Positive Envy

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There is an old saying I think about every now and then: “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

Not so much for its meaning of someone desiring something they believe would improve his or her life, yet in reality would not.  Instead, it is because I think about where I am now, and the possibilities of what could be.

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To dream of being in a totally different situation, wondering how great life would be compared to the current situation is intriguing.  The mind is unrealistically focused on what could be gained, with little attention to what would be lost.

A poor example of this: my memory as a kid on a family vacation sitting at a restaurant for breakfast. I would always order the French toast and upon the arrival of the food, look on in envy as my twin sister’s stack of blueberry pancakes taunted me…those pancakes topped with whipped cream looked so much better than my wimpy French toast.

Nothing's Changed...

Nothing’s Changed…

Don't I have a GREAT Sister...

Don’t I have a GREAT Sister…

Didn’t matter that I loved French toast and it always tasted great, for I couldn’t think of anything else except my stomach growling with envy.

Fortunately, it never failed that my little sister would give me a small bite of her pancakes to make me happy (and also get a laugh at the whipped cream that would inevitably find its way to the tip of my nose), and life would be good again.

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Such a simple memory, but one of many that demonstrates to me the endless possibilities the mind creates. Hammering home the moral of being happy with what you have and how ridiculous it is to have petty envy.

When positive thinking fuels the mind, things tend to work themselves out.

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Over the years, I think most people come to understand it never pays to feel or act on petty-envy or the negatives that “the grass is always greener…” may inspire.  However, I think envy in itself is not bad, as there is still a piece of this feeling that is worth exploring further: “positive envy.”

Comparing a situation with one that is perceived to be better can create a sense of hope; triggering a new dream to inspire. I find inspiration in stories, movies and photographs from all over the world, where I have this feeling of “the grass is always greener…” but understand I can create something similar in my life.

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Positive Envy is the excitement at discovering something new from another source and creating a drive to move people up to a higher level (no matter how small).

My favorite definition of this feeling is this clip from the movie Vision Quest: seeing and experiencing something so spectacular, that it lifts the spirit to a higher level of existence. Once this emotion is felt, it is impossible not to develop a drive and try to achieve such a moment yourself.

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There are many such vision quests in life, and for me seeing places I may never visit ~ but through photographs, videos and stories, it becomes easy to imagine myself creating a life there. Positive envy of someone experiencing such a different way of life brings adventure into my day.

As mentioned in an earlier writing, Let The Show Begin…, photography, music and sports are just two examples where inspiration thrives.

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Recently, I traveled to Dongchuan, Yunnan in SW China and arranged a home stay; a perfect way to get a glimpse into the life of locals. There were a few older people I met who shared their stories, their struggles and mostly their simple brilliance of happiness that they had collected over their lifetime.

Sharing a part of their history, through their words I could imagine the very time/place/emotions to a point where it felt as if I had lived that life alongside them.

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A very powerful feeling, and while I imagined how great it would be to experience such a place in time; what I appreciated most was the glimpse at the scope of possibilities of people everywhere.

Positive Envy.

Humans have a pretty incredible stretch of capabilities, and while the ideal of accumulating great material wealth is an overriding dream for many…it is usually those who seek a simpler route that find a greater sense of happiness.

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A controlled environment tends to pull us all in one direction: “nose to the grindstone” seems to be its mantra, and it is usually led by a group of elitists restricting our freedoms.

To avoid this lunatic fringe that permeates politics and many parts of society, listen to the words of Joseph Campbell and enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.  Avoid the well-worn path as the road often traveled tends to entice and then subdue the spirit.

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In all, I figure that while the “grass may seem greener elsewhere” we attach ourselves to where we are most comfortable.  It is good to explore, to get out and see what is out there…but in the end, it is tough to beat home.

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Even when things may look bleak, there is always a smile to brighten the day.  I sat one late afternoon watching the energy of this old man, amid a group of locals sharing his stories. “I can’t afford to be sad because right now is all I may have…and I’ve been saying this for more than 10 years!” and he laughed which made everyone laugh.

If the time ever comes when I am missing all my teeth, I’ll accept it…but until then I will make sure to enjoy the feel of biting into a crisp apple during a hot day.

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“The grass is always greener…” It is a difficult proverb to dissect, because there are so many ways to look at it. Here in Dongchuan, most of the people in this village dream of their children being able to live in Hong Kong (or any Chinese metropolis), as these cities have a higher standard of living.

I can understand this. These are significant dreams to have, and it can fuel positive envy: a flow of ideas that lead to a realm of unimaginable successes.  Wherever the dream flows, a happy child is the real goal.

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I suppose that is the magic of life. At some point in time, it is necessary for the soul to search and begin its own Vision Quest.  To lift those around you to a higher level of happiness.  What that quest is and where it flows varies greatly among us all.

With that said, sometimes the grass is actually greener, and if possible, worth checking out for yourself.

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Men in Management – Myanmar and Beyond

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“Progress isn’t made by early risers.
It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.” 
~Robert A. Heinlein

What more needs to be said?  This is a perfect quote.

For us men, we take to heart the point of “while appearing lazy, we actually accomplish a lot.”  A thought I toasted many a beer to during travels in Myanmar with our guide Mr. Thu.

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Conversely, my sister Sandi and our other guide in Myanmar, Ms. Kay-K, had the opposing view, and while they agreed with the first part of the assessment of “being lazy”, they vehemently disagreed with the last part where men actually accomplish anything.

In fact, if I remember correctly, Kay-K’s comment was simply “men accomplishing something?!?” before she broke out in laughter along with my sister.

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It was at this point I realized this may be a long trip.  The banter began the first day during our drive out into the countryside and witnessing an endless amount of roadwork taking place.

The roadwork included strenuous labor; baskets and baskets of rocks being carried to-and-fro, digging, leveling and preparation of the road by pick and hand as the crew worked on repairs.

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It was a matter of time before my sister asked the logical question, “Thu, there are only women doing this road work… where are the men?”

With a start, Thu snapped out of his nap, looked outside the car window, and nonchalantly replied: “Oh, the men?  The men are in management…” and closed his eyes to go back to sleep.  I stifled my laughter.

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I thought Thu’s response was perfect, even though over the past decades of tormenting my three sisters about the ‘wonders of being a man’ I should have known a storm was inevitably brewing.

Hiding my smile, I would have high-fived Mr. Thu if he wasn’t fading back to sleep and I didn’t have a beer in each hand…

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“It sounds like the old boys network,” my sister said to Kay-K.  “Men in power, pretending to be significant while the rest of us do the real work that keeps us moving forward.”

“Of course, it is the same everywhere isn’t it?” cooed Kay-K, casting a wary eye my way.  “Dalo, were you part of the old men’s club with your work in the USA?”

“Well, yeah, I suppose I was…  I was part of a male upper-management team.” I quickly inhaled the last of my beer, a little worried at what I was getting myself into.  Mr. Thu just opened one eye looking back at me as if to say  “feign sleep, it’s your only way out…”

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Yet before I could put my head back and close my eyes, Kay-K was quick to ask, “And was working with this company good for you?”

“Uh, yeah, it was nice.  I was able to buy a nice house, save some money and take such nice trips as this…” I added, wondering where this was going, although knowing it was not going to end well and too late to do anything about it…

“And how about the company now; the common employees?” she looked at me inquisitively.

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“Uh, well, I left the company last year but I do know that the employees there are struggling a bit as there have been huge cuts within the company, but they did announce record profits last year.” I smiled, and decided now was the time to close my eyes and try Thu’s trick of feigning sleep.

“Making cuts?  Record profits?” Kay-K questioned, and laughed with a sharp tone, “and let me guess, the old men in the executive positions are walking away with big bonuses…”

With eyes closed, I let out a couple snores, hoping to dissolve the conversation.

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Not sure how much time passed in our conversation, but the ‘pop’ of a fresh beer opening gave me away as my hand shot-out instinctively and Kay-K replaced the one I was holding with a fresh one.

Slowly squinting, I opened my eyes, checking to see if all was well and turned to look outside.  Could not have been worse timing, as immediately we passed a group of women working the fields, and I felt Kay-K’s stare burning the back of my head.

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Cracking a meager smile, I turned and said, “If I have learned correctly, the men are in management, elsewhere, correct?!?”  Thu lifted up his beer in a silent toast as sarcastic jeers came from Kay-K and sis.

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Ahead of us was Old Bagan, with some of the most beautiful landscapes one will ever see and I anxiously prepped my gear for a nice evening of shooting.  As we started walking to one of the temples, Kay-K flashed a smile and said, “so, you take photographs and drink beer…that is very nice.  You’d be a very good Myanmar man…”  And with a laugh she ran and caught up with my sister.

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The evening shoot was magical, the spirit of the people incredible…peaceful and playful.  Mixed within these incredible archeological sites, Thu and Kay-K talked a lot about the history and culture of the land as well as the men and women.

“There is a saying that my Dad taught me and I take it to heart.”  Thu said, “For men who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, just remember that’s where the knives are kept.”

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“Myanmar not too long ago was a matriarchal society, and women held all the right to inherit wealth and were leaders of villages…” Kay-K smiled.  “Most men hate to admit to it, but it was a very prosperous period for our country.”

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“And when women were forced into the background, guess what happened to our country…” Kay-K added, “power struggles, egos of men creating chaos.  We lost generations of fresh minds and new ideas…it is sad.  Why are men so moronic when it comes to fighting?”

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I rubbed the small scar on my chin, a result of a long ago fight that even during the brawl I don’t think anyone knew what we were fighting for.  Hmmm, probably not the best time to tell that story.

“We’ve always had a feel for progress and for freedom, and the men know it…perhaps their knowing it makes them so lazy.” Kay-K sighed.

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“Men know that we will cleanup their mess, so when things get tough ~ men turn to us, but hate to admit they need us.” With that she grabbed my sister’s hand and both of them tromped off to the market to find some exotic foods for dinner.

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I look at Thu who shook his head and smiled.  “She is a little troublesome…but it is true.  Men can either fear and repress women, and watch the world fall apart.  Or men can proudly promote women and enjoy their greatness and prosperity.”

As he popped open a couple of beers, Thu settled down underneath the shade of a tree with a newspaper in hand and added, “Me, I’d rather enjoy their greatness.”

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From the front page of the paper Thu was reading, the word “Hope” stood out followed by a discussions of two future elections.  Elections that may just see a change in the theory of ‘Men in Management.’

Myanmar 2015 Presidential Election:  Aung San Suu Kyi
United States 2016 Presidential Election: Hillary Clinton
 

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“Say Romeo, what about your promise to the He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club?”
“I’m sorry, Spanky.  I’ve got to live my own life.”  – REO Speedwagon, Hi Infidelity Album

Dreams Between Dusk and Dawn

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 “There is a road…between the dawn and the dark of night and if you go,
no one may follow, as that path is for your steps alone.”  ~ Jerry Garcia

The wisdom of Jerry Garcia resonates with me as the wrathful fingers of winter turn into the chilly, wet hands of spring.  I search for my path.  A place to watch and dream from afar; to quietly witness the darkness of winter transform into the dawn of spring.

Standing against an ancient wall, spread across the plains of Bagan is my first Myanmar sunrise.  With the break of dawn, my slate is washed clean and ready to be filled up again with dreams that come my way.

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There is a saying, “Dreams die at dawn…” which I never cared for, as I believe dreams begin at dawn.  Then I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”

Perfect. Dawn, a dialectical point in time where dreams may wither and die yet at the same time be realized; the dreamer is there to witness both the inspiration and sadness.  For me, this is the definition of dawn.

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As a kid, I never gave much thought about the beauty of early morning.  I stayed in bed as long as possible…even though many of my dreams originated in books and folklore that romanticized this part of the day.

Mornings were written beautifully, where cowboys, explorers, Native American heroes and adventurers always touched upon the magic of dawn and daybreak.

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Daybreak would be accompanied by the glow of an early morning fire, whether to bring warmth to the beginning of the day or to brew a cup of coffee.

While reading, I would dream of sitting alongside the men and women as they drank their coffee…quietly pondering the day of uncertainty that lay ahead.  To this day, I believe this is one reason I savor my morning cup of coffee.

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Watching the early morning sky, I think of dreams drifting aimlessly like a balloon, its path relying on the wind.  The land below contradictorily familiar, yet exotic.

The pre-dawn moment where dreams either move forward to live another day, or silently drift into death…

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I once wrote:  She poetically said: Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of our dreams we had during the night are out there for us to see…and it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside.”

Dawn allows us a moment to see and grasp at these dreams before they disappear.

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It is funny how vivid the mind can become in the quietness of dawn.  We can sense ourselves doing something extraordinary, just as we did when we were kids.  It seems when we were younger, dreams were more intense and crazy, and as an adult they become more serene, perhaps even mystical.

I suppose there is no comparison.  On one hand we have the younger mind of a rabid idealist versus an older mind of cynic: a cynic who realizes how much unclaimed potential we all leave out there.

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It is this strange contradictory nature of dawn and maturity that makes life interesting.  In our youth, we revel in the late night/early morning hours.  Intrigued by the peace of a post-midnight sky and the eerily quietness of the streets and the wilderness.

Breathtaking to feel so alive with energy in the dead of night, as if this moment was created for the young: the world waiting to be explored.  All the action and chaos of the previous day and night comes to a crescendo and slowly unwinds in the peaceful stillness of darkness.

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Come adulthood, for me this youthful fervor of post-midnight revelry has been replaced by an aching love for the early morning.

Being in a place like Myanmar, I feel the same wonderful spirit of daybreak that I have whether looking over wheat fields of Pendleton, pink rays breaking over Mt. Rainier in Seattle or the incredible Hong Kong harbor coming to life bathed in gold from the morning sun.

Dawn creates this state of bliss, a start of every beautiful day.

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James Douglas wrote: “it is a good idea to be alone at dawn, so that all its shy presence may haunt you, possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.”

There is much truth to this saying, which is why I enjoy this time of peace and solitude alone.  However, it can be special sharing such moments with others; to occasionally open up this time to share dreams and thoughts…

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The two weeks I spent traveling in Myanmar had endless moments of amazement, and I was so happy to be able to share it all with my sister, Sandi.  While we enjoyed our photography, the endless talks and creating adventures is what made the trip so eventful.

What good is the happiness of early morning dawn, the moment to wander among dreams, if you can never share it with others?

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“For with each dawn, she found new hope that someday,
her dreams of happiness would come true.”  ~ Cinderella

Bagan Myanmar Golden Hour - Blue Hour-81Best wishes to Ajaytao 2010, for bringing inspiration to many…

A Vortex of Inspiration in the Depths of Winter

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There are those who wake up each morning bathed in a glorious sunrise…steam rising off the hot springs outside their door as they gaze across the sky, admiring a rising sun and the beauty of nature.  A beauty whose only rival is the one they have laying across their chest as they rest in bed.

If this is you, then this post will likely not be of interest…

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Instead, as the holiday season winds down and the bleak side of winter seeps in, this post is for those who feel the dark, deep cold of the season beginning to weigh on their spirit.

This post is for the person jogging down a mountain in twilight, hoping to make it to the car before the sky really opens up with snow and freezing rain…

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While luck is on their side, as they make it to the car right before the sky opens, it is a short-lived moment of elation as they find out that once again “someone” left the dome light on in the car prior to the hike… and the only thing colder than the car battery is their sinking heart looking forward to a cold night before help arrives.

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These are the moments that tend to define the depths of winter.  Early winter has the excitement of a change of seasons: the feeling of the first crisp chill in the air, the beauty of the first snowfall and perhaps a dark-haired girl in a sweater with eyes twinkling as she takes a sip of her coffee.

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But then through the rush of the holiday season, reality begins to set in: the first snowfall is accompanied with closed roads and slush.  The crisp chill in the air is soon accompanied by a weekend cold, and the girl with the twinkling eyes…well, she keeps things fresh enough to make the winter blues worthwhile.

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To most, the dead of winter is defined by crappy weather and long periods of time stuck indoors.  And while we remain trapped inside our hellish cells of purgatory, just outside our doors the Whooper Swans are living it up.  Frolicking and almost taunting us as they swim, soar and romance as we lay tucked up inside our homes.

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Winter brings a strange mix.

While the winter landscape is incredible, the weather does not make it easy to jump out of bed and run around outside and enjoy the great scenes of sunshine and smiles.   Instead, we are faced with the joyless scene of the grey & blues of winter.

However, when inspiration strikes and we brave the wind and cold, we can shed the blues and get a spark of summer in the dead of winter.

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This spark of summer in the dead of winter is what we need to search for as February looms ahead.  As after the initial thrill of a new winter season wears off, we are tested.  The abundance of patience in which we start the season with vanishes quickly during the holiday season, leaving us with a sense of dread.

As we slowly drive each other crazy with our pacing and longing for warm, sunny days…ahead is the worst month of the year.

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We can either hide our heads and suffer, succumbing to the cold and curse it in our misery, or simply shake off the chills and celebrate winter.  A cup of Irish coffee, compatible friends and a great view from a frosted window looking out into the bleak, frozen glory of wintertime is a good start.

Somewhere there will be an opportunity to get out and enjoy what winter can offer.  With Chinese New Year just ahead and signaling a close to the holiday season, I look forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.

Cheers to all!

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NOTE: These photos were taken in Hokkaido, Japan between Lake Mashuko and Rausu.  As luck would have it, we had every type of weather making for a great shooting environment.  One of the best days was getting out to shoot in blizzard conditions as we were stranded with road closures (below photo is of John Shaw, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers).

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Sexy Mother Nature Shows-off Her Grand Tetons

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Mother Nature is proof that women rule the world.  Us men are mere toys: something to humor them when they are bored and someone to torment, yet love.  Every time I think I will be clever and try to outsmart the fairer sex…in the end I am humbled.

Understanding this is what made my late-summer plans ridiculous.

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I thought I would spend the time romancing the daughters of Mother Nature.  The plan was pretty simple: visit my steady girl Ellinor (of Olympic National Park fame), have a wonderful time together, and then later sneak off to Wyoming to visit her sisters Teton and Yellowstone, to see if their rumored natural beauty was true.

A quick trip, a simple glance and then I would head back to Seattle to be closer to my girl.

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Now, I like to think that I am a one-woman man and Ellinor is the girl for me.  I have the approval of Mother Nature, who after some initial concerns, seems to have approved of this relationship.

Despite this good fortune of having such a great lady, it is also impossible to ignore the wisps of allure from across the “room” that can spark a man’s interest: beautiful eyes and generous peaks inviting a lucky soul to walk on the wild side.

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Perhaps I mistook the twinkle of the stars in the night’s sky, for a twinkle in her eye, but before I could think, I was in my car speeding towards Wyoming, with a Johnny Cash CD blaring out the song “Jackson” and the infamous lyrics “I’m going to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around…”

Somewhere I’m sure I was thinking…“you’ve got it all with Ellinor and the Olympic National Park, can’t you be content?”  but Johnny pushed those thoughts into the back recesses of my mind.

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The description of Jackson, Wyoming has been simply stated as “an oasis nestled between the Tetons and heaven.”  While I’ve question the idea of love at first sight, I think I have been proven wrong.  Let’s just say, after my arrival in Jackson, my mind was swimming as I began looking at houses in the area, preparing for a life-changing move.  Teton was that beautiful.

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My flirtation with Teton was something I will never forget.  Sigh…  I could tell you story after story, but I know you would think it was something I stole out of Penthouse Letters so I will forego such details.

Perhaps the photographs of sunlight & reflections can paint a more accurate picture than my words ever could…

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Little did I know while hiking trails in Teton, riding on the winds out of the north, came a waft of perfume…no mistaking it came from the home of Yellowstone.  The scent of another woman, and it broke the spell that Teton had cast on me.

It was with a heavy heart, yet with a spring in my step, I snuck back to my car as dusk settled on the day and barreled out-of-town, heading into Yellowstone to camp on her doorstep for the night.

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Yellowstone.  Wow.  How could a man walk away from such a beauty without surrendering his soul?  As I heard thunder off in the distance…I realized that I had just been struck by a thunderbolt of beauty and passion.

Yellowstone, this could be a long and complicated relationship.

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As I dozed off to sleep, for a moment I felt as if I was floating in bliss with wet kisses of Yellowstone falling upon me.  With a shock, I woke within my sieve of a tent now acting as a small lake and the beating rain of Mother Nature’s fury ensuring me that my nightmare was just beginning.

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Lusting after three beautiful daughters of Mother Nature, not a situation I had expected.  Each enchanting me like no other…putting on their best face, and waking me each morning with a kiss of sunshine.  They have shown me things I had never before thought possible…and feeling a high I never thought achievable.

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It is often said you yearn more for what is unattainable, and this yearning clouds the mind.  I guess while I was singing along to “Jackson” on the way down, I missed the chorus of June Carter-Cash, “Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin’ man…And I’ll be waiting in Jackson…”

With Mother Nature adding: “to hunt you down…”

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My quick escape to Jackson was made with clothing for temperatures in the 70s, so with unexpected wind and rain, I guess you could say I was caught with my pants down when Mother Nature turned the table on me.

  • The winds pierced.
  • The cold penetrated.
  • The lightening blinded.

Rain coming on quicker than I could retreat to shelter, and on one hike when I found the ‘magical’ shot I had been waiting for, down came the hail, hard and swift.  Stinging me with a vengeance as I missed the shot, and made a long run back to the shelter of my car.

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As the trip ended, I was heading home with my head down and tail between my legs.  Fooled and humbled, yet again.

My best lines and suave charm were powerless against these beauties (and for those who don’t know me, that is not saying too much).  I was nothing more than another disillusioned soul, captivated and toyed with the hope of eternal bliss with nature.

All the same, this dash of misery with cold and wet days was quickly forgotten, as my heart still pounded with blood warmed by my encounters.  I couldn’t help but smile.

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Sure, I may be walking away with something close to pneumonia, but it was worth it.  Mother Nature seemed satisfied with my discomfort, believing I had learned my lesson.

The ride home through Montana, Idaho and Washington was beautiful…and I already had a story concocted for Ellinor and the Olympics, and I think Mother Nature is cool with it.

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These beauties of nature, some may call them Sirens, mystical women who defeat and bring men to their knees.  Myself, I prefer to think of them as Muses providing inspiration to see what is possible and create bigger dreams to chase: reflecting what is hidden in our hearts, so we can recognize our good nature and bring the dreams to life.

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As for Mother Nature, she may feel a bit put off with the title of this post, but how could a woman not feel proud of the beauty of her daughters?

The only thing that concerns me, is that while in Jackson, I heard she has three other daughters: Bryce Canyon, Arches and the Grand Canyon in the neighborhood who are said to have beauty rarely seen.  Just my type…

Couldn’t hurt if I took the time one day to stroll down there for a look…could it?!?

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Take the Bull By the Horns…

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There have been countless moments in life where it feels as if I have just been through a 7.9 second thrashing of a Brahma bull ride: long enough to feel the thrill & pain of every jolt, yet failing at the end with a ‘no-score.’   That last 0.1 seconds an eternity away.

While I have never been on a bull (and never, ever plan too…), the idea of surviving those 8-seconds necessary to score an official ride works well as an analogy in business and life.

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“8.0 seconds of fury” is not a way many would like to spend life, but eventually, we will face such a ride.  As noted in an earlier post “Let’er Buck” there are courageous souls who tackle this role with wild abandon on the rodeo circuit, and how they handle those 8-seconds can teach us mortal folks about dealing with life.

It takes an artistic skill not only to survive for those 8-seconds, but to create a thing of beauty from such a violent ride.  To score the highest possible with the cards we are dealt.

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To score the highest, the cowboy must make the ride look effortless.  So amid the fury of the ride, arrives the concept of becoming one with the animal…to be one with nature, to allow a certain peace and quiet confidence to envelope the scene.

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Synchronicity, where everything around you works together.  A moment where it feels like you can achieve anything.  Your actions appear and feel effortless as if you are doing nothing, yet your focus and results prove otherwise.

It is taking the bull by the horns, becoming so focused and primed that you flow with the jolts and gyrations that may come your way.

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Whether riding a Brahma bull, bronc, or pouring over spreadsheets and business deals: when you are in a zone, life becomes effortless.  Answers arrive before questions are asked, work is completed as if it were play.  These are the moments to live for, when nothing seems to go wrong.

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Years ago, while at the Pendleton Round-Up, I was talking with a group of bareback bronc riders who were describing how they felt during competition.  Each one agreed that ‘there are days you feel as if you are one with the animal, and it is a beautiful effortless ride…” and behind that success are years of hard work, experience, and humility.

Pendleton Round-Up-81

The one thought I took away from that great conversation in the arena, was advice I still try to follow today: “The minute you start becoming cocky and disrespecting either the animals or those around you, it is lost…the focus is gone, and you are flying through air with a hard, hard ground below…”

Round-Up-37Humility is to understand that you can always learn something, often from people and places you least expect.  From what I have experienced and seen from cowboys over the years is that there is a consistent trait of confidence and a brazen sense of fearlessness with they way they live…yet even with this confidence, they are respectful and humble.

Respectful of those that came before them, and towards those who work the land making the USA and West they way it is today: a slice of heaven on Earth.

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Life throws a lot our way, and as the immortal cowboys teach us every rodeo season with their actions, tough days are inevitable and there will be strings of rides that result in eating dirt & grass.

Such times make us who we are, as we find the focus and passion that allows us to dust ourselves off and prepare for that next ride.  For it may be the next ride, that perfect ride, to put us back on top again.

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When the time comes where we have to face the ‘agony & ecstasy’ of that 8-second ride in life, keep focus on what is ahead and when problems arise: take the bull by the horns 

Pendleton Round-Up-1

The Unrequited Love of Ellinor

Mt. Ellinor-14

Dear Ellinor,

Never do I feel more alive, than when I am with you.  You take me from the mundane and offer me a simple taste of glory.  Our affair spans more than a decade, but each time with you feels like we have just met.

Knowing that I am one of many does not change my feeling, for what we have is special.

Mt. Ellinor-10

Every time I come back to the Olympic National Forest, my mind goes back to the first time we met: I stood breathless, in awe of your beauty.  When I tackled your slopes, you offered me views that I could never imagine.

While you belong to Mother Earth, I will always consider you mine.

Mt. Ellinor-1

It is with my hat in hand, that I come again to share time with you…to find peace in the solace of nature.

It is with this same hat I give a tip to the men and women who make you accessible.  Building up the trails, making what would be an extremely difficult climb into something less strenuous, giving me more time to rest in your brilliance.

Mt. Ellinor-9

The workers of the US National Forest Service (and Mt. Rose Volunteer Trail Crew), give their working life to you, so you can give yourself to me.

You give yourself to all, but forever you will remain free.

A dash of folklore has it that Chief Seattle wrote a letter to the President of the USA, in reply to the government’s offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands.  Within the letter are some of the wisest words ever written:

Mt. Ellinor-18

“The President in Washington sends word that

He wishes to buy our land.

But how can you buy or sell the sky?   The land?

The idea is strange to us.

 If we do not own the freshness of the air and the

Sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…”

Respect the wilderness and Mother Nature will in turn respect us.

Mt. Ellinor-6

Ellinor, looking back on our time together, whether under the heat of the sun or huddled in the icy & snowy depths of winter, every time we part I leave a better man.

When the chaos of this international zoo begins to spin out of control, no matter how long we’ve been apart, inevitably I come crawling back and you always take me in.

I am grateful for your unconditional support of this restless wanderer.  Your gift of courage to take that extra step into the unknown.  To achieve greater heights.

Mt. Ellinor-4

Above: Mt. Rainier in the distance.  Below: Descending in the Dark

Mt. Ellinor-20

My knees ache more today than they did when we first met decades ago, and there will inevitably come a day when all I can do is stare up at your grand magnificence.

Jealousy may arouse in my heart while I watch younger generations march proudly up your slopes, but it will be in the guise of pride.  While impossible, I will always consider you mine.

Mt. Ellinor-17

I will shed a tear when this day comes, not in sadness or envy of those you welcome to your peaks, but a tear of grace for the time we spent together.  I love you and your brothers and sisters who surround you.

The Skokomish Wilderness and Puget Sound that form your front door, will always be there to welcome.

I simply love the life we have shared together.

Mt. Ellinor-8

You share.  You support.  You inspire.  But you do not love.

Unrequited love.  Such love holds no significance to me, for if I love you, I am happy.  With this I am secure.

It is true that you are difficult, cold, and as moody as the unpredictable weather, but when you shine you are the essence of life.  Mt. Ellinor, there are so many incredible places in the world but only in your house do I feel I am home.

Mt. Ellinor-19

On the topic of ‘unrequited love’ the philosopher Nietzsche had this to say: “indispensable…to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.”

Mt. Ellinor-13

Mt. Ellinor-5

The DPRK ~ Shooting in Pyongyang

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -6

Standing beside a small garden, a simple scene transforms into a moment that will never be forgotten.  A heart-warming conversation between a mother and her child as they laugh and happily correct the very rudimentary Korean they heard (a simple ‘hello’).  Their smiles and eyes communicate more than words ever could as they look towards this ‘big nose’ foreigner, giggling again as they helpfully pronounce 안녕하십니가 “annyeong-hashipnikka.”  As their smiles broaden, slowly the camera moves upwards hoping to capture a bit of this magic, then “pow” just like that the scene changes.  All is “Lost in Translation.”

The giggles stop.  The child runs and the mother turns away in shock from the camera.  And I am left standing wishing I could speak a bit more Korean than a poor “hello.”  Putting the camera down, the conversation slowly picks up again and this time I leave the camera alone and they once again become engaged in correcting my Korean.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -21

When traveling in foreign countries, there always seems to be a limiting factor when shooting and I have always referred to this as “shooting on a leash.”  Generally, the term leash is metaphorical, primarily due to the lack of language skills that can limit the quality of photography, however it also can be literal in meaning where there are physical barriers that prohibit the chasing of a photo opportunity as well.

Shooting in the DPRK, I am experiencing a frustratingly large mixture of both.

This is not abject criticism, as every time I travel and shoot there are barriers.  It is what makes capturing a good photo rewarding, and usually a good photographer can break through some of the basic communication issues with the locals and, if only for a few minutes (or if lucky, a few hours), become a small part of their day.

Language constraints are usually a common barrier when traveling, so I cannot make any real complaint of not being able to reach out to the locals…except that here, it is not easy.  There is an undercurrent of tension, with both the locals and foreigners not quite sure what is allowable and what is not.  One thing that does seem clear, foreigners and locals should not mix, and it is best to remain at arm’s length.

Of course, I had to be reminded of this a few times after straying a bit too close to the opposite “side” below…

Grand People's Study House

Grand People’s Study House

Grand People's Study House

Grand People’s Study House

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -7

The reason for the ‘physical leash’ appears to be pretty straightforward: distrust.  The DPRK government is well aware of idiots who have used benign footage to twist and create sensationalist reports (e.g., John Sweeney and the Panorama team at the BBC…which I hope to address later), and therefore there is a greater tendency to restrict photographers.

Unfortunately, “they” restrict without really knowing the implication of such restrictions…more criticism from the west.  It would seem that if the DPRK government would allow greater access and freedom with the local population, both sides would benefit.  Granted, it would be a scary first step for the Kim regime, but I would guess that it would win favors domestically and internationally.

Unfortunately, no such changes are on the immediate horizon and the last thing our guide needs, already with a difficult job, is pressure from above that they allowed unfettered access when it is not allowed.  I understand and do accept these terms…as there is still much to be seen, and focusing on the positive results in happiness (and better photos).

Workers on a Break (Tennis in background)

Workers on a Break (Tennis in background)

Tennis Break at Lunch

Tennis Break at Lunch

Given what I have just written, what is most frustrating, though, are the moments where it does not take much imagination to see a local ‘Pyongyang-ian’ accepting an invite to sit down over a coffee, tea or smoke and discuss life; to understand what lies within their realm, as well as to understand what lies beyond.

That is what I want.  That is what I miss.

These political walls of distrust between “us” and “them” are getting smaller, and the access to understanding life in the DPRK is not as difficult as I had imagined.  It is inspirational when such moments do arrive, even if it is just for a flicker of an instance.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -10 The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -11

Most photographers enjoy capturing emotions, to explore the lighting and natural setting that together helps to answer the question “why?”  Finding great people by following the flow of the day is wonderful.  While somewhat of a futile battle to expect this much in the DPRK, I am not giving up hope as there were true flashes of brilliance in the eyes of many today.

Almost any internet search of photos taken in the DPRK will result in many monuments, statues and propaganda, all of which are fine and interesting, yet it starkly reveals a shortage in shots of the Korean people.  I believe an unintended result of this is that it de-humanizes the DPRK population.

Why?  Perhaps because the western media refuses to focus on the human aspect of the DPRK, but mainly because the DPRK makes this easy as they keep their population hidden from the world.   The largest shock I have experienced in my few days in the DPRK is the wonderful, albeit somewhat stoic, Korean people.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -34

Above: The Arch of Triumph and Below: Film Studio

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -4

Crap, I am starting to get political again…and I do not want to.  Back to photography.

One of the great joys of ‘street photography’ is the intimate surrounding what a photographer can create.  The additional back-story within shooting a scene helps create more interesting and unique photos.  While the lack of language skills (and the political scene) makes this effort more difficult, there are still many bright moments.

When the leash is off, and a moment arrives where we can get close to locals…it is impossible not to get a little excited.

The first moment that we had some unfettered time with locals, was at one of the arts and crafts studios.  As one of my friends joked, “I think they were as surprised as I was, when we both learned from each other that we did not have claws or maniacal stares as we were led to believe!”  Both sides were getting a better taste of each other, and it was pleasant.

My first couple days, all I could think about were the locals and their very stoic faces.  I wondered if they had been indoctrinated not to talk to foreigners (as we are the source of their troubles via sanctions and restricted trade).

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -12

It was at this art studio where the softer side began to come through.  Artists tend to have more of an affinity for human connection, so perhaps that played into the scene and the connections started to click.

As our group worked their way through the studio, I pretty much trailed as doing so made it a bit easier to capture the personality of the artist and work.  After the initial unease faded away of a group of foreigners stomping in, I hoped the artist would be more relaxed and open for a connection.

An example is with this painter.  As I was carefully shooting, and mentioning a few things to the guide, he surprised both myself and the guide by shyly looking up occasionally and smiling, and finally said something that was translated as: “I hope you like my work, although this is just a simple work, if coming from the soul it can be beautiful.”

This made me feel great, although my poor American wit almost had me reply, “Did you mean coming from Seoul?” but thought better of it and instead I asked him about the colors and if such a beautiful landscape exists in the DPRK.  Captain Hindsight agrees that this was the right tack to take.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -14

The painter, and his comment and reactions, reminded me of an artist I knew in China.  A great gentleman, and as such, it made this moment much more real.  Very sincere.

There were three workshops visited: painting, pottery and embroidery.  Each was very impressive, although it was impossible not wonder where the market was for these beautiful items.  The answer I received when I asked the question was logical and concise: “they are sold or given as gifts.”  It was a natural instinct to try to dig deeper into this reply, but realized the answer was perfect as it was.

The embroidery was amazing…and earlier, when visiting the National Gift Exhibition (gifts given to the Dear Leaders from provinces around the DPRK), on display were some of the most remarkable pieces of embroidery I have ever seen.

The outside of the National Gift Exhibition was very dreary, but it hid some great wonders of work created by Koreans around the country.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -35 The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -18

On the above photo, one thing that I never really got use to was the pins that everyone wore on the right hand side of their shirts, depicting their ‘Dear Leaders.’  One discussion one night with my traveling companions, we wondered if they truly felt such a genuine emotions for their Great Leaders (a cultish feeling) that wearing the pins were extremely important, or if they were just part of a habit of everyday life and not too much thought went into pinning them on.

I will try to find out as this trip moves forward.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -17

One of the more interesting part of the art studio, was the ceramics and pottery section.  My great grandfather on my mother’s side was a potter (ended up working for Gladding, McBean in California on Franciscan ware), and while I wish I had a creative pottery gene in me, I have tried & tried again, but I’m all thumbs.

As the workers practiced their craft, it seemed as it they were in a zone.  Very deep in thought, which is why their work was impressive.  Yet, it made asking any questions risky, as the last thing you’d want to do is break into their work rhythm.

Later, our guide was disappointed that I hadn’t ask more about pottery, as she too really enjoyed pottery but laughed and said all she could make was a warped plate.  I told her all I could make an ashtray…take a ball of clay, slam my fist into it and, voilà, an ashtray.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -16 The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -15

The other area that shined was the visit to the Pyongyang subway.  Granted, it was clear that all foreigners taken to the subway would be herded to the best stations and would ride the best cars (part of the leash again), but still an experience.

On the subway platforms, there was one item that impressed the most and it was the ‘reading stations’ that were set up: a simple newsstand that held eight pages of news that could be read by the local population.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -78

It was an iconic sight, as almost every Communist fueled government that existed at some point had such reading stations, so seeing it here was somehow reassuring.  In the 1990s, during my first travel to China, such stations were common everywhere on the streets, and even today they play an important part of everyday use.

Very simple yet majestic.

One reason many Chinese come to the DPRK is to experience a culture that has very similar ties to China’s history under Mao.  Throughout the visit to the DPRK, many Chinese were amazed at how similar the society of the DPRK of today resembled “China from 30 years ago…”.

Such thought can give people hope, because tied to these descriptions of the current DPRK society is the idea that the DPRK will evolve sooner rather than later.  It is a good bet that China will give Kim Jong Un some very good advice how to transition his totalitarian government into something more transparent with ‘capitalistic’ tendencies.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -26

As for these specific photographs of the reading posts, one man stood out among the rest, as he appeared well read and also appeared, pun intended, as well “Red”, the perfect communist intellectual.  As to why he emitted such a feeling, I do not know.  Later in discussions with others about Red, they did not see anything special with this person.  That is part of mystery and power of photography.  It can tell a story from the shooters point-of-view which may makes zero sense from the viewers point-of-view (and vice-versa).

Similar to the way “we” view a certain aspect of the world versus the way “they” view a certain aspect of the world.  The ‘correct view’ may be very relative.

As for this man, now named Red, under any other circumstance a street photographer/journalist would be tempted to say hello and ask “what’s in the news today?” and have the conversation carry on from there.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -25 The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -23

Instead, due to a lack of language and a difficult environment, I took a different route and stepped back and began snapping photographs.  It would have been possible to engage the man, and it could have been a wonderful conversation – or a disappointing rebuff.  I will never know, as I took the most convenient way out.

Sometimes it is good to push the envelope a bit, and sometimes it is not.  Similar, I suppose, to how politics works, when an uncomfortable situation arises…what is the easiest way out?  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -22

One aspect of photography, and any profession I would guess, is that those who keep their emotions in check and move deftly within new environments tend to get the best results.

Regrettably, this was not me on this trip, as I was wondering around with my eyes gleaming and jaw dropped, trying to take in all that was around.  There was electricity in the air every day, and it was difficult for me not to just bounce around freely and enjoy the surroundings.  This led me to wonder how the population in Pyongyang thought of us foreigners walking around with intrigue permeating from our every breath as we took in the sights of the DPRK culture?

Perhaps sharing similar thoughts as…

  • “What are their lives like?”
  • “What will the future have in store for us all down the road?”
  • “What would happen if I asked them to sit and chat over a cup of coffee?”

No matter where in the world, I am finding out that the hearts of genuine people are everywhere, and long to be touched.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -21

As for Pyongyang, there is a feeling of strangeness just about everywhere (it is the Hermit Kingdom after all), but it also has many great similarities of cities in Asia.  It is a city with a beat and culture all its own (the strangeness), but also a city with infrastructure, rush hour, cars and buses that give it the same feel as other cities. It is these very aspects of similarities that also accentuate the largest difference that sets Pyongyang apart: there are fewer people involved.

This attracts me.  There are no large crowds, no great hustle and bustle…just life.  Just a population waiting for a great spring day when they can all come out in full bloom.  And hopefully I will be there, sitting at a coffee shop with a local “Pyongyangian” discussing life and what lies within and outside our realms of understanding.

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -28

 

The Golden Bewitching Hour of Photography

Golden Hour on Po Toi Island - Hong Kong

Golden Hour on Po Toi Island – Hong Kong

In my previous post on the ‘Blue Hour’, I insinuated shooting the blue hour provided more of a challenge to achieve a great exposure than one could get in the golden hour.  Quite a few people disagreed with me, with the complaint that shooting into the sun (and handling the glare of the sun) was much more difficult to manage.  

Granted, these two aspects of shooting a sunset can be difficult, but my point was that if you are shooting the sun, it is your only subject.  There are no other distractions to worry about, and if you are not incorporating the sun into your shot, you have the greatest light in the world to work with.  Conversely, with a lack of light and quickly changing shadows on your subject during the blue hour, the photographer needs to juggle more variables and therefore an inherently more difficult task.

Acacia Tree of Amboseli

Acacia Tree of Amboseli

However, I do agree with the difficulty of shooting into the sun, as I love the flare of her rays; a testament to the original beauty and variability of every singe sunrise/sunset.  Some examples:

  • You can capture a great set of Sun rays, while also highlighting the beauty of the land at the time of dusk.
Golden Light on LouXiaGou in Yunnan 东川红土地云南

Golden Light on LouXiaGou in Yunnan 东川红土地云南

  • You can capture a great silhouette of the beauty of the outdoors and outdoor activities.
Bird Watcher in Solitude, Po Toi Island Hong Kong

Bird Watcher in Solitude, Po Toi Island Hong Kong

  • You can capture the glow of the warm light on a number of beautiful things: landscape, cityscape, people and even wildlife.
Red-Crested Cranes in Evening Flight - Hokkaido, Japan

Red-Crested Cranes in Evening Flight – Hokkaido, Japan

  • Unfortunately, you can also capture a bunch of lens flares and blown highlights, as seen below that can disappoint…
Unintentional Lens Flare Shooting into the Sun

Unintentional Lens Flare Shooting into the Sun

The great thing I love about the disappointment of seeing lens flares is that while I know most stock agencies and companies would refuse such a photo…I still find the photos themselves pretty awesome to view.  Not to say flares are bad, because if you can get it right in a photo – nirvana.  And while I may be disappointed in the result of the flare, I do learn from my mistakes and slowly these errors become fewer (or, I am just blocking them out…).

But for me, the Golden Hour is a time of pure adrenaline because weather permitting, it produces a precious light handed down from the Gods, and that makes it hard not to take a good shot.  Therefore, I do stand beside my belief that the Golden Hour sunrise and sunset is the easier environment of the two “magic hours” to photograph.  As for a choice between sunrise and sunset, as there is nothing more difficult for me that the pre-dawn battle of crawling out of bed: sunset wins.

Kenyan Sunrise in Golden Glow

Kenyan Sunrise in Golden Glow

One thing I have not yet mentioned in either my Blue Hour post or this Golden Hour post is inspiration.  The bewitching hours of photography are perhaps the most inspirational time any artist will always have at their disposal.

Whether you are a writer, musician, poet, painter, photographer or simply enjoy the skills of other artists (which is where I fit in), the golden hour is the time of the day that excites the soul.  The lighting is special: slightly cool in the morning but with a glow that you can carry into the day…and in the evening, you can wrap yourself up in the warm light and its creativity.  Inspiration.

Terraces of Inspiration in FaZhe 法者红土地云南

Terraces of Inspiration in FaZhe 法者红土地云南

Speaking of inspiration, to all the bloggers out there that share your great ideas.  You all spark the creative fire in others.  From a post back in February from Yinyin in Vietnam (http://yinyin2412.wordpress.com/), I caught sight of a nice photo on her site of the sun breaking the horizon…with a great caption of “the scent of sunshine” which I loved.

“Scent of the Sun” is a perfect description, especially for a sunrise. I think every artist has a feel for the sun, besides just making the body feel good (and giving us vitamin D), the sun can open a corridor between our soul and the outside world.

Scent of the Sun - Inspiration

Scent of the Sun – Inspiration

So, to loop back to the beginning of this post: Blue Hour is the most difficult to photograph and is part of the reason why I like it so much: if you get it right – it can be amazing.  However, when I was looking at what photos to add to this blog…I could not believe the number of Golden Hour shots I had to choose from in my collection.  Viewing photos on the internet or in magazines and you will find that sunset shots not only dominate – but almost all of them are terrific shots.

My feeling is therefore, the Golden Hour is like the golden child…everyone loves her, for she is beautiful, intelligent and can do no wrong.  The Blue Hour is the less appealing little brother who pales in comparison to the more famous golden child.  Personally, for me growing up the only brother in a sea of three sisters, I think I can rationalize my admiration for the Blue Hour as I relate to its “unfair situation.”    🙂

Ode to the Blue Hour at Wu Meng Mountain

Ode to the Blue Hour at Wu Meng Mountain

Photography, and to a certain extent my writing, has been my artistic release, but perhaps my calling is more towards admiring the work of others.

A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend was planning to go to Lamma Island to shoot the sunset, and asked for advice.  While I told him I am not the right one to be asking, there are three general pieces of advice I can give (or rather pass on from what I have learned):

  1. Bring a tripod, and shoot off the tripod for sharp and crisp shots.
Crisp Wide-Angle of the Yunnan Countryside

Crisp Wide-Angle of the Yunnan Countryside

  1. Vary the focal lengths of your shots.
    1. Wide-angle lens for landscape (as you can tell, I like to incorporate the sun with this lens although lens flare issue are huge).
    2. A zoom lens (200mm or more) the more traditional approach if you want to feature the Sun in your shots  (tripod is often necessary).
Golden Rays Breaking in the Valley 法者红土地云南

Golden Rays Breaking in the Valley 法者红土地云南

  1. Experiment with Exposure
    1. Fast shutter speeds for silhouette shots (facing the sun)
    2. Slower shutter speeds for detail (focus on the warm light, not the sun)
    3. Bracket your shots and incorporate HDR techniques
Giraffe Family in the Kenyan Morning

Giraffe Family in the Kenyan Morning

Extremes of the Morning Sun

Extremes of the Morning Sun

And then the best advice I gave him was to go and checkout the work of others on the Internet.  Check out what the professionals do, and then try to dissect how they achieved their shot.

For me, the big three: John Shaw, Darrell Gulin and Adam Jones.  And then, from my time in San Miguel de Allende (https://dalocollis.com/2013/05/25/a-holy-time-in-san-miguel-de-allende/), Raul Touzon is one of the more creative users of light in photography that I have seen.

One thing that I have picked up from Shaw and Jones, is that the details in landscape and the nuances with how light works in those compact areas require a zoom or longer lens.  In the past, rarely did I ever pull out my zoom lens (200mm), instead I shot with my wide-angle or mid-zoom lens.  It was through looking at their work where I really learned the value in pulling out my longer lens for landscape and sunset shots.

Lamma Island Sunset

Lamma Island Sunset

I figure we will all continue to evolve, as photographers.  New equipment and ideas will ensure this happens, but also every time we go out we see & learn something new.

The idea to capture as much of the beauty I saw in front of me, often led me to pull out my wide-angle, to bring it all in…but instead at times I would miss out on the wonderful nuances of her beauty that are even more stunning.  Be flexible and creative in these hours, and go for the original shot.

FYI: For the next 3+ weeks, I will be in Northern China and the DPRK and will not have access to the Internet.  So see you at the end of June.

The Bewitching Hours of Photography: The Blue Hour

Christmas Duck Hunt

Through ‘bending of light’, an artist is able to create unique, emotional and stunning photographs. Unfortunately, light also is the most destructive force as well, as I have an endless supply of photographs with blown-out highlights or underexposed noise (aways sad news after a shoot, but good to learn from those mistakes).  I have learned that while the scene may look beautiful, if the lighting is flat and harsh, it is more difficult (if not impossible) for the camera to capture all the beauty we see.

Light is the piece of magic that fuels photography, and there is no better time to ‘bend the light’ to your imagination than the bewitching hours of photography:

  • The golden hour (roughly the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset)
  • The blue hour (the hour before dawn and after sunset).

During these hours, the creativity of the artist is allowed to flourish as the lighting provides a window of opportunities…the artist is allowed to dream, and if everything flows together the results can be spectacular.

Cormorant Fisherman of Ancient Folklore - Li River, Guangxi 丽江广西

Cormorant Fisherman of Ancient Folklore – Li River, Guangxi 丽江广西

The blue hour is the topic today, mainly because I found out that historically the ‘blue hour’ meant the time between 3:00pm and 6:00pm where the pubs in England, Wales and Scotland by law had to close their doors.  Very sad for photographers, as in the summer those are the hours when light is often at its worst (harsh and flat), and to enjoy some spirits during that time would help the creative process prior to the magical shooting hours…

Why I am attracted to ‘dawn and dusk’ is simple: great blue hour lighting is rarer than great golden hour lighting.  The photographer needs to pay more attention to both exposure and the subject at this time, more than at any other time during the day.  A great sunset alone is worth a photo without regard for any specific subject other than the light.  However, once you get into the blue hour, having a nice subject to help accentuate the wonderful light is needed.

MaWan, Hong Kong near the ending of dusk

MaWan, Hong Kong near the ending of dusk

The above shot at MaWan is perhaps 15 minutes after the official ‘Blue Hour’ but the glow of dusk to the right made this an interesting shot, so sometimes it is worth while shooting deeper into twilight.

Twilight begins in Dongchuan, Yunnan 云南红土地

Twilight begins in Dongchuan, Yunnan 云南红土地

Another reason I enjoy the blue hour so much, is from an explanation I received about the electricity of dawn from a photographer in Hokkaido, Japan.  She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of all our dreams we had during the night are there for us to see, like frost resting on the trees along the Setsari River (Tsurui, Hokkaido).  And it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside.  This makes the moment before dawn so special.”

Red-Crowned Cranes at Daybreak on the Setsari River

Crystalized Dreams and Red-Crowned Cranes at Daybreak on the Setsari River

As a photographer, we have the opportunity to shoot and record such scenes…to keep the dreams alive.  I also really liked her description, kind of a reminder that each day is a time to start anew, to look beyond at what the day can and will be.  The above shot was taken in the fleeting moments of dawn with the sun ready to breakout in the bitterly cold, grey morning on the Setsari River with red-crowned cranes.

The blue “hour” is a bit of a myth, as the length of time varies greatly, but on average there is about 30+ minutes of great shooting.  The website: http://www.bluehoursite.com is an excellent tool to use for planning your shoot.  Once you have your time worked out, then choose an area that has interesting subjects: landscapes and cityscapes work well and also think creatively with some soft light for portraits shots; a bit more difficult due to slower shutter speeds but results can be interesting.

Li River Cormorant Fisherman at Dusk

Li River Cormorant Fisherman at Dusk

The fisherman shot above was f/4, and hand-held.  Jacked up the ISO a bit and shot wide-open, but overall the results turned out OK.

Probably a good idea to also think ahead about “How to Shoot Blue Hour”, a worthwhile topic and I have been fortunate to shoot with other photographers who like to pass their wisdom on to others.  The piece of advice I have always received: checkout the landscape, the time of year and weather because each day the available light will be different and so your exposures and shooting plans may change.

With limited lighting, it is important to determine how the slower shutter speed is going to affect the shot.  Camera shake is the first issue, so a tripod is needed.  If there is any motion in the scene, then take into account that there will be blurring and then try to make that an interesting part of the shot.

For the Blue Hour, generally I shoot at f/11 or higher as I want that great depth of field and detail, and by stopping down I am better able to achieve that ‘starburst’ quality with distant lights that can create just a little more intrigue within the shot.  However, it can also be fun to shoot wide open, especially with great foreground activity, and being wide-open gives greater stability and allows you better opportunities to hand-hold your shots.

Seattle at Twilight

Seattle at Twilight

Blue Hour on a Village in Yunnan - 云南东川红土地

Blue Hour on a Village in Yunnan – 云南东川红土地

Getting the exposure correct during Blue Hour is a bit more complicated as well, so fire some quick shots and check your histogram.  For Blue Hour, I use both spot and center-weight metering, depending on the shot, and will meter off the darkest point of my composition that I want to bring out.  Checking the histogram (even if you bracket, which I often do), should result in technically better photos.

If I am shooting any landscape, I bracketed my shots (3-7 depending on lighting conditions), so I have the option of layering my photos in Adobe or run my files through the HDR program Photomatix, which captures the details of the shadows without blowing out those bright points of lights that make the scene so attractive.

Washington State Ferry Bremerton to Seattle

Washington State Ferry Bremerton to Seattle

For choice of lens, it is a personal preference but a fast wide-angle lens is one I use predominately, both to capture the “total essence and ambiance” of the scene…and when the camera is off my tripod, a quicker lens allows me to shoot crisper shots during the light-deprived Blue Hour, such as the above shot of a ferry, on a ferry heading to Hood Canal.

Blue Hour shooting is fantastic, as it also serves as a good warm up to shooting a sunrise and a warm down from shooting a sunset.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot more about both photography and the area around you.  Creative lighting situation always can be little challenging (I have walked away from many shoots with nothing to show), but there is always something new and interesting to gain.

Sunny Bay Blues - Hong Kong

Sunny Bay Blues – Hong Kong

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