Indoor Time

Very distorted window

Most of us are having to adjust to rather extreme temporary measures in our daily lives. Our focus has become on indoor time.I won’t say it is a “new normal” because I hate that phrase and it is tossed around too easily.

This has caused most of us to spend way more time indoors than we are used to and are comfortable with. As photographers, we are accustomed to being out shooting a lot. So what are you doing with your new indoor time? I’ll give you a brief rundown of some of what I am doing.

Filing

I hate to admit it, but I was thousands of images behind in sorting and tagging and grading. I have spent MANY hours in Lightroom recently trying to get caught up. I’m not there yet, but I have dealt with thousands of images. That is tiring.

But it also can be rewarding. I have run across a lot of images I had mostly forgotten about. It makes me feel good to find these pockets of images I really like. It encourages me that maybe I have a history of making decent images. Plus, they remind me of good times and great experiences I have had.

Do I really need to do all this detailed filing? Probably not. But it is critically important (to me) to go through the sorting and filtering process to narrow them down to the set of images I am proud to show to anyone. For me, this takes several rounds of serious evaluation and making hard choices. It is very difficult for me to “let go” of images I really like that don’t make the cut.

Post-processing

Along with filing comes post-processing. This seems like a never-ending struggle. Trying to catch up on thousands of images that have not been processed yet brings with it the opportunity to edit many of them.

I am constantly learning new techniques for processing in Lightroom and Photoshop. So this is a great opportunity for me not only to catch up, but to practice some new methods and get more efficient. And my values and vision seems to evolve all the time.

I make it harder on myself because I am often not content to process an image and have done with it for all time. No, every time I take a new look at many of my images I have a different inspiration about what to do with a few of them.

So between trying to catch up on a backlog of lots of images and re-processing many that I see differently now, I have a lot of work. Luckily I enjoy the post-processing in the computer. I view it as one of the creative parts of photography. But it is very time consuming.

Backup

Yes, I am a computer nerd. Well, I used to be. Now the computer is just a tool. I no longer have an intimate relationship with them. But as I have written in the past, I am fanatical about backup. This has been an opportunity to review my system and make some changes.

I have levels and levels of backup. One of the last levels is rotating storage offsite (where they’re then backed up again. ☺ ). My offsite disks have been too small for a while to hold all of my main catalog. I had to restrict them to the “most important” images. That has been uncomfortable. It was a chink in the armor. So I took this opportunity to replace the offsite storage with larger disks. Now I can backup everything in my main catalog to each of them.

WD makes some great little portable disk drives. This MyPassport drive seems very reliable and pretty fast. And the physical size is amazing for 5 Terabytes of storage. I do not receive any benefit from referring this. I included an Amazon link, but, honestly, I would recommend finding another vendor.

Warning, when you attach a 5 T disk to your system don’t think you are going to just copy your files to it and be done in a few minutes. If your computer can transfer data to the backup at a rate of 100MBytes/sec, it will take a few days to do the initial copy. Subsequent updates only take minutes, because they typically only affect a few GBytes. There is 3 orders of magnitude between a GByte and a TByte.

Study and read

For an introvert like me, free time means reading or study time.

One of the benefits of the popularity of photography is that there is limitless information available, online and in books. You remember those things printed on paper, don’t you?

Ah, but that glut of information brings other problems. Who do you trust? How to separate the useful from the useless? There is a lot of bad or useless information out there. You can learn good information from a bad example, but I don’t recommend it unless that is the only alternative.

I admit to being rather jaded. I am technical and creative and very experienced. It is hard for me to find someone I trust to give me good information. I don’t want to come across as arrogant. This is something that happens with lots of experience in a field.

Two instructors I can recommend who consistently do great training are Dave Cross and Ben Willmore. They are fantastically deep in their knowledge of the tools and are good communicators. Plus, they mostly teach how to use and understand the tools, not “cookbook” methods for copying the results of someone else.

So, in the spirit of good disclosure, I have been spending a lot of time on CreativeLive, KelbyIOne, The Nature Photography Network, John Paul Camponigro’s web site, and B&H’s archive of videos.

I have also been reading books for inspiration, such as Creative Black & White, by Harold Davis, and More Than A Rock, by Guy Tal.

Study your equipment

I believe intimate knowledge of your equipment pays off. If you can’t use your tools rapidly and with little thought they will get in your way rather than help you be creative. This is an opportunity to spend time practicing with your camera.

I moved to a mirrorless body about a year ago. I confess that I have struggled with it some. It is not as convenient and user friendly as a larger and more mature DSLR. I am comfortable using it for normal day to day shooting situations, but I could not pass the blindfold test like I could with previous bodies. That is, I could not reliably set the camera up for a particular shooting situation blindfolded (or in the dark).

I love the quality of the images from the mirrorless camera, but I am having to spend extra time making it natural and intuitive to use. I am working on that as part of my down time.

Get out and shoot

I may make some people mad for saying this, but I am out shooting almost every day. Our officials here kindly allow us to be out walking, biking, etc. I take advantage of it to wander with my camera. I try to get out walking 2-4 miles a day. It is very good for me health-wise and for my sanity. Plus I like to practice shooting every day. Sometimes I even get a decent image.

I also occasionally jump in the car and drive out of town for some photos. For instance, we had an unusually large snow last week (as I am writing this). I was out all afternoon shooting. It was great and very refreshing! For the sticklers, I was never within 20 feet of another person. But then, I do not worry about Covid and I am not concerned about catching it when I am out and about. I refuse to be paralyzed by fear.

Time well spent

These are some of the things I am doing in my “confinement”. I hope I will look back on it as time well spent. A chance to regroup, catch up on some things, refresh and recharge. I hope you are able to make productive use of your time indoors, too.

Let me know how you are doing. I would love to hear from you. Sign up to receive notifications. Please visit my gallery site and let me know what you think.

I hope you are well and I’m glad you’re reading! Even if it is because you are bored. 🙂

Behind a Mask

Road to hope

It seems like we are all looking at the world from behind masks now as the Covid-19 virus keeps most people locked in. There are other masks, too. It can be a metaphor for several things.

I’m going to talk about fear and isolation. But I want to be clear, if you or someone you are around is in a vulnerable health situation, then you absolutely should take precautions. I’m going to address the wider population.

Photoshop masks

I have used layers and masks in Photoshop for longer than I can remember. Masks are a great invention here. They allow very selective and detailed editing or modification of anything in an image.

Photoshop masks are one of significant features that allows Photoshop to be the most powerful and respected image editing software available. I will go out on a limb and say that virtually all serious Photoshop users use masks.

But there is something special about Photoshop masks in regard to the metaphor of masks as I am talking about them today. Photoshop masks are completely a private, hidden thing. I use the masks as much as I choose to, but it is not visible or obvious to anyone looking at my image. It is a private thing between me and my image. No one knows if I used a mask and no one tells me I need to use one. No one cares, unless I’m “talking shop” with a colleague. Photoshop masks are not something we wear in public.

Face mask

Now days, though, most of us have to confront wearing physical face masks when we are in public. Fear of this horrible virus has made the world go crazy. Fights have broken out, even shootings over whether people are or are not wearing them. In some places you could be fined or even arrested for not wearing one. Even if not, you may be shunned or abused for not wearing one.

What is this doing to us as a society? What is it doing to the kids? What precedents are being set for the next supposed crisis?

How did a simple piece of cloth wrapped over our face come to mean so much to so many people?

Fear

Fear drives this panic. The media pumps it and thrives on it. Anything that causes widespread fear uncertainty and doubt generates ratings and revenue for the media. For weeks, every single story on my local media was about the virus. Follow the money. Only recently will something like a gory killing get a spot in the news.

But the media is giving most people what they want. People have decided that this panic is important enough to control their lives. It is too dangerous to go outside or be with people. Something bad may happen. Better to huddle inside. Don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Don’t go shopping. Don’t support you local businesses.

It might not be safe.

Death isn’t the enemy, fear is.
Ellen Gilchrist

Success tends to go not to the person who is error-free, because he also in risk-averse. Rather it goes to the person who recognizes that life is pretty much a percentage business.
Donald Rumsfeld

Speaking of the percentages, let me put some of this fear in context. As an Engineer in a past life, I look at data. Based on numbers published in the Washington Post on May 18 2020, the probability of you dying of the Covid virus in the US is roughly 0.0003 right now (90,991 death out of roughly 300,000,000 people).

You are much more likely to die of heart disease or cancer. You are at greater risk when you get in your car and drive somewhere. And over 60,000 people die in the US each year from the flu – that is every year. All depressing to think about, but there is always a non-zero probability of you dying at any time. You could be struck by lightning or hit by a meteorite.

But we shut down the whole world because we are afraid of this particular problem.

Hiding

So we hide. Being alone or just with your immediate family, who you can’t get away from, must be safe. Safety is everything.

Going to school is not safe. Going to work is not safe. Visiting with your neighbor is not safe. Eating in restaurants is not safe. Going out walking is not safe. If you get a package you ordered from Amazon, let it set a couple of days before opening it, just in case. To be safe.

Put up the shields, our face masks, when in doubt.

Where did our faith in these little patches of cloth come from? A mask won’t do much to protect you from the virus unless it is made from appropriate materials and is thick enough. Very few of our homemade masks are effective. A mask won’t do much good unless it fits properly. Few do. And if you have facial hair, like I do, they are generally useless.

For the most part, these have been sold to us by the authorities as a talisman to help us believe we are doing something to stay safe. Like most juju, they are mostly for making us feel good.

Our masks are something to hide behind. To hold up to the world as an amulet to ward off evil spirits. Not necessarily a placebo, but close.

But at what cost?

Isolation

Huddling at home, not going out except for emergencies, shunning all people – these things have a cost that may be greater than the cost of getting the virus.

Despite all our wonderful technology, society and human beings work on personal interaction. It is critically important to interact with people. A smile or a touch means much more than a long email. Seeing a friend and shaking hands is vastly better than any text message. No matter how many emojis you use.

A mask is a barrier. It is a wall. It says I am afraid of you so I am distancing myself. It says I assume you are dangerous so I am keeping away. It says that my perceived safety is more important than whatever interaction we might have had. It says I am retreating within my shell where I don’t have to be with you. Because I am afraid.

And on a more personal level, it says I am willing to live my life under cover, huddled indoors, in fear because the world around me may not be safe.

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?
Steve Jobs

I’m not willing to hide from life and people. I want to use all I can of today.

Normal

Where we are is not a “new normal”. It is a temporary panic. A world ruled by irrational fear. I hope that a long term effect of this is to make people re-evaluate their priorities. Decide what is really important.

Jobs are important, but it should not be the center of your life. Entertainment is fun, but only as an occasional distraction.

What are the things you have really missed during this lockdown? Is it family, friends, socializing with people? Even visiting with the people at work? Hugging or shaking hands with friends? Going to church with your people and singing and praying together? Sitting around people at a restaurant, being awash in the social interaction? Getting together with a group of friends and just talking?

We have been denied this things. We have been told that perceived safety is more important than people. I believe our leaders have been wrong. Their fear for the safety of a few has caused massive distress for the many. We need to help our world get back to a better place.

We need to stop hiding behind a mask and get back together with people. We need to evaluate what our priorities are and work to make sure they happen. Living in fear is unhealthy.

Post-Script

Many of you may not agree with me. That is OK. I hope to generate thought, not necessarily praise. Since I set out to be more self-disclosing in this blog I thought it important to say something about the largest event going on in the world around us right now. I promise, though, that writing about current events will not be a regular thing.

I value your comments and inputs. Let me know how it is going for you and what you think!

Being There

What does it mean to “be there”? How do we be in the moment so well that we are receptive to the inspiration all around us? In today’s world, how can we push out the distractions and noise to find creative space?

This is just a quick fly-by of a deep subject. That’s because: I’m not smart or wise enough to do it justice, I’m not a philosopher – I can’t drop enough cow pies in the text to speak that language, and you don’t want to go there. Going too deep in the concepts will suck the life out of a potentially rewarding idea. But let’s try.

The philosopher Heidegger articulated this idea of being there (German word “dasein”). I”m not going to step into it, but it involved coming to grips with what it means for a person to “be”. The realization that we are self-aware, we are an individual, that we have a limited life span, that we must make our own choices, discover our own truth. The opposite state is to give up this responsibility. To escape into the world and lose our identity into the general “them”. Sounds like the Matrix, right?

Bubbles

I want to push on this idea of losing our identity in the noise of the world. Look at your own life. Think back to just a few years ago. Are more sources of distraction claiming a larger portion of your time now? Not just your job, but social media, entertainment, communication. Look around at any public place, from an airport to a restaurant, and you will see most people with their face buried in a screen. Their attention is given to something artificial. They are being controlled by something outside of themselves.

Are you defined by your number of Friends or followers? What happens if you miss the latest episode of The Bachelor? Do all messages or emails need to be responded to within 1 minute? Do you message someone sitting next to you because it is more comfortable than actually talking to them?

Not one of these things is inherently evil. The problem is the cumulative effects of them dominating your life. One writer likened it to being in a bubble. You tend to become self-focused and unconcerned with the people and the world outside of your bubble.

And those bubbles sometimes look like a comfortable place since most of us live in cities and something like 93% of a typical American’s day is spent indoors or in vehicles. Who wouldn’t want to retreat into a place where we seem to have some control?

Down time

But there is a dangerous by product of all of this noise and activity. The human mind needs a certain amount of down time to rest, to make connections, to figure things out. In addition to sleep (which many of us don’t get enough of) we need to take time to just be in our head. Shut off the noise and stimulus. Stop the flow of new information. Be in the moment for a while.

We need time like that to “catch up”, to think and analyze, to sift through the clutter.

This is not wasted time. Even if you sit and stare at a wall for 15 minutes, that is healthy. Shut off the outside world, including music. As a matter of fact noise canceling headphones can be a good idea.

At first it will be uncomfortable. You will feel like you are missing out on something. That’s OK, it will wait. You will feel restless because you are not used to going even a few minutes without external stimulation. You will get over it and start to eagerly look forward to the brief captured solitude. Best of all, though, you will start to take back control of your thoughts.

Creatives

What was all of that? This is supposed to be about the creative life. How did I veer off into philosophy and self-help kinds of things?

I believe we creatives are especially vulnerable to the effects of too much noise in our heads.

I can only speak for myself, but I can’t create anything useful when there is too much noise and distraction in my head. To do my work I have to unplug and find quiet to hear the small voice within me that will help me find the resources I need. For some parts of my art it can be an isolated indoor environment, e.g. at my computer. But for most of my image making, it will have to be outside.

I know from experience that I have to be quiet in my head, which means no internet or email or videos or even music. This is an internal peace. I can find images with a train roaring by next to me. That is just the outside environment. But I have to clear my head and open my eyes to be receptive. I know from experience that if there is noise in my head I will just not see the same images I would if my head were calm. I will miss many things that I would pick up on without the noise.

If you are a wedding or commercial artist your needs and/or approach will be different. But if you are doing non-commissioned fine art I suspect you may share a lot of similarities with me.

Feed your head

For all of us, please, practice taking some time for your head. Unplug for serious time. Get your mind off the drugs of our fast paced, high tech culture. Give yourself some time to think and regroup. Unplug from the Matrix. Take time to reflect on who you are and what it means to be a person. Feed your head, which sometimes involves giving it a rest. Maybe Jefferson Airplane was right about something all those years ago.

I will follow up more in a future article. I might even get into forest bathing. 🙂

Aging Well

Rusty old Chevrolet

I”m not necessarily talking about me or the state of health care for the elderly in the US. One of the subjects that calls to me is how some things age with character. Aging well is of interest to me personally and as a photographic study.

A couple of weeks ago I used “Not all who wander are lost” as a theme. This is from a J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Fellowship of the Ring. This time I want to focus on another line from that poem: “The old that is strong does not wither”.

Discard after use

The US is a “use and discard” society. This is as true of people as it is of paper plates. (Try getting a job if you’re over 50). That is a shame and a moral dilemma to consider another day. What I want to talk about here is our short sighted view that things have to be shiny and new or they have little value.

It used to be that many things were designed to last a long time. Designers were not sophisticated enough to create things to be cheap and only last for a short time. Most people only had 1 or 2 sets of clothes. They wore them until they wore out, then salvaged what they could to make other things. Cars may not have been very reliable, but mechanically they lasted a long time. A set of plates was made to hand down to generations to come.

No, I have not become consumed with nostalgia for the “good old days”. We are living in the best times as far as goods being reliable and affordable for more people.

I’m a designer. When I come across something that is designed well I’m impressed and I have respect for the designer. Many times these kind of things are aging well, too.

Wabi-Sabi

It’s hard not to go all “Zen Buddha” on this topic. I will touch very briefly on the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. Briefly because this is a very deep and rich subject that requires much more time and space to develop. Also brief because after a lot of reading on the subject, I am barely scratching the surface.

The concepts of Wabi-Sabi don’t translate to Western languages very well. At a simple level, it is concerned with the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Rather than throwing away a cracked pot, they might fill the cracks with gold to emphasize the beauty of the imperfection of the object. A simple pottery cup used in a tea ceremony may be chipped and stained from long use, but that makes it beautiful and unique in their view. At many levels this is beautiful and healthy.

But I’m not Japanese or Zen. I appreciate the depth of some of this philosophy, but how can I use it in my everyday work?

Aging well

As I get older (I’m already older than dirt) I appreciate things that have stood up to the passage of time with a certain elegance and, maybe, defiance. Some thing seem to have more character than our typical modern discardable products. And these same overcomers seem to develop more character as they age.

It seems that most of the admirable things I encounter are mechanical or works of Civil Engineering. Our modern technical products seldom age well and haven’t had a chance to age very long. But take a Detroit vehicle, say from the 1940’s to 1960’s. These are still there, defying the weather and elements, still holding their shape, and it’s a shape that has style and personality.

I think, for me, that idea of these objects shaking their fist at time and proclaiming “I’m still standing” is very encouraging. Yes, they may be all rusty. Their glass and seats are cracked. The engine doesn’t run anymore. But the product the designer created is still there. The thing that people created out of steel and rubber and paint and leather is still recognizable. It is still pretty sound. You have to think that some scraping and polishing and paint would restore it to it’s glory. Indeed, some people make a living buying these old survivors and restoring them.

Badge of honor

Even if it will never be restored, never run again, it is still there in evidence. It resists the passage of time. It rusts, but that adds a new certificate of accomplishment to it. The cracked glass can take on a new beauty. It acquires a grace that is only paid for through years of weathering.

These things call to me. I like to stop and acknowledge them by making a portrait of them. I want to remember them and be encouraged by them. These things are not just a rusted heap of scrap metal. They have acquired a character that few objects achieve. They are treasures. The designers who created them are probably long gone, but their work still give testimony to their accomplishments.

I hope to weather well. I hope people will look at me and admire that I am still defying time: He is old and scarred but still there. He may be cracked and rusty, but it has a certain grace to it, too. Time changes everything and always wins in the end. I am encouraged by things that pass gracefully into time.

What Are You Going To Do?

Isolated, Quarantined

As I’m writing this many of us are stuck at home, effectively quarantined. It’s the Covid-19 virus, of course. The world seems to be in a panic.Many people seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off. But what are you going to do?

Panic seems to be consuming the world, at least if you listen to the media for long. And our political leaders must spend most of their time listening to the media and looking for ways to feed the panic. A great line in MIB is “a person is smart, people are stupid.”

People seem to be panicked because they are not “safe” anymore. As if they ever were. We are never safe and we never actually control our circumstances. You have a better chance of getting killed in a car wreck tomorrow than to get the virus. The illusion of safety is the unrealistic goal the media holds up and the fears of not being safe are what whip people into panic.

You’re stuck at home

So. you’re stuck at home for a while. You can’t go on with your normal routine. That’s great! Make some changes! Use this as a blessing. Do things for yourself. DO NOT spend your time panicking with the herd on social media or numbing yourself with hours of movies on Netflix. Take the opportunity to improve yourself and grow.

In an email, Srinivas Rao makes this observation: “he told me a story about a man in China who was quarantined for 40 days after contracting the coronavirus. The reporter interviewing him asked how he spent his time. And he told her

‘I’ve always been a terrible cook. So I learned to cook. I also taught myself another language.’

There’s a profound lesson in this story. Time and attention are precious resources. You can use them to consume content that continually stokes fear. Or you can use [them] to create content that fuels hope for yourself and others.”

This is an important observation. For me, I am going to double down on coming out at the other end of this session a better, wiser, more capable person.

Use the down time

Take classes. Study a foreign language. Read. Write. Create – begin to, even if you don’t think you can. Whatever it is that draws your interest, challenge yourself to get deeper in it.

For me, I am committed to pursue some personal projects with my art. I am also committed to learn and internalize several new photographic techniques that have intrigued me for a long time but I have never had the block of time available to really dig into them. I plan on reading several biographies and history books I have wanted to get to, as well as a fluffy fiction or 2, just for relaxation. Oh, and, I’ll admit, one of the big vices I have, watching Aussie Rules Football. It is the only sport I like to watch, and it may be the only one still being played.

Maybe you never thought of your self as a writer. But you can write to friends. Direct email them rather than using social media. Better yet, you know those pieces of paper with stamps on them? Do it. They would love to hear from you.

Be prudent, not afraid

I mentioned the fear that paralyzes many. So far what I observe validates the MIB quote I used earlier. While on the media I see panic and hoarding and people barricading themselves in their houses, I don’t actually observe that from normal people around me.

I just returned from traveling back and forth across much of the country to see family. We ate out at nice restaurants every day, went where we wanted to,Ubered, went through airports and flew in airplanes. I saw a very few (like 6) people wearing masks, none on the airplanes.

Today I went out for a nice walk in the afternoon. The weather was good and I walked down through a natural area by the river where I live. I was surprised and encouraged that the parking lot at the natural area was completely full. I couldn’t see an empty space. Lots of people were our walking, walking dogs, running, bicycling, etc. Families with little kids. Old people (old means older than me). And they were friendly and good natured and sometimes wanted to chat. It was great to see.

My wife went up to Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe today. She said it was very crowded for a Wednesday. Same thing. People were out enjoying nature and using their time well.

I am in one of the high risk groups for the virus, but I don’t huddle inside. I don’t believe in living that way. Safety is an illusion. Be prudent, but live a worthwhile life.

Your time is short – and precious

It seems that a learning from this is that we are only given a very short burst of time on this planet. We should consider every minute precious. We should do what we can every day to improve ourselves and help others. Develop the habit of being grateful for what we have and what we can do right this minute.