Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


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Feeling Down and Out and in Need of a Mental Walkabout

Maybe it’s the time of year. Sometimes when I sense the change of seasons slipping from summer to fall, my spirits fall as well. Add to that, another birthday in September, and I struggle with my expectations of what I wanted to accomplish or experience and what actually happened.

The last six months, I’ve been very focused on photography and the promotion or attempted promotion that goes with it, and I feel at this point I need to back off a bit, because it feels like I’ve been trying too hard. And I feel like I haven’t carved out enough time not only for the art, but for the life that inspires the art, and instead I’ve spent a lot of time doing the social and internet networking thing.  And it can swallow you whole. And I am just a bit overwhelmed and bleary-eyed.

I do enjoy writing this post, and that’s slipped by the by-side, but I don’t want to feel duty bound by any one of these things.

Here are the few images I came up with in the last few weeks. Ironically, I feel that a couple of them are among some of my best work, but I’ve still been suffering from this feeling of futility. So I want to cool down my expectations, sit with my feelings, sort them out, and take a bit of a hiatus, or mental walkabout.

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Moon River – This was a multiple exposure. Earlier I had tried to get the full moon, as I had seen it coming home from work the two nights before at sunset and it was stunning. Of course, on the night I was ready for it, it was too low. But later , it was glowing orange. Not what I had expected, but I did like the subtlety of it.

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The Psyche – It’s funny how you might not know where you going with an image that you’re working on. This was such an image. The vision for this came midway, when I decided to place another image of the same butterfly in the background (I’ve been doing some metaphysical reading which probably inspired this). I chose the title as the shadow moth represents:
The self that observes the self,
The self not rooted in the physical world,
The self that exists in multiple dimensions,
The self behind the self
The true self
The soul

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Great Blue Heron – I was feeling pretty uninspired when I looked and saw this heron. I was surprised when I looked through my telephoto that it was a Great Blue Heron. The heron I normally see on the river, usually sees me first and I see him as he squawks and flies off. This one stood, but still the light was very low (8pm) and only 2 of 30 shots came out. I was manually adjusting ISO and aperture to try and squeeze a higher shutter speed so as not to get any movement as he turned his head. I was really pleased with this shot, but had to spend a lot of time getting the noise from the higher ISO out, which included not only using noise reduction, but manually using the blur tool on the water.

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Horses Among Wildflowers – Feeling uninspired, I went back through my older pictures, and found this from the Wallowa trip. I cropped it to make it a panorama shot, as the photo lent itself to that. The detail and sharpness on the horses was good, and I could afford to lose some of the background.

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Dandelion Moon – I don’t know about this one. I had processed some multiple exposures for an HDR, and then used some textures on it, but still wasn’t satisfied. Then I added an exposure of a dandelion as the phrase Dandelion Moon came to me, but although I kind of like it, I’m unsure about it and think it may be something that makes me cringe in a week or so. But thought I’d share that anyway, as that’s part of the process, isn’t it?

So there you have it. Processing the last photo, I wasn’t feeling the flow, and there’s another one I didn’t even bother to post. I’m just hitting the wall right now. Took my camera out on a walk today, but forgot the battery anyway and didn’t see a thing I wanted to capture.

Hopefully next week, or the week after, I will be back with some photos, but I’m not going to try and force anything.  Instead, I’ll wait for the tide to come back in, try to meditate and do normal things like eat and sleep.

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The Wallowas, Oregon

At the beginning of August, I went to the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon on a packing trip.  Sometimes called the Oregon Alps, the Wallowas are located in northeastern Oregon, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. I was both excited and leery about the trip. Excited because it was reportedly a beautiful scenic place and leery because we would be horseback riding, and I hadn’t ridden in years and was never a great rider. Both hopes and fear were confirmed! I also was concerned that we would be camping in two locations on a three-day trip as I hoped for, aside from the horseback riding, a relaxing trip with side hikes, time to photograph, and LOL I even brought a book which I imagined reading in the afternoon.

We met the guide at the trail-head, and he was in a bit of a frazzled state as one of his mules had gotten injured in the trailer and was at the vet’s.  This meant he would have one less mule to pack. Luckily, he had made a trip up with to the campsites, the day before, leaving the animals’ feed and a few other things.  It was interesting watching him figure out how to pack the mules.  He had to make sure the loads one either side of the mule were evenly balanced, and that the top loads were not too heavy.  In addition, he had to make sure that nothing Jangled, as mules could be spooked by this.  The packing took over two hours, first because he didn’t have an assistant, secondly, because he was short one mule, and thirdly because we had to decide what could be left behind to lighten the load.

The ride up was uneventful, a lot of switchbacks with some hairy places where the trail was narrow and rocky and the sides very steep and one place where we were passed by two riders – again a little tricky because of the mules’ sensitivity to things coming up behind them.  The ride was about 2 to 2-1/2 hours before we got to the first campsite.  I had ridden a mule up, and he was pretty sure-footed, although he did spook a couple of time.  At times the side of the mountain were very steep, and at these times, I found that I wasn’t looking at the scenery! I had also thought that I would be able to have my camera with me, but I was dissuaded from this, and I understand now why, and thankful that I was.

Prairie-Dog

Dinner

The first area was beautiful. Surrounded by high mountain ranges, some granite, green meadows stretched out filled with long grass, a shallow, crystal clear creek, wildflowers, butterflies and prairie dogs poking their heads out and keeping an eye that you didn’t come too close. In addition, a couple of the trusted horses were left loose in the meadows to relax and graze after the ride.

Later, after setting up our tents, we were treated to a fantastic dinner cooked over the campfire as one of the things inadvertently left behind was the tube for the propane tank. Nonetheless, it was delicious.

The second morning, we were up early, taking pictures and further exploring the area. I had already taken down my tent, but still had my camera gear out. We returned to begin the process of repacking the mules to begin the ride to the second campsite.  Again, it took a long time to pack the mules, and it was no longer quite as interesting. Mules and horses were all a bit more tired than the first day and not as eager to be on the trail again. But things went really south when I went to get on the mule I had been riding. It was my fault, as again I’m not a great rider, and due to an old injury on my lower right back, I’m wasn’t great at getting my leg over the poor animal and probably tapped his hindquarters. I was attempting to get my right foot into the stirrup and was leaning forward when the mule reacted and bucked. Over his head I somersaulted, my fall broken by our guide grabbing my arm which left a nasty bruise but probably prevented me from taking a lot harder fall. I was a bit stunned, but okay, and the guide decided to ride the mule, who was being a bit ornery.  I got to ride a much sweeter horse, and was very happy about that, although I bear the mule no ill will. 🙂

We set off and very quickly, it seemed, the trail got even narrower, even steeper, and even rockier than the first day.  The horses and mules were more tired, I was definitely more stiff, not only from the fall, but from the first day’s ride, from not sleeping on the bed and being cold, and by my increasing levels of anxiety. The view was beautiful, when I managed to look at it (I think at the most 3 times) – breathtakingly beautiful like Sound of Music beautiful – but was I enjoying it?  No – I was thinking “that’s a long way to fall!”

The ride though shorter than the first day’s seemed immeasurably longer. There was one part that was a steep embankment of scree (loose gravel) and the trail at that point looked like someone had just used one of those zen garden rakes to even out 10-12 inches to make it flat. The edges were giving way.  I think I held my breath through that.  We got to the top (7800 feet or so high) and the guide decided not to stop as it was better for the animals, now very tired, to just keep moving. One horse, not mine, thankfully, kept tripping over the rocks. Not very reassuring, but at least its rider was more adept than I. We were heading downhill now and needed to lean back to keep our weight off the front of the horse.  The trail wasn’t quite as bad, but my body now was like a rock and I had a slight headache from the fall. By the time we got to the camp I was in a zombie state, thoroughly exhausted.

This place was extremely beautiful, with meadows filled with wildflowers, and this time, three horses were let loose, and were really enjoying themselves. It was interesting to watch them, as the horse I was riding was fairly new (not used to trails or other horses and mules) and was getting taught her place by the other two horses.

The light was lovely (being late afternoon by this time), and though I wandered about taking pictures, my thoughts were mainly on my stiff and sore body, my headache, and the next day’s ride out, and I was surprised I got any good shots at all, but I managed a few.  However, there were many missed photo opportunities, simply because I really didn’t have the mental faculty at that point to concentrate on what I was doing.

There was a lake about a mile a way, which we made our way to, beautiful, but a very marshy area with mosquitoes.  There was also an abandoned mine, that apparently hadn’t produced anything, and dragonflies. We really didn’t come across any wildlife, although there are big horned sheep, mountain goats, and bears in the area.  One man, in Joseph, had told us that the last time he went up, he had gotten off his horse as he was saddle-sore and a mama bear and her two cubs came around the corner, so he jumped back on his horse.  That is probably something I would not be able to do in that situation!

That evening, again, we had a wonderful meal under the stars. Everyone was pretty tired, and the next day we were leaving in the morning for the ride back down, as one person needed to be at the trail-head by about 2pm.  That night, I added an extra layer of clothes to buffer myself from the cold.  I had decided the sleeping bag ratings (mine was rated for 30 degrees) meant that you wouldn’t freeze to death, but didn’t mean you’d be warm and comfy.

The next morning everyone was tense, and the animals seemed also very tired and upset to be put to work again.  However, the ride down was mainly without incident, although at midway, my horse, (again fairly new to the task) seemed to be very tired, and slipped on a big flat piece of rock, throwing my foot against a rock that jutted out from the mountain’s side. She continued forward, but my foot did not, twisting my knee back. The pain was intense, but it was more like a twisted ankle and subsided after ten minutes, although I asked if I could just walk down, as my back was really in pain, and frankly I just felt like I might have better chances of survival. I was talked out of dismounting and the ride back to the trail-head did take less time than the two previous day’s rides combined.

I love horses, but was worried about my own ability and rightly so! And my previous worry had been only based on the fact we would be riding for three days in a row because I had visualized trails that were  even and about 3 feet wide.

The scenery in the Wallowas is absolutely spectacular, and even a three-day trip would be wonderful with one campsite and day hikes from there. Would I do it again?  You bet!  BUT next time I’m WALKING!


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To Enhance or Not – Part II – Using Textures and Other Exposures or Not

I was on a mini vacation in the Wallowas, last week in Oregon, and will talk about that in an upcoming post, but I do want to get back to Part II of “To Enhance or Not . . . ”   So continuing from the prior post’s discussion of when to enhance, when to use a texture or another exposure in a picture, members of a forum I’m part of shared some great sites where you can get free textures to use, and I will be sharing those sites at the end of this post.

This post will mainly be discussing enhancements or composites, and when I evaluate a photograph and decide a texture is not needed.  The first example I will show here is a composite photograph.  I had three photos I had taken, that just didn’t stand on their own.

The first was of an elk that I took in Yellowstone, last summer.  The elk was beautiful with a huge antlers, but there was a dead log with a lot of branches just behind him that were distracting and made the photo too busy.  The second photo was taken of the Leaburg Canal in the afternoon, and I had already post processed some similar photos, so just didn’t want to do one more. The third photo was of the moon and I have a file folder full of those.

I started with the daytime shot of Leaburg Canal, and using Color Effex and Viveza (both from Nik Software), I changed the photo to a nighttime scene.

Then I brought the elk in a new layer, and adjusted hue and brightness to match the scene. He was initially facing the other way, and I turned him around to face the water and moon as I thought that was a more pleasing composition. I also made sure that his hooves were covered by some of the grass from the first photo (using the cloning tool at different opacities to look more natural and blur slightly his outline, so he doesn’t just look pasted on top of the other photo).

Lastly I used the photo of the moon on a new layer, also working with the edges of the moon, and using another layer of the clouds over the moon with masks so that it would be more natural with the clouds drifting over the moon. Then I worked adjusting the brightness and colors of the sky and grass, again, so that it looked natural to my eye.  I’m not trying to fool anyone that I was out there at night shooting an elk under the moon. I’m just creating an artistic work using my photographs.

I used Photoshop as my main software, as I really feel most comfortable and more in control working with layers and masks.  I can tone down or change the effects very easily working with masks, without having to start from Square I.

Work like this allows me satisfies the creative part of me that doesn’t want to always be chained to reality or faithful representations!

However, there are times when I don’t want to enhance a picture (more than the usual post processing typically used by most photographers and akin to darkroom techniques).

This photograph, A Butterfly’s World, is similar to Butterfly Ripple of Part I of this post. Both with shot with a telephoto lens, at a 5.6 aperture (shallow for the telephoto) at a shutter speed of 320. I was a bit closer to the butterfly in Butterfly Ripple (BR) – 2.9m subject distance and 360mm focal length) than  to the butterfly of A Butterfly’s World (ABW) – the 4.2m subject distance and focal length 400mm . Also the ISO was 125 for BR vs the 100 ISO for ABW, but all in all, pretty similar shooting conditions.  However, in this photo, the colors of the background were not in competition with the butterfly’s orange, so the butterfly stood out more, and also the background, because of the further distance was more defined.  I liked the capture of the butterfly within its environment in this photo as opposed to not really feeling like the other background added anything besides beautiful color.

In the next photo, Making a Beeline, the background is diffused because of the shallow atmosphere as in the background of Red Dragonfly on a Dead Plant from Part I. But in this photo, there is some definition of the other plants, and in Red Dragonfly, the diffused area was mainly darker color, then lighter with no texture or anything of interest.  Of course, I’m only now analyzing while I did one thing or another because I’m writing this blog. 🙂 Generally it is going to be an instinctive choice on whether the photo stands on its own or needs something more or needs something less.

I’m not an expert or even close to one.  This blog is a way of sharing my journey with photography.  Textures are great to work and play with, and I really love enhancing photos, but only when they need it. I promised you some websites for textures where others have shared what they have created for others to use, but I do want to say, that as beautiful as some of these textures are, it will be better and more personal if you can in some way make it your own by combining it with another texture you may have, playing around with them to change the appearance and suit your own photo in a more individualistic way.  Remember to change-up the blending options and opacities and play around with blurring, levels, and of course the masks to bring in more or less of a texture or another exposure.

The one site I was most impressed with was:  http://shadowhousecreations.blogspot.com/2010/03/creating-texture-tutorial-promo.html, textures by Jerry Jones who allows others to download and use his textures without attribution. But he asks that you do change it up, and that you refer others back to his website directly. Please read his terms of use, here:  http://shadowhousecreations.blogspot.com/p/terms-of-use.html.

Another site that is referred to by Leanne Cole in her blog (see reference in Part I – her post http://leannecolephotography.com/2013/07/02/making-some-textures/. ) is a site set up by Joseph Thomas with multiple contributors and to which you can also donate your textures to: http://publicdomaintextures.wordpress.com/galleries/.

There are some beautiful textures here, http://www.jaiart.com/freetextures. Jai Johnson is the creator of these beautiful textures, but as they are very high-resolution files, you may have problems downloading them as I did.  I had been on my computer all day, and realized I had more than one download going at once, so I will try again today.

Remember to read the terms of use of each site, and if you can, give back or pay it forward in some way.

Thanks for visiting and please check out my work at http://belinda-greb.artistwebsites.com/ and I would love it if you would pass on any of the links to friends who may be interested.