Life’s a Blur

planter, blur

Summer Planter

I have a dilemma. My camera is not working properly and a new one is not yet in the budget. I don’t know what to do – try to get it repaired, start setting aside money for the newer version or even more for a better version. When I’m in this liminal space, I need to let things sit for awhile and wait for the right answer to come. I don’t have any big trips coming up and I still have my iPhone. Life is good.

My camera still operates, but I can’t change the aperture. Having limitations is a great way to spark creativity, so I planned a photo walk with my camera and a 50 mm lens. With the camera on automatic, the aperture was stuck at f/1.4, wide open, so very shallow depth of field. I turned on manual focus and dialled it all the way in for extreme closeups. When the lens was pointed towards the big picture landscape, scenes appeared in the viewfinder as a total blur.

I was seeing impressions of spring.


blur, queen street

Queen Street Corner

Abstract impressions can be created by going in close or through intentional camera movement or blur. With these impressions, details are lost and the focus becomes colour and texture, shapes and lines. It’s a different way of seeing. It’s a way to play and break the “rule” of having everything in sharp focus. Life is a blur, after all.
lake, impressions

Lake Ontario Impression

This is one of the many exercises we do in the Going Abstract workshop, which will be offered again this November. See more impressionistic images using blur and intentional camera movement on Flickr.

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Peony Love – Let Me Count the Ways

peony bud

Here I Come

An important exercise on perspective that I often give in my workshops is to spend time observing a subject and then take a minimum of 24 frames, the idea being that there are an infinite number of ways of seeing something.

Some possibilities we can’t see until we start, but if we stick with it, moving past the point of boredom, we will find something new.

At this time of year in my part of the world, there are many pictures online of flowers blooming. How many ways can there be to photograph a flower? This post was inspired by Anne McKinnell (How to Photograph Flowers), who was in turn inspired by Alex Wild (One Flower 16 Ways)

I decided to photograph a single peony flower in at least 16 ways. I started last week when I photographed the bud that you see above. It was the one in my peony bushes that I knew would bloom first. Then, I was out of town for four days and came back to find the bushes in full bloom. That first peony bloom was already past its peak.
peony lit up

peony perspectives
I’ve been having some trouble with my camera recently, and when I went out to photograph the flower, I couldn’t change the aperture. This limitation forced me to move around more. Finally, I gave up on my camera and got my iPhone. At one point, I used the slow shutter app on the phone.
peony wind-blown
The photographs, when seen together, do show the many different ways we can show a single subject.
peony partial

peony from above

I hope you’ll try this with your favourite flower.

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Stephen Wilkes, A Relentless Collector of Magical Moments

Stephen Wilkes is a self-described “relentless collector of magical moments.” In the 12 minute video below, Wilkes tells the story of how he came to do his project, Day to Night, where he compresses a day’s worth of images into one.

Photography can be described as the recording of a single moment, frozen within a fraction of time. Each moment, or photograph, represents a tangible piece of our memories as time passes. But what if you could capture more than one moment in a photograph? What if a photograph could actually collapse time, compressing the best moments of the day and the night, seamlessly into one image?

This is one of the most incredible and powerful videos I’ve seen in a long, long time. Besides being interesting, inspiring, and entertaining, there are many lessons shared about photography and life. My video notes are below.


Video Notes


I’m driven by pure passion to create photographs that tell stories.

Einstein described time as a fabric. Think of the surface of a trampoline. It warps and stretches with gravity. I take that fabric and flatten it, compress it into a single plane. I am exploring the space-time continuum within a two-dimensional still photograph.

The fun thing about this work is that I have absolutely zero control when I get up there on any given day and capture photographs.

Day to night is like a compilation of all the things I love about photography. It’s about landscape. It’s about street photography. It’s about colour. It’s about architecture, perspective, scale, and especially, history.

I’ve learned so many extraordinary things doing this work. I think the two most important are: patience and the power of observation.

These photographs begin to put a face on time. They embody a new, metaphysical vision of reality.

When  you spend fifteen hours looking at a place, you’re going to see things a little differently than if you or I walked up with a camera, took a picture, and then walked away.

The act of sharing has suddenly become more important than the experience itself.

As technology evolves, along with photography, photographs will not only communicate a deeper meaning of time and memory, but they will compose a new narrative of untold stories, creating a timeless window into our world.


What stood out to you most from this video?


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Saturday Blues

blueYou know how some of the smallest and most unexpected moments remain indelible in your memory? Ten years ago, I was at an environmental conference and someone read the excerpt below from a book by Rebecca Solnit called A Field Guid to Getting Lost. Read it slowly and take it in.

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue edge of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

The language was so beautiful and the thoughts so magical that I never forgot them. After returning home, I immediately bought the book.

This past weekend I learned that Krista Tippett’s latest interview on the On Being podcast was with Rebecca Solnit. I went out for a walk early Saturday morning, before the heat of the day was in full force, specifically to listen to the interview. Highly recommended.

During that walk, I took the photograph above. It wasn’t until I got home and was processing photos on my computer that I connected it to the “blue” piece. The unconscious works in mysterious ways.

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The Benefits of Slow Walking

slow walking
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of wandering. Recently, at the meditation and writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg, we practiced slow walking before writing, and I mean very slow, at about a quarter of our regular speed. Natalie writes in her book, Thunder and Lightning,

The walk is not a hike; I might just circumambulate my room. I probably look like a zombie, but I’m not in a trance; I’m actually paying very close attention to my feet. I’m feeling my right foot flex – those adorable toes spreading, the light spongy mass of my heel lifting, my weight shifting to the left side. Then I sense my knee bending, my right hip dropping, my body falling forward as I move my foot a small space above the floor, then settle it on the ground again. As I slow down, space becomes immense, time is huge. Lifting, bending, placing – who am I? In this unhurried, compassionate life, what is it I want to say?

We practiced slow walking around the perimeter of the Zen center at Upaya; 70 of us in slow motion, occasionally stopping to check in with ourselves. In this unhurried place, we can see better what’s right in front of us. We can hear what we have to say.

Goldberg said that most of the time when we walk, we’re focused on the destination. Our minds are already at this future place, imagining or planning what we’ll do when we get there. Slow walking is a practice that helps us to focus on the journey, not the destination.

She advised a radical reframing – receive the world as it comes, one step at a time, and respond accordingly.

In terms of photography, slow walking gives us the time and space to see what’s calling to us to photograph in the moment, instead of looking for something in particular. Sometimes we need a practice like this to slow us down, not just physically but mentally as well.

Try a slow and purposeless walk sometime soon and notice how it changes your experience.
How to Slow Down – a short video with Bill Murray

The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking – Finlo Roher at the BBC

The Wander Society Book

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Visual Stories and Poems with David duChemin

In my last post, I shared some highlights from an all-day seminar (through the Latow Photography Guild) with world and humanitarian photographer David duChemin, on the topic of voice. Today, I’ll share with you what he had to say about story.

One of the workshops I offer (along with Sally Drew) is Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. I truly believe that our photographs are one step ahead of our conscious minds. They hold clues to what we’re thinking and feeling, to what we truly love, to our voice.

Photographs also tell stories, using visual language rather than written language. This visual language is expressed through how we compose elements – light, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, etc. – and through symbols, metaphor, contrasts and perspective. Stories are expressed by the decisions we make about what we leave in and what we leave out.

In the seminar with duChemin, I appreciated his delineation between visual stories and visual poems.

Visual Stories – evoke meaning, hope, empathy, curiosity

These images tell a story similar to a written story. They have some or all of the elements of story – theme, setting, character, action, conflict, change, empathy, mystery.

Conflict (or tension) is the heart of story, In a visual story, conflict is visualized through contrast – of ideas (light and dark, men and women, work and play, etc.). It is expressed through relationships and other differences – tonal, colour, texture, lines, light, etc.

In the image above, the strongest contrast is between the surfers going one way and the non-surfers a different way. And then, there is the group standing along the shoreline. It tells a story about this day, that there is something happening.

Visual Poems – evoke mood or emotion

blue water
These images don’t necessarily tell a story. Instead, they are evocative. This is a different way to connect that is similar to music and poetry. They go straight to the heart.

Mood and emotion can be expressed visually in many ways – through light, colour, gesture, facial expression, mystery, etc. I’ve found that abstract photography is a form of visual poetry that bypasses story and goes straight to the emotion.

In the image above, the colour blue and the swirling waters draw me in to the mood of swirling, complicated emotions.

I find that my photographs tend to be visual poems rather than stories, as I’m attempting to tap into the emotion of the moment. Sometimes, a visual poem can be a story too. How the image is perceived, as a story or a poem, depends on what the photographer is trying to communicate.

If you’re interested in learning more about visual stories, I recommend this Craft & Vision e-book – The Visual Storyteller by Oded Wagenstein and to read David duChemin’s post, Tell Me a Story.

And, do consider joining me and Sally at some time for Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. We’re just finishing our second session of this workshop with a stellar group. The experience has been powerful. Sign up for my email list (above right) for bimonthly inspiration and notification of the workshop schedule.


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