Saturday, January 11, 2014

Perspective - October 2013

Welcome to the October edition of the Down The Pond blog. What a glorious October it has been! Great weather to do two of my favorite things - walk in the woods and take photos.  It has been dry - less than an inch of the expected 4 inches of rain fell in October (source: So dry that I venture down to shore that used to be water, shooting past spontaneous tiny islands and rocks and mudflats that used to be water too. It's strange seeing things from down low. And strange from up high too, thanks to a couple of trips up to the top of Horn Pond Mountain, where I gazed onto a tiny pond that looked at once familiar and foreign from above. Sometimes I think the pond chooses and guides me to my writings for the month, and this month its winding trails have led me to the perfect topic: Perspective.  

Several online dictionaries define perspective in terms of both a physical and metaphorical 'point of view', and I have been playing with both senses of the word this month. I scrunch down on my haunches or stand up on a bench to see how the tree or the lagoon or the light on the water changes. I try to consider the drought from the point of view of the heron or the coots or the amphibians losing their insulating blanket or me as a photographer or me as someone who loves the pond.  So many different ways of looking at the same thing! From a "critter perspective", lowered water level in the lagoon concentrates the fish there making it easier for the heron and other birds to get a meal. But it also makes the birds more vulnerable, and perhaps disrupts the hibernation of any amphibians that might be in the mud. From a photographer's point of view, it is so exciting to both be able to shoot from new vantage points and also to see some of the lay of the land under the water.  It's like I am the little boy in the children's book  "The Five Chinese Brothers" (Claire Huchet Bishop, 1938),  who got to see the all the treasures of the ocean floor while one of the brothers sucked the sea into his mouth. I don't blame the kid for being so fascinated that he forgot to get out in time.  For us it is not so much treasures as trash that is revealed, but still it is just so interesting to see the rocks and the slope of the land beneath the lagoon.  


Of course, normal water levels or not, it seems that I get a new perspective of the pond every time I go down there. People sometimes ask me if I get bored, shooting the same small scratch of wood and water and dirt day after day. But many of us have seen that the pond is ever changing: waters rise and fall, for a moment a red oak leaf is caught just so in bare twigs, one morning the fog makes the fishermen look a bit spooky. Taking photos there is like writing the pond's biography. In a way perhaps it's like writing my own biography too as a developing photographer. Heck, hopefully I'm getting better at this stuff - learning new techniques, seeing new things and capturing them in a different way - so in some way the photos chronicle my evolution as well as the pond's. 


Some of the new techniques I've been learning have helped me see things differently at the pond too. High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography techniques makes it possible to capture images comprised of widely varying tones: using HDR I have been able to capture scenes I would not have considered before. The full moon shot in this month's closing photo is an HDR: admittedly it's a bit rough and 'chunky', but overall I'm still pleased with the result. Actually can't take much credit for the photo, since I used some photoshop presets to combine the images. However I *did* drag myself out of a nice warm bed on a freezing cold and dark pre-dawn morning, nearly turning into a popsicle while getting some quick exposure-bracketed shots that combined to form the HDR moonset. So OK I'm proud of myself for that anyways! :) Another new technique I've been trying out is the popular 'pleasing blurs' effect in landscape photography.   The jury is still out and possibly deadlocked as to whether I will EVER be satisfied with a blurred image, but it's something I will continue to play with. What I can say for sure is that both of these techniques have fattened up my 'photography toolkit' (always a good thing!) and have helped me see possibilities in images at the pond that I never had considered before.

OK, time for my bird report with a perspective bent! You'll probably be happy to know I am continuing my love affair with the geese. I know I know some of you are groaning because you have a different view of these birds. "Pooping machines" you're probably thinking. I do realize that if I was a golfer or played soccer and had to constantly avoid or slip over or slide in gross green goose poop I probably would not be as enamored of those creatures as I am. But without that gross green goose poop we wouldn't get to see the geese flying against a perfect autumn, or feel their faint blessing when they flew over our heads on the causeway (and hopefully didn't poop on us)! I have also been enjoying the influx of swans on the pond. Yes, I realize they are an introduced species, and yes I wonder about their effect on our native species, but I believe at this point are here to stay.  The heron has been about too and because of the low water levels had been more easily photographed. And one day down at Lion's Park there was such a raucous gathering of grackles that I was transfixed for several minutes. The trees were alive with their calls and flapping until they got some unknown signal and took off in a great group. It was truly an awesome thing to experience, the iridescence and squawking and mass exodus of the grackles. With mixed feelings I bid them a fond farewell until the spring! 

Of course as usual my thoughts of the pond are mixed up in other parts of my life, so I have been thinking about perspective this month when not behind the camera as well. I have been noticing that sometimes it's hard to know if a perspective reflects reality or even what reality is. Of course sometimes it's not hard. From the top of Horn Pond Mountain, it appears that I could traverse a beautiful carpet of fall treetops to get to the Pru, but I won't be strapping on my splinter-proof sandals any time soon! Sometimes though things are less clear cut, and my perspective on things can change quickly. During the days I was writing this I had an accident and hurt my right index finger pretty badly. I saw how my perspective morphed quickly over time. I went from the perspective of a disgruntled do-er (this is soooo inconvenient and I am putting myself sooooo far behind) to the perspective of a worried do-er (wow this looks bad, am I gonna lose any functionality long term?) to the perspective of a grateful do-er (Phew! A month or so of non-doing and I should be OK). How could I go from frustrated and mad, to scared, to grateful in the span of 48 hours? All based on the same factual event??  Perspective!  Ultimately I ended up with a perspective that serves me very well I think: given an event, better to end up grateful than to be worried or frustrated. So for me the trick is to find the vantage point that serves me the best in all aspects of my life. Hopefully without having to do injury to myself to get to it! ;)

So there is my admittedly rambling post on perspective (and no I can't blame the pain killers for that!). This post was delayed, and the next couple of posts will probably be short and delayed, as both writing and photography (hey that's my shutter finger!) will be difficult for the near future. I still have the perspective "Hey my adorably cute (well not so cute right now) finger, which I love more than ever, should be a fully functional finger in a month or two!", so I think I am doing well in that regard. Lately though it has been a bit more challenging to find a healthy perspective on a few wee other things in my life - so as usual I have work to do, trudging up and down those mental mountains to find the perfect vantage point from which to view a situation, and pulling different techniques out of my 'life toolkit' to provide me with different ways of seeing. So until next time, wishing you (and me too!) facility with playing with perspective, and wisdom in choosing the viewpoints which will serve us best. 

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