A Random Collection of Redemptive Thoughts .
I wrote this poem a couple of years ago after witnessing a flash flood in the extremely rugged Kofa Mountains of southwestern Arizona. It boiled up fast, hit hard, and then was gone:
Plant are torched
The earth is scorched
The sun moves 'cross the sky
The wind blows hot
Relief there's not
Just sage and alkali
The peaks are jagged
Lined up in row after row
Rock and sand
A place of dread and woe
Ravines cut deep
Their walls so steep
Like twisted, snaking scars
Sky are clear...
...than clouds appear
You can see them from afar
Full of dread
Storm front rolling in
Flash of light
Then the deluge begins
Sheets of rain
Ground as hard as stone
Soon a flood
A wall of mud
The desert seems to moan
It's course is run
The clouds are on the go
And in their place
By God's good grace
Is stretched a colored bow
I cut this out of a newspaper 12 years ago and I've been carrying it in my wallet ever since. Its purpose was to be a reminder for me to love my soon-to-be wife as if every day with her would be my last. And while I've often gotten this wrong, many times these people and these words have helped to bring me back around...and I'm grateful.
"We have been running for a long, long time..."
I tear up and go to my knees every time I listen to this amazing poem. It's about a God who pursues us no matter what we've done or who we've been, and it never fails to stretch my understanding of His grace and incredibly deep love for me.
(See more of Hosanna's work at www.hosannapoetry.com)
A few years ago I spent some time at a monastery in Southwestern Missouri. While there I found the following words scribbled on a wall:
They may see the good you do
as self serving.
Continue to do good.
They may see your generosity
Continue to be generous.
They may see your warm
and caring nature as a weakness.
Continue to be warm and caring.
For you see, in the end,
it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them.
Not too long ago, on a flight home, I sat behind a couple of 40-something guys who were killing time by discussing the things in their lives that they disliked. Some of these things were universal—traffic, work, gas prices, politicians, assorted vegetables, etc. Others were somewhat harsher and included co-workers, neighbors and extended family members. After some thought I decided that there are also a lot of things in my life that I dislike, and even a few that I hate. Here, in part, is the list that I penciled on that flight:
I've recently been meditating on a book by James Weldon Johnson, titled “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” There is one sermon, The Crucifixion, which has touched me deeply. I love the way that it transitions from darkness & despair to victory and great joy. To show you what I mean I've pulled a couple of verses from different parts of the sermon:
I doodled this during a time when I felt so near to Jesus and so wanted to be home with him. A time when I longed to be 'there' and not 'here':
1st John is one of my favorite books of the bible. It is simple and tender and I love the way that John so often uses the words “friends” and “children.” He sounds sort of grandfatherly and I look forward to meeting him some day.
The majority of the images in my library were shot with Canon 35mm film camera’s, though a select few were shot in medium format with a Mamiya 645 Pro TL. Typically, I use filters sparingly: A polarizer to remove glare and allow for color saturation, warming filters to remove, for example, the blue cast found in open shade, and graduated neutral density filters to close the gap between extreme ranges of light in a given scene.
I began shooting digitally in the summer of 2011 and have since fallen in love with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography which, in a nutshell, is a process involving shooting a series of photographs of the same composition, but at different exposures, and then merging them using special software. As the name implies, the resulting photograph includes an incredible range of light and tones.
If I was just starting out as a landscape photographer—just picked up a camera for the first time—and wanted to learn how to take great nature photographs, this is the process that I would follow:
(1) First, I would take a basic class through the local Community College; they are usually very thorough AND very inexpensive, and offer a lot of flexibility in terms of scheduling. That class would be labeled “Photography 101” or “Introduction to Digital Photography”, or something similar.
(2) Once I had a good grasp of the basics I would look for people who are shooting photos in a style that I want to mimic AND who are teaching classes or workshops. I wouldn’t waste my time and money learning from photographers who are not taking photographs that are AMAZING. I can teach myself how to take mediocre photos, right? I want to be the best that I can be, so I need to learn from the best. I would find these photographers by doing a Google search (“nature photographers”) and looking through the ads in photography magazines.
(3) I would also study independently: I would read books & articles, study composition by looking at photos and paintings, and peruse the internet for sites such as these:
(a) The Luminous Landscape is loaded with great essays, tutorials, etc, and they are always adding new information by great photographers: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/index.shtml
(b) My friend, Alain Briot, has several essays, tutorials, books, DVD’s, etc. Sign up for his newsletter and receive 40 essays for free: www.beautiful-landscape.com
(c) One of my favorite photographers, Patrick Smith, has a bunch of photos on Flickr. Learn how he captured them by first clicking on the individual photos to enlarge them, then putting the cursor on top of the photo to bring out the notes, and finally by scrolling down the page to read the narrative and technical stuff. Here's the website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick-smith-photography/with/2805568891/
(4) Almost every community has a photography club; I would find the nearest one to me and join it so that I could spend time with people who are passionate and knowledgeable...and who are willing to share that knowledge.
(5) I would always have my camera with me and I would shoot a ridiculous number of images of everything that caught my eye. I would have a small notebook with my gear and write down all of the technical info as I photographed (f-stop, ISO, time of day, handheld vs tripod, etc), and then use that information to figure out why certain processes did or did not work. I would also constantly strive to improve the composition.
(6) I would almost always use a tripod!
So, to recap, my advice is to (1) take a basic class, (2) THEN take workshops or classes to learn from photographers that you respect and want to emulate, (3) study independently, (4) join a local photo club, (5) shoot tons of photographs, and (6) slow down and use a tripod!
That’s how I would do it!
I would love to answer any questions that you may have, or hear your thoughts on anything that I might have missed. You can do this by sending me an email through the “Contact” page on this website.
on the afternoon of the first day. There are three ruins in total.
Of all the landscapes that I have been blessed to explore and photograph over the years, the Sycamore Canyon area of northern Arizona rates among my favorites. It is absolutely amazing; it has the Juniper/Pinyon Pine forest and the beautiful red rock formations more commonly associated with nearby Sedona, but its official wilderness designation has kept out motorized vehicles and the tourists that accompany them. This challenge—non-motorized transportation only—has also helped to preserve some wonderful treasures, including countless Sinagua Indian ruins. The Sinagua, who were contemporaries of the better known Anasazi or “Cliff Dwellers” of the Four Corners region, reached their zenith, they say, somewhere around 1450AD, after which, as with the Anasazi, they abruptly abandoned the country leaving only rock art, artifacts, and the ruins of their homes to mark their passing.
In this image the view is from within Ruin #2, looking through the doorway, across a small courtyard and into the doorway of Ruin #1. The vertical object in the courtyard area is a charred wooden post that at one time had probably supported a roof of some kind.
At about this point I came to my senses and, remembering that I had come here for a specific purpose, began to work quickly in the fast fading light. First I set up my camera on one of the compositions that I had pre-visualized when I first walked through the complex—a room framed by the ancient doorway of a second room—and then, from my backpack, removed my headlamp, a stopwatch, and some instructions explaining the technique that I was going to attempt. Next, I carefully cleaned the lens, checked the camera’s settings, and peering through the viewfinder, held the headlamp up high to illuminate the scene. I strained in that low light to see if the image was in focus, and then locked the shutter open with the cable release and began to “paint” the beam of light from the headlamp, sweeping it evenly from side to side over my subject. After about 30 seconds I released the shutter and it was over… I had painted my first image with light and I knew that it was going to look great! Even the scorpion that scampered under my camera bag couldn’t take the joy from me. I had learned a new way to express myself through my art and I was overjoyed.
I spent the balance of the night photographing these amazing ruins and contemplating the stars which, in this clear, crisp air seemed so bright, and so close, that I felt that I could reach out and take them in my hands. I studied them for hours, and then just as I thought I had taken it all in the earth stumbled upon the Orionids meteor shower and I had to start all over. It was fantastic!
I also spent many of those long, dark hours wondering about the people who lived in that small area all those centuries before. They watched the same sky that I did and experienced, in the very early morning, the same stillness. In this now empty place, families were raised; there was play, and laughter, and teasing, and mourning. There would have been shouts of concern at the sight of enemies and excitement at the arrival of relatives. There would have been gatherings around fires—the soot of which still darkens the rock—to tell stories, and to speak of weather, crops and war. All of this ran through my mind in the quietness of that night.
Eventually, though, as with all things, the night came to a close. The horizon began to lighten, slowly at first, almost imperceptibly, before suddenly erupting into an amazing sunrise. As for me, I went into my normal frantic mode to capture it, and then hiked back to my Jeep and headed home… excited to process not just technically successful photographs, but a wonderful adventure and a new form of expression!
Here are a couple of other shots that I took over that fantastic 16 hour period:
This image of Ruin #1 was shot from behind a wall of Ruin #2. Notice that the mortar has eroded from the top of this wall leaving only the stones behind.
This is a 20-minute shot of star trails. I believe that the orange glow on the right side of the horizon has its origin in the small town of Williams, roughly 35 miles to the north. This photo is really unremarkable, but I wanted to include it so that I could show you how it relates in a really cool way to the image below.
After I shot the 20-minute star trail photograph, I re-composed on Ruin #2 and locked the shutter open. This image reveals what happens when the camera is allowed to record the same orange glow as in the previous photograph--but for a 3 ½ hour period!
I need to rid my life of the things that are keeping me from this:
Lesley and I went to a demolition derby tonight. Lots of noise, exhaust & cigarette smoke, as well as riding-lawnmower, mobility scooter and rototiller races. It was seriously sweet, and I got to share it with my favorite person!
« Older Posts
© Steve Sears – Mountainsong Photography LLC