The Lilies of the Pond

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Yesterday it was impossible for me not to think of Eunie’s death seven months ago. How I miss her. How I’ve changed. I’ve gone through another lifetime in the last few months beginning with despair and suicidal thoughts, stark fear and crippling grief. Much of that is now behind me, hopefully to return only in isolated episodes. Perhaps I am maturing in this strange new life. Loneliness remains my most troubling companion, but I’ve come to realise that it not need plague my future. My allies are my faith, my friends and naive hope.

Being here in Gympie for the last few weeks has been not unlike traveling to a different, less lonely planet. It has provided me with a wealth of distractions and allowed me to heal more rapidly. Certainly travel itself is stressful and I’ve had to make some major adjustments. The stress I felt in Madang was the pressure of the too familiar. Everything in life reminded me constantly of loss and provoked the aching in my heart. Here, at least, that is absent.

So, being in a reflective mood today, I naturally began to think about light. I think that may be a pun of sorts. I don’t usually contrive puns, because I’m no good at it. I suppose that I just proved that point.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about light from the perspective of an artist, in particular, a photographer. It seems to me, and I know that it’s not an original thought, that we do not, in fact, see the real world. Perhaps that requires some explanation. What we do see is only light. Our eyes do not respond to objects, they only sense light. That’s all there is as far as our eyes are concerned. We see only photons reflected or emitted by objects. Though this may seem a very abstract, even meaningless distinction, it’s important in the sense that one who intends to capture the essence of an object must be very aware of the roll of light in revealing the nature of the subject. Indeed, it is all we have to work with. Try turning the lights out.

In this shot of a water lily, one of the better flower images I’ve produced lately, I was working with the light, molding it, in fact, to my will:

The flat, grey light of the overcast sky did not do what I wished. It provided only the colours and the shape. I had to create depth by digital trickery. The bright glow of the yellow centre washed away the detail which I saw with my eyes, but was lost in the electronically recorded image, a common fault of digital cameras. I had to find it in the information and restore it. I was completely unsatisfied with the lack of depth in the water drops. They looked like cartoons. It took some fiddling to make them drops again.

I am the proverbial guy who knows nothing about art, but knows what he likes. I have an idealised template of an image in my mind when I sit down to work with it. My camera provides a good starting point, sometimes better than others This is the beauty of photography today. A dabbler such as myself can produce images which, in another age, might have been presumed to be the work of a master:

I had similar problems with this image. I had to dig deep in the digits and grab back what the flat light took from me. In this case I took a more painterly approach, intensifying detail to the point of parody. At least the leaves in this shot have no serious imperfections.

In this shot of a blossom just opening, I went further down the road of recreating the image to suit my ideal of it. A trick of the light made the deep center seem to glow. Again, details were nearly absent. I struggled mightily to pull them out. I’m quite happy with what happened around the outer edge of the glowing centre:

The little puddle of water on the leaf under the blossom is also a gift.

I got another gift here in the form of a busy bee:

I’m pleased by this snap shot. When working with bees, one has to be quick. They don’t pose. I also like the stems flowing across the frame. “Angled lines” is a good compositional tool to keep in mind.

Voluminous tomes have been written about light from the perspective of the photographer. I’ve read a couple. Though informative, much of the information deals with studio lighting. Since I’ve never been attracted to that kind of photography, the information is mostly academic, but it does provide insights into things an amateur might do well to think about. My advice is to learn to enjoy playing with light. In this shot, which was hopeless with the natural light, I had to find a useful way to use the dinky flash on my Canon G11:

The camera wanted to put way too much light on the subject. I had to ask the long-snouted grasshopper to stick around for a while as I fiddled with the intensity of the flash. I finally found a setting that gave me a good exposure.

Here in this shot of a very fat spider illuminated by a flat, listless sky, the problem was to find a way to give the spider some depth:

Franky, this shot would have been a throw-away if done on film and processed normally. A genius in the darkroom could have pulled up from the negative the detail present in the underexposed body of the spider. With Photoshop, it was the work of a few minutes.

Photography is much more fun for me today than it has ever been before. I can’t believe I stuck with film so long.

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6 Responses to “The Lilies of the Pond”

  1. kristy Says:

    Lovely lilies and bugs! We have been shooting some similar subjects! I took some photos yesterday of some water lilies at the hotel we were at, have not looked at them yet…since we have been traveling and sleeping off the traveling!
    Are you soon headed stateside?

  2. MadDog Says:

    Kristy, send some of your shots to me, if you like. I enjoy seeing my friends’ work. I’ll be leaving for Honolulu in three day. Then for Indianapolis in a week.

  3. Colleen Brown Says:

    Gorgeous photos Jan.. thank you for sharing and I trust your heart is healing no matter how slowly it might seem. All the best to you.

  4. Walt Says:

    That spider shot is great!

    “Our eyes do not respond to objects, they only sense light.” … hmm … that’s a interesting thought … it shakes me out of ‘auto-pilot’ mode (if that makes any sense).

  5. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for that, Walt. I know what you mean about the “auto-pilot mode”.

  6. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Colleen. Yes, it’s a slow process and I can’t find a way to hurry it along. I checked your blog. You are very talented. I enjoy your style of painting.