left to go to a cafe to meet up with the others again, I saw this Royal Mail van stopped in traffic and noticed the shadow pattern cast on it by the nearby trees.  I liked the combination of the bright red of the van and the dark shadow, and it tied in nicely with my penchant for photographing trees reflected in cars.  I’m also on a mission to get more colour into my photography before it inevitably slips back to the blacks and whites of winter.  There are only four more posts to go now before I finish this project, and I aim to make them all bright and colourful.

 

52 trees – week forty-seven

Autumn at Waitrose, Newark

Autumn at Waitrose – this line of trees in Waitrose’s car park in Newark is just beginning to turn in colour, but what colours they are!  And I liked the contrast with the blue frames of the windows in the building behind, and the peachy trim.  It really is true that there are pictures everywhere, even in the most ordinary of places, just waiting to be noticed.

I did a tiny bit of cropping just to tidy it up, added the usual sharpening etc, and then felt that it needed something to soften it a little.  I’ve been watching Scott Kelby’s videos on post-processing lately, so I used a little trick that he suggested – make a second layer, use the Gaussian blur filter on it, then reduce it to 20% transparency.  It gives a soft glow without losing too much sharpness.

Street WisdomI’m going to be running my first Street Wisdom event in Newark next week, Tuesday 25th October, from 1.30-4.30pm.  I’ve got three signups so far, which is enough to run it (and my maximum number is only six anyway), but if you know of anyone who might be interested it would be great if you could point them to the link at the beginning of this paragraph.  It will take you to the Eventbrite ticket page (tickets are free, but you do need to book), and has lots of information about the event and what happens on the day.  If you’d just like to know a bit more about Street Wisdom in general, have a look at their website: www.streetwisdom.org

 

 

52 trees – week forty-six

River Devon, Sconce and Devon Park, Newark on Trent

Back again, after a wonderful week in North Yorkshire – good weather and spectacular walking.  More and more I’m coming to realise that I can’t take decent photos on a first visit somewhere, or when I’m in the company of a non-photographer, so I have very little productive output from the holiday and not many of them involved trees. There were a couple of tree pictures I could have used, but neither of them seemed quite right.

However, since coming home, I’ve been back to Sconce and Devon park and spent some time down by the river photographing reflections and water.  It’s water that excites me most when it comes to photography – the only time on holiday when I got carried away was when we were walking next to rivers and streams.  Other subject matter – even trees – takes me longer to warm up to.  I do wonder sometimes how much mileage there is in water, what there can possibly be that hasn’t been done – or even that I haven’t already done myself – and how I can get something new out of it.  I don’t know the answer to these questions.

I’ll go on photographing water because it’s my passion and because it endlessly fascinates me – after all, this is really for me and it’s simply a bonus if other people appreciate the results too.  The image above – for once – isn’t a reflection.  The sun was sparkling off the river surface and a branch of beautiful, feathery leaves dipped down into it.

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gone fishin’

spider's web with dew

Well, not quite – but I am going on holiday so no posts for a week or so.  And I missed this week’s tree post because I’ve had a viral chest infection that I think I picked up in London – seems to me the warm, fuggy air and coughing, sneezing people on the tube system must create a veritable breeding paradise for bacterial and viral nasties.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get out much this week, but early one morning on my way to let the rabbits out of their hutch, I noticed that the yew hedge was spangled with dew-dropped spider’s webs.  I couldn’t resist, so there I was in my dressing gown trying to get a few shots in before it all melted away in the September sun.

Normal service will resume in a week or two……….

rejection versus failure

Abandoned teddy bear

As someone who’s not the best at dealing with rejection, I was drawn to a book I saw in the library called ‘Rejection Proof’ by Jia Jiang.  Jiang set out to conquer his fear of rejection by deliberately getting himself rejected once a day for 100 days, usually by making somewhat outrageous requests of complete strangers.  His ensuing adventures make for a great read in themselves, but there are other more solid things to take away from it.

The first thing that struck me was that he differentiates between rejection and failure.  The minute I read it, I knew exactly what he meant, but I hadn’t articulated the thought to myself before.  Whilst failure can be a stepping stone to doing better, rejection tends to stop us in our tracks.

“Rejection means that we wanted someone to believe in us but they didn’t; we wanted them to see what we see and to think how we think – and instead they disagreed and judged our way of looking at the world as inferior.  That feels deeply personal to a lot of us.  It doesn’t just feel like a rejection of our request, but also of our character, looks, ability, intelligence, personality, culture, or beliefs.  Even if the person rejecting our request doesn’t mean for his or her no to feel personal, it’s going to.  Rejection is an inherently unequal exchange between the rejector and the rejectee……..”

I know this is a big issue for myself in my life in general, but more specifically in my photographic life.  I was stopped in my own tracks for about six months after a particularly damning bit of feedback from a tutor.  I could recognise that the comments about my work were mostly quite valid – I cringe a bit when I look at the work now – but what felt devastating at the time was that the criticism was presented extremely unkindly and very judgmentally, and it seemed to me to imply that there was something very wrong with me, not just my photography.

And this is the bottom line.  Had our primitive selves been rejected by the group we lived in, we would most likely have been outcast and subsequently died.  That’s not the case now, of course, but it takes a long, long time for our biology to catch up with our culture, and our primitive brain’s perception that rejection contains the threat of death is quite enough to strike alarm into anyone.

We can rationalise our way out of this to a certain extent, but what some of us also have to deal with is an upbringing that reinforced the idea that we were worthless, and that our ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and even character, had no value.  This packs a huge double whammy of self-doubt.  Society will also work to reinforce those doubts if you’re not a white, middle-class male, adding another trickle of poison to thread through the glass.

Somehow, we have to learn to separate failure from rejection.  Recently I’ve been sending images off to various places, some in the hope of publication, others as entries in competitions.  I’ve had one success, and numerous failures.  There was a time when I would have taken the failures to mean that my photos were no good, when the reality of it is that luck and the personal taste of whoever’s making the judgements play a large part in it.  Moreover, I would also have taken it that there was something wrong with me and started berating myself for having the temerity to think that I was worthy of the prize.  One of the true joys of getting older is that you gain some ability to move past these self-defeating beliefs.

It’s noticeable that women are particularly bad at putting themselves forwards when it comes to photography.  Have a look at the winning entries in most photographic competitions and you’ll see that they’re mostly male.  Have a look at the books on photography, the articles in photography magazines, and the photography blogs online, and you’ll see that they’re mostly written by men.  The impression it leaves is that there either aren’t many women in photography, or they’re not very good, but both of these are far from the truth.  For many of us, we’re just very, very bad at putting ourselves out there.

Obviously this applies to some men as well, but I think women are more prone to a lack of self-belief and a fear of blowing their own trumpets, largely because of deeply-ingrained societal attitudes around what it means to be female.  So I’m proposing a challenge – whether you’re male or female, show your work in a way that scares you a little.  That might just be showing it to a friend or posting it on Facebook or Flickr, if that’s your personal challenge, or it might be submitting your work to a gallery or a competition, or trying for a merit award.  Let’s take a risk, accept the possibility of failure, and if it comes, remember not to see it as a rejection of our selves.

 

 

 

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52 trees – week forty-five

Twilight, with clouds and tree

‘The nights are drawing in’ was always a phrase I hated to hear.  Having grown up in a chilly part of the UK, cold weather doesn’t bother me and in fact I find very hot days a bit hard to handle, but the extended darkness of winter has always been something I’ve dreaded.  We’re at that part of the year now when it’s still warm, but getting dark earlier and earlier. The skies are beautiful as they fade into the night, but feel tinged with the sadness of autumn.

 

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52 trees – week forty-four

Tree shadow on the Thames, South Bank

Another one from my London trip – taken two weeks ago but only processed today.  The tide was out and it always amazes me how much of a proper beach the Thames has.  There were people down there creating sand art, kids playing, an artist painting at an easel, people strolling and searching for treasures, and everyone treating it just like a sandy beach, which indeed it is.  I wondered why I felt more as if I was at the seaside here, in the centre of London, than I did on a recent day trip to the Lincolnshire coast, and realised that it’s the smell – the Thames has that seaweedy smell that gives me the feeling of being by the sea and the Lincolnshire coast doesn’t.  Interesting how much difference the right smell can make.

And waves rolling through tree branches – well obviously I couldn’t resist.  Can you spot where the photographer’s doing her best to blend in with the shadow?

on giving it away

Strobe lights, Southwell Folk FestivalStrobe lights at Southwell Folk Festival – this has absolutely nothing to do with the text but it needed a picture

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not photographers – and other creative types – should ever work for nothing.  I’ve had a recent experience that has made me think about this a lot, and would like to share it here.

I’ve always given my photographs away freely.  My images on Flickr are offered under the Creative Commons licence, which means that anyone can use them for free, provided they attribute them to me with a link back to the source.  I only put low resolution images on there, so that they’re really only suitable for web use and wouldn’t make good prints.

I’ve had a number of people contact me over the years to ask if they could use a photo – nice of them, considering the ‘permission’ is already in place – and I’ve always said yes. Sometimes I get a thank you, sometimes I don’t.  It always surprises me what people ask for – one woman wanted to use a picture of some rusty corrugated iron on her business card, as she dealt in scrap metal.  On a couple of occasions I’ve been offered payment for the higher-res version – once for an image that was to be used in a TV documentary, and the other time for a photo of a chicken that was to be included in a free poster given away with a magazine for nursery nurses.

But these are images that I’ve already taken, and these are also images that are not of any importance to me.  Also, I do like to think of my pictures being used and enjoyed, so it gives me pleasure to let people have them.  It’s another matter, however, when you’re asked to do a specific photography job, shooting the kind of thing you’d never normally photograph, and to do it for nothing.

I have a colleague who recently got married.  We’ve met her and her now husband outside of work a few times, but I don’t regard her as a close friend or even as someone that I’d be likely to keep in touch with should I stop working for the library.  A few months ago she asked if I might be interested in taking the photographs at their wedding.  It was to be a small affair, and it seemed that they mostly wanted informal, candid shots of guests.  In no way am I a wedding photographer, or even much of a people photographer, but the informality of it appealed and I thought it might be an interesting challenge.

No mention was made of money.  I knew that they didn’t have a lot to spend, and I was willing to do it extremely cheaply, but it became more and more obvious over the next couple of months that it might be expected for free.  I wasn’t happy with this, but it felt too difficult by then to say that I would like to be paid something, however little, especially as she’d already managed to get her flowers and her cake done for nothing by other friends.  I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be working for nothing.

About three weeks before the wedding we met for lunch to discuss the photography.  At that point it became obvious that I was indeed expected to work for nothing, and that the extent of what was wanted was far greater than I had thought.  Instead of just attending the wedding breakfast, I was now wanted at the afternoon ‘do’ as well, and it would be nice, wouldn’t it, if I were to follow them home at the end of the day and take a shot of them outside their house.  The number of formal shots increased dramatically, and I was also asked to do a number of family group shots – other families, people I don’t even know – so that they could be given prints afterwards.  It went on getting worse, and my cracking point came when it was suggested that I pick up the bride’s mother on my way past and give her a lift to the wedding.  Finally, as we parted, the bride-to-be’s parting remark was that ‘it would be fun for me’!  I walked home with steam coming out my ears.

Before this meeting, I’d talked at length to Geoff about the situation and we’d come to the conclusion that she simply didn’t appreciate what was involved.  She’d told me they’d ‘ply me with food and drink’, obviously not realising that I wouldn’t have any chance to sit down, eat and chat, as I’d be working and so wouldn’t even get to enjoy the wedding as a social event.  When we met I explained to her that all the photos would need to be processed, which would be about two days work, and then prepared for print and put onto a memory stick.  ‘Yes, that’s fine’, she said, ‘but we might need some help with getting them printed’.  Whatever I said, she was either oblivious to what she was asking of me, or she simply took it as her due.  I still don’t know which.

I’d got myself into a real mess.  I knew it was partly my own fault for not making it clear at the beginning that I would expect some payment, albeit a small one, but I a little incredulous that it was thought that I’d be happy to offer all this for no charge.  I thought about whether or not I’d be willing to do this for my closest friends for free, and decided that I would, but I also knew that none of my close friends would ever expect it and would insist on paying me something.  I came to the conclusion that I would have to back out.  I didn’t reach this decision lightly, and felt very bad about it, but it felt necessary for my own self-respect and to stop the rising tide of resentment that was building inside me.  In the event, she took it extremely well and quickly found another friend with an interest in photography to do the job instead.  I assume for free.

I’ve learned a lot from this, not least of which is that I must make it clear straightaway, should the situation arise again, that I don’t do this sort of thing for nothing.  But I think it also highlights a couple of issues that photographers – and creative people in general – are prone to experiencing.  The first is that, because it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s fun for you and it can’t be counted as work.  Anyone who has a vocation knows that even when you love what you do – perhaps especially when you love what you do – you put huge amounts of time and effort into doing it well, and that counts as work, by any standard.

Neither is it always fun.  Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s frustrating, challenging, worrying or any number of other things.  The fact that overall it’s fulfilling and satisfying does not mean that it’s not also full of difficult moments.  This is fine – this is what Aristotle meant when he talked about eudaimonia as a brand of happiness that might actually mean a life filled with difficulty and problems, but also one in which what you do feels absolutely ‘right’ for you.  It’s the difference between the hobbyist taking ‘snaps’ and the photographer who’s constantly trying to grow and stretch themselves.

It would, in fact, have been very stressful for me – the pressure to get it right, the fear that you mess up on photographs that can’t be repeated, the struggle with lack of equipment, or equipment that isn’t ideally suited to the job.  I haven’t felt particularly well since I had flu last Christmas, and really didn’t want that kind of stress – in the end this was the reason I gave for withdrawing.  All of this, however, might have been worthwhile had I felt that it was valued and appreciated.

When someone else isn’t willing to give anything for what you offer, and you accept that, it tells you that neither they nor you value yourself or your work enough.  In my colleague’s case, she’s not a very visual person and therefore doesn’t put much value on photography other than as a record of events – it’s unlikely that she’d see much difference between a good snapshot and a professional image.  That she didn’t put any value on the time I was putting into it is somewhat to do with her and somewhat to do with me.  From her side, there were small things that would have helped – like offering to buy me lunch while we talked about it.  Also, her partner was supposed to be putting up some shelves in our kitchen, for which we were paying him, and had they offered to swap this for the photography I’d have gone with that.  (In the event, I was texted shortly after backing out and told that he was ‘too busy’ to do the shelves for us.)  Even a genuine show of gratitude and appreciation would have gone some way towards being a compensating factor.  There are many ways to give back and they don’t all involve money.

However, the other side of it is somewhat to do with me.  I’ve always given a bit too readily, because I like to help out and it makes me feel good.  This is fine when there’s a bit of give and take and neither side is doing all of one and none of the other – I’ve often been on the receiving end as well as the giving one.  However, nobody is going to respect your time and expertise unless you do so yourself – if you do, they sense that and are less likely to overstep the mark.  I’m pleased that something in me responded to the feeling that my own value wasn’t being recognised, and was strong enough to make me do something about it.  I’m not so pleased that I let it get so far, both giving myself a great deal of angst and then letting other people down at the last minute.  I regret that.

I can think of some situations where I’d happily work for no pay – for a charity dear to my heart, for a good and close friend, in a situation where it would move my photographic career forwards – but in the end, it’s my profession and I have to put a value on that, on my time, and on whatever skills and expertise I’ve managed to develop over the years.

 

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