Into a Different World

After a long winter with much snow and low temperatures, I openly admit I have immensely enjoyed two weeks of the warm, dry season in Belize. It’s been two fabulous weeks of holiday. No chores, no schedules, no stress and no phone calls.

Belize is foremost know for its amazing nature, whether we talk about the lush rainforest, the many impressive caves, or the country’s extraordinary coastline protected by one of the biggest underwater reefs in the world. I got to spend one of my two holiday weeks exploring these reefs with their colourful abundance of corrals, fishes and other sea life.

The photographer in me went wild as soon as I immersed myself into this different world. Since I wasn’t on assignment I felt free to do whatever I fancied. I could play and I could let go of any inhibitions or fixed ideas about how a photograph ought to look like. The pure change of environment—compared to what I usually photograph—was inspiring in and of itself. It was just as if the different nature, literally and figuratively, of the underwater world impelled this more playful approach—all the way from the moment of capturing to the final processing.

To capture the extraordinary life you find in and around corral reefs in a compelling way requires both extensive experience as an underwater photographer as well as good diving skills. Since I don’t possess either—as I am not diving enough on a regular basis—I tried to bring my regular photographic vision down into the underwater world.

Instead of looking for amazing creatures and trying to capture them, I would rather play with many elements within the frame, whether it was divers, a fish incidentally passing by or the corral reef itself. I would try to find meaningful or funny juxtapositions and above anything I was looking for space and trying to create a stage for everything to coincide on. This idea of a stage has become one of the backbones in my visual approach. It has the same purpose as a stage in a theatre. It holds the story of the photo together and creates a three-dimensional impression. In the underwater world, instead of photographing a fish up against the corral reef, I would turn around and try to capture some of the open sea behind it or even a diver in the background. It’s like props and backdrops on a theatre stage.

With this post I have selected a handful and a half of the many photos I took at the reef in Belize. I hope you enjoy them as a glimpse into a different world.

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Pure Light

Sometimes I feel I have been struck with pure luck when I am out shooting. I am sure you have all felt it at some point. When suddenly the light is right, you are at the right place and the right time and everything is just set up for capturing enchanting photos. Of course, most times, it feels like the opposite, but every so often, all variables come together as if it was meant to be.

Such was the time when I was out enjoying the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA, between Christmas and New Year. My love one and I had decided to spend a handful of days at the north-eastern-most point of the contiguous United State. It wasn’t a photo trip as such, but of course I had brought my camera and some lenses.

One day when we visited Shi Shi Beach, the afternoon sun bathed the coastline with golden and forming light. It came out through layers of clouds, streaming like ethereal rays from the sky above. Even I, who don’t regard myself as a nature photographer, felt the majestic pull of the landscape.

The afternoon went flying with capturing the scenery. I concentrated my approach to capture light and shadows together with the structures and forms of the landscape; the rocks, waves that hit the coast and the beach itself. It was all about graphics and lights. However, the intense and low sun made for such immense contrasts that it was at times almost impossible to capture it all. I set the exposures so that the highlights would be rendered within the latitude of the sensor’s capabilities (and even a little overexposed since I am working with RAW files that allows for some recovery of burned out highlights). Still the shadows would grow almost completely black. That was one reason why I concentrated on capturing strong graphic images rather than rich and full sceneries or details.

To further enhance the challenges with the harsh contrasts, the best images were captured with the sun streaming directly into the lens. Backlight creates dramatic photos but is also challenging to control. If nothing else, it surely widens the contrast significantly. Sometimes I didn’t even had to take any photos—there was no way I could handle the contrasts, but at other times when I overcame the challenges, I surely was rewarded with spectacular images.

I am usually a wide-angle photographer, but this time I had brought my 100-400 lens in addition to my regular lenses. It’s a lens I rarely use, but I knew with the rock formations at the coast of the Olympic Peninsula it would come in handy to compress the perspective. On the other hand I had to work harder to render some feeling of three-dimensionality since the long telephoto lenses flatten the images. However, challenges are always fun, and working to overcome both contrasts and two-dimensionality increased the sensation of being in a special place and time.

I hope you enjoy the handful of images I show here from the trip.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the zoom lens set at 20,6 mm (the equivalent of a 46 mmm for a full frame camera). The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed first with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded in Instagram.

The Magic Pond

© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland

Over the next couple of weeks, I will present the work of participants of last year’s online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». First out is Lee Cleland. During the last four weeks of the workshop each participants work on their own personal project, and Lee chose to photograph a small and elusive pond, surrounded by an open cluster of trees. The pond is situated in a large and lush landscape, and provided Lee with amble opportunities to convey its magic trough a gentle and distinct vision.

Lee approached the project from a variety of angles, capturing the open landscape, details in and around the pond, the small animals living of the pond, its plants and the different ambiences that occurred over time. Her photos have a quiet aesthetics, using a subtle and secluded colour palette. They clearly show she has a refined eye which radiates through her sensitive and unique voice.

What I really like about Lee’s work is that she constantly tried out new approaches over the four weeks she was working on her personal project. In the beginning, she came back with some beautiful landscape pictures, one that can be seen in this little selection above, and she also quickly started to shoot the small inhabitants of the pond. Soon she started to experiment with various techniques, such as using flash, using long handheld exposure time, and using different aperture.

The final product is a beautiful series of quiet landscape and nature photos. They convey the magic of the intriguing pond—they are magic in and of themselves. For more of her photography, please look up Lee’s blog Beyond Purgatory ~ A Photographer’s Paradise.

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops. Furthermore, if you sign up before the end of April you will get the workshop for a discounted price.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 27,2 mm (the equivalent of a 60 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/100 of a second. Aperture: f/13. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app with the Drama filter.

Breath of Life

På toppen av Navaho Pass med utsyn mot Mount Stuart

Choosing a creative path isn’t always an easy course to travel. It’s a path of much struggle. At the same time, though, it’s also a path of much joy and fulfilment. For me creativity is a healing path. Part of the struggle is because when we open ourselves up to creativity, we open up to our vulnerability. We learn about ourselves and we see ourselves in a different perspective, cannot hide all that we so often try to ignore about and in ourselves. Being creative means opening up—and that can be very challenging.

I think every human being has creativity in her- or himself. We are all creative beings. Life itself is but creative. Every creature (and just the word itself gives away the fact) is part of the natural order of creativity. We are ourselves creations. And the natural order for us is to continue the creation through our own creativity. But along the way to adapt to life’s demands many of us lose sight of our natural creativity.

To get back on the creative track, particularly for those of us who have been away for a long time, can be a roller-coaster experience. It can be painful, full of doubts and mountains of frustrations. However, as long as we don’t give in, we will eventually experience the fruits of becoming creative again. The fulfilment. Feeling whole. Feeling connected. The creative joy. Yes, creating.

Being creative, means to live. As the poet Alain Arias-Misson once said; «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate—it is life, intensified, brilliant life.»

When you begin down the path of creativity, you will encounter challenges and moments of insight and growth, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. You will always experience downturns as well as highs. As the writer, director and producer Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist’s Way. «Frustration and rewards exists at all levels on the path. Our aim is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you.»

The peaks-and-valleys that are part of the growth along the creative path are like a series of expansions and contractions. It’s like breath of life. We breathe, in and out. Expansions and contractions. We create, in and out. Thus, become alive.

So at times when you feel lost, don’t feel creative at all, when everything seems like at a standstill; know that it’s just a time of contraction. It’s necessary in order to be able to expand again. Don’t get discouraged. We are all in this cycle of expansions and contractions. We all have times when we can’t get out of the box, feel discouraged, but then suddenly the box fall to pieces, we feel free again, free to create.

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may remember that I was in a deep contraction just before Christmas. Now I am in an expansive uphill. Things begin to open up again. And I enjoy being creative, see things that I otherwise would ignore, feel like I am paying attention to life’s details as I wrote about in the post Pay Attention, two weeks ago. It’s a joyous place to be. But I also know, as certain as rain follow sun in my part of the world, that before I can blink I will be moving into a contraction again. Being alive means constantly alternating between expansions and contractions. Each time I enter an expansive mode, I see new vistas, I learn to appreciate all creation with different eyes—yes, I expand.

Last Week’s Instagram

munchow_1828-091_e

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 24,5 mm (the equivalent of a 54 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/5.6. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app with the Drama filter.

Last Week’s Instagram

munchow_1825-028_e2

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 34 mm (the equivalent of a 75 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/2.8. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app with the Drama filter.

Riding the Waves

munchow_1813-202_e

The road to success isn’t paved with gold—or, navigating only through calm waters, to use the analogue I like to think of when talking about creativity; the interaction between man and sea. The path to success is navigating through foul weather, risky straits and choppy waves as well.

Not long ago, my partner and I planned to kayak along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, USA. As often is the case along that coastline, the weather was windy and cold, and the waves were rolling big onto the beaches. Not conditions for launching any kayak trips.

We had a good time anyway, enjoying the strength of the gale in our hair and feeling very alive when the wind gusts battered down on us. Not kayaking but hiking along the shoreline. Still, we had brought kayaks and at some point, we decided we could use the heavy waves to practise paddling under less than perfect conditions, safely and close to the beach.

With wet suits, life jackets and all the necessary safety equipment we felt safe indeed, as long as we didn’t go far out. Of course, the waves are also the worst exactly where they break onto the beach. For that very reason, it would be good practise.

It took some juggling to get the kayaks launched, but as soon as we were out, it felt pretty good. We paddled through a couple of waves and felt in control. Then we turned in an attempt to surf back in again. That’s when we lost control, both of us. The first wave took us around.

As we had foreseen, we would keep warm with the wet suit and stay afloat with the life jackets. However, what I hadn’t foreseen was that we had already kayaked too far from the beach. I could not reach the bottom. Moreover, there was no way neither of us could get back up in the kayaks. Thus, I started to swim back in with the kayak in one hand.

I quickly realized that this was much heavier than I had anticipated. After some time I wasn’t sure at all if I got closer to the beach. Instead I started wondering if there was a tide taking my out rather than in. I did not feel very comfortable any more, not the least because I could feel my stamina started to dwindle too quickly. In addition, my partner and I had drifted apart. At least she was much closer to the beach. Of course, I could let go of the kayak, but that wasn’t an option, not yet. That uncertainty, though, about which direction I was going, was anything but calming.

To make a long story short, I finally made it onto the beach, with my kayak and everything. We both did. By then I was completely exhausted, had to rest in the breaking waves before I could pull myself and my kayak onto dry land.

It was a valuable lesson. I learned where my limit is and I learned that I have to practise much more navigating foul weathers. Of course, I would never launch a real kayak trip under such conditions, but you never know if or when the weather suddenly changes faster than you have anticipated.

The mistakes we do underway are what build strength for later successes.

The path to success usually goes through choppy waters, for then to experience some calm and beautiful sea—for a little while. The path to success starts out with interest, passion and ideas. Next come the hard work and the fight to get closer to where we want to be. Then some mild success, and next some failures as well. And eventually—and hopefully—we will hit the big wave taking us far and away.

Creating your life’s best work and living the life you imagined requires having a deep drive to reach the top, but also a strategy for making it back home. It isn’t very creative to sail the biggest waves only to crush onto your doom. True creativity requires a more holistic view that includes both the up and the down.

Personally, I have had my share of success—in my eyes, that is, which is what is important in the end—but these days I am once again fighting my way out of a trough, as those of you who follow my blog know. It’s part of the creative path, and I know as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/500 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop and finally a Bleach Bypass filter added from Nik Color Efex.

Last Week’s Instagram

munchow_1817-083_e3

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/9. The photo was processed in Photoshop, included various filters from Nik Software before transferred to my cell phone..