Monday, October 25, 2010

Trying to be Artistic! Or, Fun with Dandelions!

Remember now, I am an engineer at heart. I have been an engineer all my life. Basically engineers only see the tiny details, the "how to" of the way things work. To actually see and appreciate the beauty that God creates and places all around us, typically goes beyond the scope of an engineer. Now, to take a step even beyond simple recognition and appreciation of beauty, is to create something of beauty.

OK, I'm really not belittling myself and all my engineer friends by implying that we can't be artistic. But, I do find it to be the general rule. So, when it comes to this photography stuff, I find it amazing that I am so enamored. Several decades back, when I first got started in photography, I got myself a nice 35mm SLR. You do remember film, don't you? In the beginning, I took a lot of pictures. Most of the family shots turned out OK. Landscape shots were a bit harder. Plus, in those days, you had to put a roll of film in the camera, proceed to shoot it all up, and take it out of the camera and take it to the store for processing so you could pay for a box of slides or a bunch of prints. The whole process took a lot of time and cost (what at the time seemed like) a small fortune. And, then you would find out that not too many of the shots turned out very good. And as for the better ones, by the time you got the prints back, you forgot how you took the shot, what setting you had used, etc. Needless to say, over the course of a few years, the excitement wore off.

So, here we are several (!!) decades later, and I've finally gotten into digital photography. Instant results! Low cost! Throw the bad shots away right away! Recognize the good shots in a timely enough manner that you can remember what you did, so that you can learn from the mistakes and successes of tonight's shooting, and apply new knowledge to tomorrow's shots. Whew, thank goodness! So, the excitement is back.

Not to mention the fact that I'm (personally, at least) wowed by the results of the sunset shots that I have managed to take. I will always say, however, that it is God that puts the beauty in the sky. But, somehow, He is allowing me to learn how to capture that beauty on film. (Well, OK, not on film actually, but on, what, a digital sensor? That sounds so awkward to say!) But, I think about all the beautiful photographs that other people take of landscapes and nature (again, capturing God's creation), and I find that I want to expand my horizons beyond the setting sun, as it were.

So, about a month ago, I went again to the Men's Retreat that my church group puts on every year. We are very fortunate to be able to enjoy a beautiful ranch setting in the high pine forests of Eastern Arizona about 6 hours ride from our central Arizona homes. The ranch is located only about 10 miles from the New Mexico border at an elevation of about 9000 feet.
Now, central Arizona (where us guys live), consists of the bleak, dry, brown, barren deserts. See the shot of the Superstition Mountains below...
Well, OK, maybe sometimes the desert isn't all that brown and yucky. But, none the less, there is a great difference between the desert and the pines in the mountains.

As opposed to the barren landscape here in the desert, the ranch is green, luscious and gorgeous. Immediately, I want to capture the greatness of the area on film (???) for sharing with those back home. Mind you, that even though I find sunsets rather easy to photograph, I find regular landscapes rather difficult. How to compose a shot? What setting to use? Should I use a polarizing filter, etc?

Without knowing what works and what doesn't, I head off around the ranch (110 acres) with cameras in tow. Every year at the retreat, I spend some time alone just walking around the property, communing with nature and talking with God. As I went along, I tried to spend some time evaluating what might comprise a nice photo. Below are a few shots that turned out OK. But, to make them look nice, with good contrast and color saturation, they all required some editing on my computer.

I tried to capture reflections.

I toyed with some of the wildflowers.

Some of the flowers exhibited wildlife, too!

I had a lot of fun with the dandelions.

And I tried to take photos of the landscape.

Oops, more dandelions.

Eventually, the day began to come to an end. As you can see, my shadow is growing rather long as the sun approaches the horizon behind me.
Off to the West, the sun is going down behind the trees.

As you can see below, the pasture and the trees are now in the shade, but the sun is still shining on the clouds. This shot is looking South East, away from the setting sun.

Looking back to the West again. Oops, looks like another dandelion wants to get in the shot.

Well, no wonder. Looking back to the East, you can see that the dandelions are all over the place!

Eventually the sun did go down below the horizon, yielding the next three shots. Yep, those are dandelions in the first shot.

The sunset was nice. But, I've noticed every year, that being up in the mountains where the air is fresh and clean, just doesn't produce as spectacular a sunset as does the dusty, dirty air that we have down in the desert.

Anyway, this final shot is us guys. That's me, at the far right with the hat on. I put my camera on a tripod, set the timer, and ran to get in the picture along with the rest of the guys. I've taken photos at the retreats every year, including a final group photo each year, but, usually I end up being the one guy that's not in the picture.

This year, several of the shots turned out OK, at least after some editing. I think that overall they were better than the shots I took last year. But, having said that, with a lot of the shots I'm still not too happy with the composition. And, I still haven't learned which setting on the camera to use to get the best results. And, when should I use a filter on the front of the lens, and when should I not? So much to learn!!!

So, the bottom line is -- learn by doing.

I hope you didn't mind this trip away from the normal sunset stuff.

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