“Black and white images take you beyond what most people photograph.” Rob Sheppard
“With regards to the way of death, if you are prepared to die at any time, you will be able to meet your release from life with equanimity. As calamities are usually not as bad as anticipated beforehand, it is foolhardy to feel anxiety about tribulations not yet endured.” Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
I woke up today at 6:30 and decided to go back to bed. Thirty minutes later I was standing in a field taking more photos of the same sunflower as in my last post.
I remembered the tiny voice of the flower talking yesterday: Get closer it said and use your monopod. As I waited for the right light I realized that the plant was at least a foot taller than me so handheld it was.
I struggled to hold the camera steady and get as close as I could, occasionally chimping and deleting any image that was not tack sharp or at least close. As the wind picked up I had the funny feeling that this was completely ridiculous.
I think maybe the miracle of a single flower is that it doesn’t struggle, anything that happens is perfectly fine. Life could be the same way, whatever happens or is going to happen is beyond our control so resisting it is pointless.
As I was sitting in my car zooming in on each image I heard very soft laughter coming from somewhere. It turned out to be someone feeding the goats but I have a feeling that the flowers were smiling that I got the message.
Of course I’ll be doing the exact same thing tomorrow. Maybe unusual things made from wood, shot wide open, converted to black and white and resized to exactly 1000 x 1294 (more or less).
I stood there staring at this sunflower for what seemed like an hour but was probably a minute. Knowing that if I could see the miracle of a single flower my whole life would change was promising but nothing was happening.
Then I heard a tiny voice that said: Take a picture already you dope! Since I was going to do that anyway, I framed the shot but before I could even check my settings the voice said: Get closer you moron!
Now I was starting to get agitated, a word I only use on Tuesday when flowers talk to me. She told me to get the moon in the background, shoot in manual at f/8 and use the monopod in my car.
Realizing that flowers rarely talk to me I figured it was just a vivid imagination and ignored her. I shot at f/5.6, handheld and didn’t get the moon in the frame which was already fading into the day.
There’s an old adage that says if you think you’re insane you’re probably not, but it may be worth getting my meds checked when I see my shrink this week.
“Thinking is learning all over again how to see, directing one’s consciousness, making of every image a privileged place.” Albert Camus
When you photograph sunflowers in color, you photograph their leaves. But when you photograph them in black and white, you photograph their souls.
It might be art, but in this case it’s a photo of a sunflower that just opened up today. I used the crosshatch filter in Photoshop adjusting the stroke length, sharpness and strength.
There are dozens of filters to choose from, each with several different options and you can add other effects in literally thousands of different ways, maybe even hundreds of thousands.
People say that you can learn Photoshop in 50-100 hours, but it really takes years to get anywhere close to mastering it. It would probably be faster to learn to paint with oil on canvas, but it would definitely not be easier.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, discovered in 1927 states simply that the act of observation changes the thing observed. In this case, when I set up to photograph a flower it moves just enough to make getting a sharp image unlikely.
It might have been the tractor trailer trucks going by inches from where I was standing or it might have been the breeze from the coming storm, but I don’t think so. By observing I changed the thing observed.
So there are a few options to bypass this principle: the first is to raise the ISO to get a faster shutter speed. The second is to use a wider aperture for the same reason, and the third is to pretend to be satisfied with a fuzzy shot.
I left the ISO at 200 and the aperture at f/4 just as an experiment and almost all the shots were so sharp I could see the daddy long legs laughing at me. But I liked this one at f/2.8 better.
As Werner Heisenberg himself said: “There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them.” In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff and if necessary convert to black and white.
I stopped at an Amish flower stand to check out the sunflowers I saw last week and an old woman on a bicycle rode up and said hello. I mentioned how big they got and she told me that she didn’t plant them, it was the birds.
When I asked her if any were flowering she told me there was one on the end of the row but something was wrong with it, it wasn’t perfect. I walked over with the curiosity of Schrödinger’s cat and wondered what she meant.
As soon as I saw it I knew that it was absolutely perfect! The leaves protecting the flower were growing at an odd angle but it was very healthy and probably happy to have someone care so much about it.
I took a few photos as the clouds burned off into bright sunshine, the kind of bright that makes color photos of flowers look washed out, so I knew I would end up converting this to black and white. I thanked the woman and told her she made my day.
“Do you think it will be OK?” she asked me before I left. I was a bit surprised at the question but I figured she was used to dealing with two headed calves and vegetables that grow to look like genitals, the Amish hate when that happens. I assured her the flower would be fine.
The Buddha said: “Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up because you will lose the ability to learn new things. Move forward with your life.” I didn’t tell her that because she was close to 80 and I’m sure she has life pretty much figured out by now.
I read a review for a windscreen a while back in Motorcyclist magazine that said it’s always too hot, too windy, too cold or raining. But after 90,000 miles on my bike I found that there are some days that are as close to perfect as I could ask for.
Today was not a perfect day to photograph a half inch sunflower bud. It was too hot, too windy and it was only a matter of time until it rained. But over the course of almost an hour I managed to get a shot I was happy with, though far from perfect.
Ultimately every day is perfect because it’s the only one we have. But saying that and living it are very different things. There is a popular saying that if we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. I’m going to keep looking.
“i am with the roots
sending up my passionate blossoms
as a flight of rockets
wine churls my throat,
feet walk upon my brain, monkies fall from the sky
of the planets,
but i seek only music
and the leisure
of my pain”
Charles Bukowski, The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems
“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” Sylvia Plath