Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


That Which Sustains Us

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
From Yeats’s The Second Coming

Spirit of the Past

Spirit of the Past – The wild in a buffalo’s eye, reflects the spirit of the wilderness, reflects a world that was once unpaved, untraveled. undisturbed. I wonder if the buffalo calls out for the past or if the past speaks to the present in tones low and haunting, traveling on a wind that breathes through the grasses, blows leaves from trees, chases tourists away, makes antelope run and wolves howl. I’m told it sounds like freedom – Belinda Greb on Lamar Valley, Yellowstone.

In a complex and inane society that increasingly seems to demand of us the following: an unsustainable capacity to remember user names, passwords and pins necessitated by the rising numbers of fraudsters and computer hackers whose thievery results in credit card closures and the need for locked mail boxes and identities; the insatiable need of the greedy corporations who devise wonderful ways to imprison us by structuring subscription charges for things that used to be free like t.v. and phone and have their attorneys construct contracts that boast of benefits but include lots of miniscule font sizes for the hidden exclusions; and the unendurable capability to put up with increasing levels of anxiety fostered by job insecurity, prohibitive health care costs, the violence of the fringe fanatics of the world and a natural world in rebellion – it’s important to remember and be thankful for whatever it is that can sustain us through the fray.

Cinnamon Black Bear and Cubs - Pryor Mountain

Standing Cinnamon Black Bear and Cubs – an unexpected bonus during my Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs Trip.

It’s often a struggle to maintain composure and hope and I was tested this last week.  Worried about the non-arrival of my dog’s I’m Yunity mushrooms (a cancer prevention supplement for hemagiomasarcoma), I checked and found they had been delivered and promptly stolen at my mailbox.  A number of calls followed, resulting both in the disappointing reality that I was out $360.00 and the sad discoveries that the so-called insurance offered by Priority Mail insurance (up to $50) would not be honored; the vendor’s policy did not require a signature for this very expensive supplement; the vendor couldn’t really be concerned about the result of that policy; and that the so-called purchase payment protection plan of my Chase Visa card unfortunately did not cover consumables. I was appalled by the waste of the situation – that someone took something that really couldn’t benefit them in any way. I’m still awaiting a call back from the local sheriff’s department and I am expecting a new mushroom order delivered from Amazon by Fed Ex today (another $337 for a smaller quantity).

Frankly I failed the test.  Overpowered by frustration, feeling overwhelmed, angered and violated, I succumbed to a poor me, what’s the use attitude that lasted a full 36 hours and some of which pervades my spirit as I type. So I’m turning my attention to this blog, the need to express myself, and my promise to share the wonderful experiences I’ve been blessed to have in Yellowstone (this week’s blog)  and the Grand Tetons (next blog).

My time was too short in Yellowstone – I would only have a day there before heading south to Grand Tetons.  Driving west from the Pryor Mountain Mustangs, I was still high from the experience. My drive through Yellowstone at night, when I was driving east to Pryor Mountain, had been eerie with bull elk and pronghorn popping up like specters by the side of the road, but coming back into the park through the east entrance I felt like I was passing through a gateway to the west as I drove through a gorge and then encountered the beautiful Yelllowstone Lake, partially bordered by burnt timber from the 1988 fires.

One of the first amazing things I saw, but failed to get a photo of was a beautiful wolf running right by the side of the road but in the opposite direction just west of Indian Pond.  The sighting happened so fast with cars rapidly pulling of to the side and the wolf crossing the road and then disappearing from sight, it was like an intense moment that one questions if it really just occurred!  I stopped at the Fishing Bridge, one of favorite places in the park for a short walk and then  knowing my time was brief, I headed north towards Lamar Valley.

I had been at the park, two years earlier and seen all the geysers and thermal springs, so this trip I was concentrating on wildlife.  However it was fall, so I also was interested in taking some landscape shots.As you head north towards Lamar Valley you pass through what is called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This image, Overlooking Yellowstone River, gives you an idea why.

At the junction of the Grand Loop and the NE Entrance Road I encountered buffalo. Although they are big and can be dangerous, they usually seem so placid it lures many tourists into close proximity. Later as I was attempting to head back towards the south entrance to depart the park, I had the fun of being stuck in a buffalo herd traffic jam.

I was hoping to be able to capture wolves or a grizzly and I had been lucky two years prior, but this year it was not to be.  I talked to other photographers who had seen the wolves during the week with their cubs and also near a kill.  I went to the area, but only encountered this lone coyote looking for leftovers and finding none.  I did also see plenty of pronghorn, mountain goat, and also a doe with her twins. There is a sense of camaraderie when you talk to other nature and animal lovers – each excited to share their experiences and helpful in an unusual way that you sadly don’t often encounter that much any more. In Yellowstone, when I have looked into another person’s eyes, I’ve encountered the wonder of a child staring back at me, although they might be thirty or forty or seventy, and I’ve felt that innocence, freshness and wonder myself.

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to see these beautiful things, and these experiences and other authentic ones like this are the things that nobody can steal from me or invalidate.  Experiencing the natural world as well as the understanding and support of friends, the love of family,  the joy and sweetness in my dog’s eyes, and the faith, however sometimes shaky, that the world can be a better place are my sources of nourishment and healing. When the world of men seems a trying mix of horrors and indifference, I seek and must concentrate on that which sustains me and be thankful for it.

Happy Thanksgiving.



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Getting Through and Breaking Through

I can’t believe it’s been over two months since I last posted. A lot has transpired.  I did take my scheduled vacation to Los Angeles.  It was wonderful to see my old friends.  There’s nothing so comforting as seeing people who’ve known you since you were arrogant with youth and still care for you through all the intervening phases. It’s amazing how you can slip right in to a relaxed feeling of trust with good friends despite not having seen each other for a year or years as with one good friend I met up with. Also, since I grew up in Los Angeles, there was a sense of connection with place.  Since I usually do nature photography, it was interesting to take some photographs that were not in my comfort zone, architectural shots or city shots. Strangely enough, this one of Los Angeles Union Station sold shortly after I uploaded it.

My dog, Maisie’s surgery took place upon my return and the worry about it and her sarcoma had cast a shadow over my trip. The surgery went fairly well although I felt frustrated as the pathology reports were non-conclusive as to exact type of sarcoma and whether the full tumor had been excised. I realized that after paying for the pathology report, I expected it to be definitive.  Something, life can’t always give us.  So it will be a wait and see game.  Her energy has been very good throughout, and the hardest part of her recovery was the cone head and keeping her from licking the wound when I let her have a reprieve from the cone head, which was too often as I found out.

I have switched her to a completely raw diet.  While expensive, I was pleased that she really seems to like it. The first time I gave it to her, she wolfed it down, and then immediately threw it up.  I thought – oh no, that’s about $5 on the carpet.  Fortunately, she just had to learn to eat it more slowly!  I also have her on the I’m Yunnity mushrooms, which I mix in her food, and I also give her raw goat’s milk in the mornings.  She is maintaining a really healthy weight and has lots of energy.  The wound has now healed and I am hoping that the raw diet and mushrooms will prevent the cancer from reoccurring.

For the last two months until just recently, my focus has not really been on my photography, but on just getting myself through this time. I was trying to stay positive when I was really feeling weighted down and scared by the sense of loss. I felt overwhelmed by the expenses and the uncertainty. But I just plodded through trying to keep the faith and let myself operate on automatic, emotionally.

This was a new reaction for me. I steered myself away from brooding or getting really actively depressed, I let myself tune out in a way and focused on just doing what I could do, like learning about the diet and reading to take my mind away from my worry. I definitely did not feel connected to myself at this time (felt like I was numbing myself out), but at least I felt like I held my despair at bay.

At any rate, I’ve gotten through that period. While in the middle of it though, and upset by what seemed to me my dwindling world, a snub by a local person I had considered a friend, and sadness at being separated from my long-time friends, I did decide to go ahead and take a trip to Wyoming (something I had wanted to do this summer but it hadn’t looked like it was going to happen).

I’ve been tired of the same old places, the same routine, the oppressiveness of the same old, same old.  I knew I needed to feed myself, spiritually, and the trip, despite being last minute and kind of chaotically planned, was good in that it allowed me to focus and reignite my passion for photography, and filled me awe about the beauty of animals and nature. I want to stop forcing myself to accept less.  I’ve been operating in this zen, less is enough mode, and on one hand, yes, I’m don’t want to be overly needy or greedy.  But on the other hand, I don’t want to have to settle for less.  What’s the point of that type of life?

I want to start doing the things that make me feel alive and connected. And I want to stop the things (people or situations) that make me feel depleted, whether that be friendships or job. That’s my breakthrough.  Now to make it happen.  That’s  the hard part. Stay tuned.

I will talk more about my trip in my next post, but one of the highlights was seeing the Pryor Mountain Mustangs, and getting a day in Yellowstone National Park (not enough time) and a few days in Grand Tetons.  Until then, I wish you the best. Here’s a photo preview!


Spring Drama

This Spring turned out to be full of contentiousness and drama, and hard as I tried to stay away from it, I had to slog through it! Meanwhile, the rain that hadn’t come in its normal amounts during the winter, started to make its appearance. During the first few really beautiful Spring days, I was chained to this legal matter I was helping my mother with and resenting the time that was taking me away from hiking, from being out in nature. I felt like I was being robbed of Spring.

Basically, without getting into details, it stemmed from lack of coherent communication between parties, obstinance, bitterness, and escalated from there.  This took over two months to resolve. It was enough to make me lose it a couple of times, but on the times when I wasn’t falling apart I tried to remind myself to stay centered, breathe and know that it would eventually pass. And I think now, the worst is over.  I’m finally able to enjoy looking forward to the rest of Spring, warmer weather and being able to focus on my photography again.

During one of the rainy days I was so frustrated I combed through my images from last year and worked on this image.  The beautiful Iris was from my sister’s garden, and I added another exposure and textures.

This second photograph was of a dandelion taken this Spring during a short walk – my favorite and only form of therapy aside from meditation. But walking really comes in handing especially when the mind refuses to quiet itself.  The title, Dandelion Don’t Care About the Time, is from one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs. I have used various verses for some of my other dandelion photos.

You can see it does has a time theme, and that is pertinent, because especially as one gets older, there is a realization of how much time is spent on drama. It causes so much stress, making us lose sleep, causing us to worry about things that are somewhat uncontrollable.  We often forget in the middle of emotional upheaval or fear that the one thing we can control is our reaction. There were a lot of nights when I would wake up at around 3am and just start worrying about how things were going to come out. What I started to do after a few nights of this was pick up a book. In most cases it worked.  It took my mind away from the useless circling that it was doing and engaged my thoughts elsewhere. After an hour or so of reading, I would feel sleepy again.

One day it was supposed to be beautiful and warm. I headed up to a lake area where there are usually lots of dragonflies and was hoping to find some wildflowers.  Spring was not evident – the area around the lake was far to marshy to get close to it and on top of that it started to drizzle. Yet in spite of that it was a day that was wonderful for just escaping.  I took multiple shots, panning the camera to obtain this photograph and later combined and aligned them in Photoshop using the perspective option. Do you see where I’m going? I took some photographs with the tripod, and then I just sat, tucking my jacket underneath my butt to protect it from the cold and slightly damp ground, leaned back against a rock and closed my eyes. I listened to the birds, the stirring of the trees while my dog went exploring on her own. I was miles away from any human being, and it was a wonderful time-out from reality.

Later my dog and I walked down the road, where there was still snow on the ground.  It almost felt like I had entered an alternate universe where no bickering existed, no lies and distorted truth, and no hurt egos, and no vying to get the upper hand. The world wasn’t easier: trees would fall, lightning would strike, prey would be eaten, but still, life would continue.

On the way home I stopped to take some more photographs. I especially liked this one of a small rock formation that juts out of the water at Cougar Reservoir and looks like a small island with fir trees growing. Again, there is a theme of life being able to spring forth, even from hardship. Roots find ways around the rocky obstacles, and there is growth.

There were no winners, only losers in the legal matter, unless of course, you count the attorneys who did come out ahead. However, in the realm of things that had transpired during that time: a missing jetliner, a downed ferry with lost children, mudslides, and tornadoes, among others –  it was a speck of sand.

And fortunately during this stressful time, there were moments, not as many as I would like for the real Spring drama: lovely blossoms, adorable ducklings, otters at play. That is the drama that interests me.

The last photograph on the page is from a walk I took with my dog and my friend and her dog.  It’s titled When Life Gives You a Mud Puddle… and I think, as I often do, that we have a lot to learn from the natural world.



















My Usual Haunts – Exterior and Interior

I didn’t post last week, as my days off were filled with a couple of outings, but it should work out well, because as I review my photos from two weeks ago and think back, I’m in a similar frame of mind this week.

I find myself, at this stage of my life, more confined, so that when I look at photographs of others from far off places, I’m a bit envious, although I’ve been blessed to have traveled in the past. But the current situation can dim my spirits and I’ve been feeling like I’ve been running on empty. So I seek refuge in my usual haunts, and find myself traveling familiar grounds, physically and metaphysically.

Metaphysically speaking – I find myself on the verge of depression. I’ve been here and through it before. I’m isolated, geographically, from my closest friends, and I feel at a disconnect. I feel like I’m putting one foot in front of the other and just plodding through without any hope of getting to some place better.  I know this feeling will pass and come again and pass again, and I always seek to come to terms with it philosophically or spiritually.

I wish I were less analytical and lighter in nature.  My belief is that people who are tend to be happier. In the past, I’ve quit my job, moved, taken a trip, but those aren’t options I have the energy or money for and of course you never can really escape your self, not while you’re living!

And I don’t dislike my self, but I miss being near people who get me.  Any way, I know I’m in the midst of a poor me pity party, so I will move on. Maybe others reading this will find comfort in knowing that others also experience these blues and greys.

Physically, I return to my favorite walks with my dog and my camera.  Sometimes I take only a few pictures and discard the majority, thinking I’ve done that. Sometimes there are just a few that I care to keep, but the act of walking is a soothing one, and my dog, Maisie, appreciates it as well.

Sometimes, the walk alone will shake the inertia away. If not, it allows me to sit with the feelings I’m going through.  It settles the restlessness like a form of meditation. And since I haven’t been doing my meditation practice regularly, this is good.

At other times, although I’m walking the same road I’ve walked numerous times before, I see something new, or more clearly.  When we find ourselves in the same life patterns, it’s interesting to wonder if instead of a circle, our path is not instead a spiral viewed from a different angle. Are we reacting the same way to a similar situation, or trying to find a new way.  This is a challenge of both consciousness and discipline.

One morning, two weeks ago, I got up early (not easy for me as I tend to be a night owl) seeking to find the elk that a friend had said were visiting her yard. Though they had been there for two days in a row, and come 4-5 times that week, they were not there that morning. (A week later I did see some female elk, but my photos were lousy as the light was too low and I was unable to get any sharpness at the distance.)

Disappointed, I decided to take try to take some pictures of the fall color that was fading fast.  I came upon these beautiful rays shining down on the road.  Was it as great as the elk would have been?  No, but it was lovely and that will have to suffice.

So I will keep trying – getting up early, occasionally, to seek the elk and putting one foot in front of the other, trying to muster some hope that my path is not a circle, and spiraling upwards and not down.

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To Enhance or Not: Part I – Using textures and other exposures

Once again, I missed posting last week. I was out swimming and taking a couple of hikes on my days off, and unfortunately, the time got away from me.

Looking back on the work I did in the last couple of weeks, I thought I’d talk about when I decide to enhance a photo in terms of bringing in another exposure or adding a texture or doing something more drastic than just my normal routine of post processing.

I might come away with as little as 10 or as many as 50 images from a single shoot. If I’m shooting something that is alive and moving. as opposed to a landscape, I often have no idea until I get home and put it on my big screen which photo will turn out the best.  My camera does have a screen and I can magnify it, but I often don’t take the time in the field. It’s just a lot more comfortable and precise evaluating the photo when I can see all of it, and zoom in and out on different sections more rapidly.

I don’t yet have a macro, so when I take a photograph of a butterfly or dragonfly, there is usually going to be some cropping involved.  Using my telephoto, a Canon EF 100-400 mm 4.5-5.6, I generally am at least 5-6 feet from my subject just to be able to focus with the lens and often more if I don’t want to disturb the creature!

I usually go through all the photos very rapidly with the slide slow in Bridge, first making them all with 1 star, and then just getting rid of the “no point in keeping this” ones by marking the picture as 0 stars.  Then I go through a second time and up the stars on particular photos.  If I have a series of one butterfly, I might just look at those together – flipping through them to see which one is sharper, what the position was, what is the background looking like.

Certain ones, I just know I want to do something with it.  The subject is incredible, but the background just doesn’t complement it at all or is too distracting.

This shot, after being cropped, just had a mottled brown and green blurred background. I first added a blend, and worked with layers to just either mask out the background either totally or partially. Then I added one or more layers, again workings with masks to keep the detail on the subject to some extent.  I generally like to keep the subject uncluttered by any additional textures or exposures I bring in, except perhaps along the outside perimeters. But I’ve seen some beautiful work where the textures are incorporated into the subjects or just overlaid.  It’s a matter of preference.

In this photograph, I used two textures and a blend. One texture was from Leanne Cole’s blog where she generously allowed her viewers to download some low res texture files she had created. She is a wonderful photographer and has a great blog and here is the link to one I’m referring to:  The other texture I used was a photograph of a rusted water culvert I encountered on a hike.  I have a file full of textures, like moss, lichen, bark, rocks, crumpled paper, etc.

In the second photograph I liked the background colors, but I wanted to find a way of distinguishing the focal point of the photograph, a butterfly on a bloom, from the soft lovely colors of the background.  I ended up bringing in another photograph I had taken of the ripples of the river’s surface, to create a lovely effect.

This last photograph, today,  was one I did this week. The photograph shows a butterfly and a couple of bees on a wildflower. The background was very dark, as the metering was on the flower and butterfly.  Also, although the flower and bee were quite sharp, the butterfly had been a bit sharper in other photos, but in those, you didn’t get as clear a view. So this was going to be a photo I couldn’t bear to part with, yet it definitely wasn’t picture perfect.
This was the most complicated process of the three. I first got the photo into the best shape I could, added a blend as with the first photo, then I brought in another photo I had taken that day that had some wildflowers and added them using masks and blending options. I merged the layers as a copy, and then used a couple artistic effects, again using masks to paint them in and out as I wanted. Then I added a texture.  So this really is more digital art than photograph.

I will be going on vacation next week, so unsure if I will post, but in Part II, I want to show a composite I pulled together from 3 photographs, and also discuss when I choose not to enhance.  Thanks for visiting and be sure to visit Leanne Cole’s site (link above). I don’t get to read all her posts (she posts daily), but it’s a great blog!

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Nature vs Humans

These last few weeks when I’ve gone out with my camera, I’ve been thinking a lot about nature – how magnificent it is, how changeable, how complex and diverse.  It never fails to amaze me how the same scene can appear so different depending on the light or the season.  Take these two pictures taken of approximately the same piece of landscape, but just one month apart.

I was fortunate to grow up in rural Southern California in the Santa Monica Mountains off of Muholland Highway, and as a young girl, was very sensitive to the beauty that was around me.  I could take a walk with the dogs, and to my young imagination, I was an adventurer in the wild.  My senses were not only alert to the potency of nature, but every tree, bush, bird, even the wide open blue sky was a tangible living presence that I could feel. Yet as I grew older, my focus turned to other things, and I lost that heightened sensitivity to the natural world and while I would appreciate the beauty in a general sense, the distractions of a social human world dominated.

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It wasn’t until my thirties, when I was in the midst of the daily struggle to find peace and happiness in that social world that I started to appreciate again the sustaining energy and beauty of nature, ironically, in Riverside and Central Parks in New York.  That appreciation has steadily grown and increased, especially since I moved back to Oregon and started hiking on a regular basis and taking more photographs.  A camera is not the same as the human eye, and the attempt to capture what we see and feel is not always so straightforward – which for me points to the observation that while humans technological feats are impressive, they pale in compare to what already exists in nature.

Hurricane Sandy, the storm that hit the East Coast a few days ago, not only attests to the power of nature but also to the negative impact that we, posing as the arbitrators and manipulators of the environment we consider under our dominion, can have on the world around us. Our vision is short sighted without regard to the long-term effects.  Who knows what the effect of the radiation from Hiroshima, the meltdown of the reactors in Japan, the continual deforesting of the forests, or fracking may be?

My hope lies in the fact that, in Oregon, I have observed the tremendous regenerating abilities of the natural world, at least flora.  What I fear is that other species, including humans, may not prove as resilient.

I have never been a willing early riser, but one morning a week, I go to work very early, before the sun rises, and it’s been a breathtaking (and somewhat dangerous) drive into town.  So one morning on my day off, I rose before dawn to capture that morning light.

It’s been a fairly late fall with little rain in the Northeast until a couple of weeks ago, but last week the fall color was very vivid (for this area), and I’ve been trying to capture that color before the wind and rain take it to the ground.  

Last week I went to Mt Hagen, where I would often go to walk my dog when I’m short on time.  I haven’t been for a while, because they’ve been logging up one of the roads from this Christmas tree farm (left).  I don’t have the heart to go up that road where the logging was done as the last time I saw it since they started the logging, my familiar beautiful wooded hills looked like a barren landscape where root balls of the trees were strewn like so many corpses.  Yet the area will be replanted, and perhaps in another fifty years it will be like it was.

Please visit my site at Etsy, Radiance Cards Photos (Etsy 10% Discount Code: 127210) or for prints including matting and framing at Belinda Greb Photography and Cards.

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Welcome to my blog about photography and life.

I don’t think I’ve ever strived for perfection – because it seems to me that things that people called perfect didn’t always fit my definition of what was beautiful or true. I’ve learned and come to accept that what I may find beautiful, someone else may not care for at all.  So this won’t be a blog about how to get the most technically stunning picture, but more about journeys out in nature with camera in hand and the musings that happen along the way.

That we may differ in how we perceive and judge an object, a value, the world at large, based on our experiences, how our ideas were formed or adopted, and our unique patterns of thought, is an intrinsic characteristic of our individual sensibility, not to be feared but embraced as just one more example of the wonderful varieties of life.  That being said, we all want to express ourselves and to make a connection with others, whether it be through our words, shared dialogues or creative works.

Photography for me was initially a way of trying to capture memories, primarily while traveling.  An image is an evocative way of finding the past and re-experiencing it with your current consciousness.  Thus you may notice something in an old photo that strikes you anew, just as certain passages from a book not read in 10 years will stand out more while your prior favorite passages fail to impress.

But photography is more than just capturing memories.  It is putting forth a perspective on the world – perhaps focusing on a small item that is usually not seen so closely or appreciated.  It may be stilling a moment that is often fleeting –  holding the brilliant colors of a sunset that fade too quickly to black or making the smile of a child eternal.  A camera can be a powerful tool, and the evolving struggle of trying to accurately capture what one hopes to express and share – a joyful and worthy endeavor, regardless of whether the result be perfect or flawed.

Find my work at Etsy – Radiance Cards Photos or for prints including matting and framing at Belinda Greb Photography and Cards.  Thank you for visiting.

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