A Moment Matters

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And So Does Kindness


 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

It’s morning and I’m waking up rough after some really painful dental work. I’m running late for work but I’m trying to stay calm and just get there.

I’m traversing a road that is something of an unofficial border. On one side is a series of slightly rough neighborhoods where gentrification is coming hard and fast. And painfully.

The other side is the “good” side of the road (scare quotes used intentionally). Gentrification has already arrived to this side of the road, for both better and for worse.

I stop at a red light at a major intersection. I am first in line and there is a long line of cars behind me.

“Who Can It Be Now,” plays from the oldies station on my radio. A popular song from my high school years is now an oldie. Don’t get me started.

I tap my thumb on the steering wheel and hum along when to my left, a local denizen, a gentleman who has seen better days, enters the crosswalk taking something of a slanting route over the white lines.

In his hand he’s carrying an open tall boy and holding it close to his chest. He’s smiling, though his face and his skin looks like he’s seen some things.

I am alternately like “right on!” because why not beer at almost nine in in the morning? Then “oooh, damn” because beer at nine in the morning possibly means chasing a few demons somewhere around nine o’clock the night before.

But I don’t know this guy’s story, so I don’t judge.

As he ambles amiably in front of the grill of my very old and very tired car in the center lane, in the right lane an oblivious driver in a black Mercedes whips right into the crosswalk, intent on turning right and doing it right now, and damn near hits the guy.

Our beer drinking friend pulls up short, steps back and slightly bows, waving the Mercedes along. It pulls out in a huff, if I can attribute huffiness to a car.

Then the man in the crosswalk turns to me and smiles a lopsided smile and waves. I do what any decent member of the human race should do, I wave back. I briefly entertain a “I should not have done that” thought because I have learned through enough years living near and in big cities that sometimes it’s just better not to engage.

But I was wrong for thinking that. As I wave, he smiles a little wider, peers around the corner of my car to be sure the coast is clear, then makes his way safely to the other side of the road.

My light turns green and I drive on, thinking about the guy, this city where I now live, the ever growing division between rich and poor, and the implications of gentrification. I also think about how delicious the lemon scone sitting in the passenger seat is going to be when I get to work and gobble it up.

I get to the place of my employment, find a parking spot, quick yank the parking break and start my day. Something about the man with the tall boy sticks with me and I can’t quite figure out why.

One thing I know for sure is that I have to write about it, to capture the fleeting moment and memorialize it for myself as much as for anyone else.

And so I have.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.

It’s About the Light

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Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

In music, it’s about the beat.

In writing it’s about choice and cadence of words.

In photography, it’s about the light.

“No duh,” you might say, understandably.

No really, it’s about the light.

I think everyone can agree that light hitting the sensor of a camera is how a photograph is born. The beautiful study of how light is captured is what takes an ordinary photograph and makes it something you want to keep looking at.

Lately I have been studying light with more intensity than I ever have before. I will place a subject and look at natural light, overhead florescent, then flashlight on my phone, then a small bright LED panel, a ring flash, a candle, on and on.

The light source used, the angle of the light source, and the intensity of the light all change the outcome, the feel, the meaning of the photo.

Look again at the header photo for this story. I took that photo one week ago today (on 12/12) with an iPhone 8 using the onboard camera app that comes with the phone. I have done no editing of the image, that is straight off the camera. It is the best of the five photos I took at that same time.

I was inspired by the fog lingering in the trees on a rainy day in the Bay Area. I noticed this scene when I stood outside taking a break from work. The time of day was 3:52 pm, which means that the late afternoon winter sun was off to my left making its steady but inevitable descent toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

There is nothing remarkable about the subject, it’s a grove of eucalyptus trees just outside my office door. It’s in portrait mode so I could avoid both the nearby building and industrial pipes on either side of this grove.

The photo is just beautiful, wistful, sentimental. It evokes another time and place, and the reason for that is the light. Golden late day sun muted by thick clouds and fog casts an etherial glow. The play of grays and browns and greens and silver metal all create something worth looking at.

Here is the same shot taken today with broken clouds and sunshine overhead, my angle of focus is a little higher and a little more to the right, and the time is 11:29 am.

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

Same scene, same setting, slightly different framing, different time of day, different weather conditions, far less interesting.

The sky is blown out, the greens are a little too green, there is a loss of definition of the leaves. I would call it a nice snapshot, but little more. Again, no editing was done to this photo which was again taken with an iPhone 8 and the onboard camera app.

It was the fog, and more importantly, the quality of light through that fog, that made the first photo more interesting. More memorable.

I know, I know, this is Photography 101 level thinking, but it’s also something I will spend the rest of my lifetime studying.

LEDs will never be as pretty as old incandescents. Foggy or overcast will always be better than full sun. Natural light almost always preferable to flash.

Those are the guidelines we all know.

But what about shadows? What about selective highlighting? What about using multiple light sources? How about putting a piece of paper or cloth over a light source? What about, what about, what about? Ah, there’s where the experimentation begins.

And from experimentation comes magic. And a whole lot of “what the heck was I thinking?” shots too.

But let’s focus on the magic.

Final note: right after the first photo was taken, I turned around to go back to my desk, mishandled a step, stumbled wildly and dropped my phone where it took a bounce and landed under a raised wooden walkway.

I had to shimmy under the railing to drop down and get my phone, brush the mud off and hike myself back up onto the walkway.

Making art does come at a price. Worth it.

The Serendipity Of Nature Photography

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One little camera. One little bird

 

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

This weekend I found myself at the UC Botanical Garden and marveled again at how rich it is with subjects to photograph. Gorgeous trees and plants, winding walkways, seasonal flowers in bloom, epic views of Strawberry Canyon.

I have taken many photos here and find endless new things to photograph on each visit.

Plants are easy, but photographing wildlife is a bit more difficult. For me, at least.

I know the old adages, one that patience is required in shooting wildlife, another that one should expect to take a lot of shots to get to one good image.

I’ve been shooting long enough to know better. But I’ve also been me long enough to know that patience isn’t always my virtue.

Under the auspices of “the best camera is the one you have with you” I tend to shoot a lot on my iPhone. There is hot debate on the topic in the various photo clubs I belong to. Some of my fellow photographers see iPhoneography as a perfectly acceptable medium and encourage the ease and accessibility of on-the-fly photos.

Others of my peers scoff and say they will never accept iPhone photos as legitimate (really, seriously, in 2019 they say this). In that particular photo club I strip the exif data off of my photos before posting to our monthly theme review. They won’t look at my photos if they know for sure it’s an iPhone photo.

So while I shoot a lot on my iPhone (the header image, for example), I also feel the limitations of the hardware. The light has to be good to get anything worthwhile. The image quality, even in good light, is not always the best. And zoom? Forget it, the pixelation from the software zoom is more than I want to deal with.

About a year ago I decided I wanted a camera that was a little less than my big boy camera and a little more than my iPhone. After some research, many reviews read, and lots of waffling, I finally settled on a Sony Cybershot. It’s cute, fits into my pocket or purse, and has a real optical zoom versus a software zoom.

It’s a neat little camera and does a whole lot more than point-and-shoot devices used to do. In fact it’s scary how good simple pocket cameras have become.

I’m still learning the Sony and it surprises me every time I give it a try.

Like, for example, this photo:

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

I was enchanted by this little bird at the botanical garden. I have no idea what type of bird that is, I’m not that good at identifying species. My husband and I watched it flit from branch to branch, often coming quite close to us. The light was good, but the movement was way too fast for an iPhone. (though my husband used Live Photo and that worked pretty well)

I tried pulling out the Cybershot and fiddled with settings. I found one I hadn’t used before called “reduce motion blur” and gave it a go. I tracked the little bird, zoomed in and quick took a snap expecting very little.

No planning the shot. No endless patience waiting for the bird to turn in the right direction. No one hundred shots to get one good one.

One snap, one photo. Got it.

Because I’m naturally superstitious when shooting, I took another photo. I did so thinking I knew more than I did with the first photo, so I must be able to take a better photo, right?

Truth is, I had much less luck on the second shot (note the bird butt in the top left corner):

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

And with that, I gave up. Yes, I took only two shots and got one worth keeping. How often does that happen? For me, not very often. It was a good reminder lesson in allowing serendipity in my photography.

Maybe knowing a bit more when taking the second shot turned out to be a hindrance? Maybe on the second photo I was trying too hard?

In photography, I can get rigid about the shot I want to make. I have been known to see a shot evolving in real time and then pressing too hard when trying to take the perfect version of it.

I can get obsessive and fire off image after image and come back with nothing worth looking at. In those moments I wanted the photo to be something I was not capable of producing.

Sort of the divine struggle of photography, right? To produce an image that is how you saw it in real time.

What have I learned from this serendipitous nature photography moment?

  1. Right place, right time. Meaning let the image happen the way it wants to evolve.
  2. Don’t press, just let it flow and let it go. If I don’t get the shot I wanted, okay to try again, also okay to move on.
  3. It helps to know your camera. In this case, I tried a new setting, but knew pretty well how to use the features of the camera including zoom, focus and settings.

It is not hyperbole when I say that little bird is among the best wildlife shots I’ve ever taken (the first one, not the bird butt one) in that it comes very close to how I saw that beautiful late afternoon winter sun on the green and yellow and brown botanical garden.

True, wildlife photography isn’t my main focus, and practice would certainly improve my images, but dang if I’m not pleased with that photo of one little bird taken with one little point-and-shoot camera.

Does it have less value since it wasn’t taken with a “real” camera? (scare quotes used on purpose. Isn’t any camera a real camera?) I don’t think so. Others might disagree.

But I like it, and that is what matters the most. Trying to shoot something I think will please someone else is always going to be hard road with no destination.

One of the things I love about photography is that it is both so easy (just get the exposure triangle right!) and so very difficult.


Note: I have done no post processing on any of the photos in this story. I could certainly fiddle with all three of them, but that was less important for me and not quite the point of this story.

Dark Days, Bright Ahead

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The holidays are over. Tinsel and paper all swept up and gone. Yesterday the trash men hauled away bones of the Christmas ham.

And Monday, I go back to work. Rather, I drag myself reluctantly back to work.

Here in the heart of winter, there are cold days ahead. And rain. And grim skies to match my grim demeanor.

What’s this, then?


©2019 Karen Fayeth

A tiny blob of bright pink in my yard that I noticed today when returning from the grocery store, where candy canes and festive platters have given way to “healthy selections” and Valentine hearts.

I stepped closer, peered in between the branches to discover…

A single cherry blossom. Ahead of its time, but ready to be kissed by today’s warm California sun. Soon the rest of the tree will follow suit. Soon. But not yet.

And what is that over there?


©2019 Karen Fayeth

A little cocoon, snug in a fur coat, warding off the shiver. A magnolia blossom, in very early stages. What is gray and fuzzy now will soon be creamy pink, fragrant and bold, seemingly overnight. Soon. But not yet.

Oh, and look at that!


©2019 Karen Fayeth


In that one corner of the yard, I’d forgotten the daffodils that grow wild. Their leaves have come on bold and green with the promise of emerging stalks soon carrying butter yellow blooms. Soon. But not yet.

I stop and smile. I remember that December 21st was the shortest day of the year, a milestone that now lies in the past. Even though this weekend promises torrential rain (which the California soil will gladly drink up), gray skies, and gloom, the fact of the matter is that Spring is on its way with rush of color and fresh leaves, activity, joy and warmth.

The sunshine of my favorite season will soon come to push back the gloom and cobwebs in my mind and replace it with tulips and lilacs and California poppies.

I will photograph and paint and pick and sniff all of the riotous wildflowers that California has to offer. I will smile when I see them growing in the unlikeliest of places.

Oh so very soon I will bask in the Spring warmth and smile at the clear skies and feel happy as the sun sets later and later each day.

Soon. But not yet.




Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area

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A few days ago I posted the refreshed for 2018 Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas In New Mexico, which has become something of an annual nostalgia trip for me.

As I was writing it, I thought to myself, you know….I’ve lived in the Bay Area for twenty years. Maybe it’s time to write a top ten for my current home.

I mean, I am an ex-pat New Mexican and will always be a New Mexican, but I’ve lived in the Bay Area long enough to also call it home. I guess I’m lucky in that way, to call more than one place my home.

And so without further ado:

 Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area


1) San Francisco’s buildings lit up like presents. Around Thanksgiving the buildings on and near the Embarcadero turn into glittering holiday presents and the Ferry Building lights up red and green.

My first Christmas living here, I’d taken a ferry over to Sausalito to buy presents. When I came back over on the ferry, just as the sun was setting, I saw those gift-wrapped buildings for the first time I couldn’t stop staring. It’s so beautiful and an annual tradition.



This was taken just after New Year’s Eve fireworks last year, hence the smoke, but the view can’t be beat. Image found here


2) And while we’re talking about things down on the Embarcadero, how about the tradition of Palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights? Other than one sickly Palm tree doing its best to grow by the NMSU library, there aren’t really a lot of Palm trees in New Mexico.

But there are plenty here and I love that they get in on the holiday fun. The Bay Area is hardly the only place to feature lit up holiday Palm trees, but it is the first place I ever saw the style and I’ve always loved it.

Here’s an example of the Palm trees outside of AT&T park (there are 24 Palm trees to honor legendary #24, Willie Mays).


Image by Fuzzy Traveler and found on Flickr.

3) To stay on the theme of trees, the Bay Area hosts and awful lot of offbeat Christmas trees each year. I don’t recall seeing a lot of weird trees back home in New Mexico, mostly normal trees decorated in the traditional way (which I love). But since living here in the Bay Area, I’ve seen a variety of trees including one decorated with only the heads ripped from dolls (weird), a tree decked out solely in Star Trek gear (nerdy), trees made of alternative materials like lab supplies, computer servers and routers, and then this one found at an architecture firm by internet friend, UPS driver extraordinaire, and longtime San Franciscan, Rafael Monterrosa.


Photo copyright Rafael Monterrosa (@rafael415 on Instagram), and used with permission. Give Rafael a follow, he is a fantastic photographer and posts photos from his travels all around the city of San Francisco. He’s got a sharp photographic eye and knowledge of the City like no one else.



4) Okay, one last tree thing: Another fine Bay Area holiday tradition is tree lighting ceremonies. Usually happenig the weekend after Thanksgiving, every town has at least one. From the Union Square and Ghirardelli Square events in San Francisco, to Jack London Square in Oakland, to Christmas in the Park in San Jose, and lots of smaller neighborhoods and businesses in between, people love to come out to see trees light up for the first time of the season, drink hot chocolate, and get into the holiday mood.

Here’s a photo from my little neighborhood’s second annual tree lighting event this year:



©2018 Karen Fayeth

5) Now it’s time to move on to the fantastic Bay Area food traditions at the holidays. Let’s talk about Lumpia which can be found at just about every holiday potluck. Living in the Bay Area has opened me up to the traditions of so many cultures that I just never experienced back home in New Mexico.

I have been honored to know and work with so many amazing people from the Philippines, and they have lovingly introduced me to their food, most notably lumpia, which can roughly be described as a Philippino egg roll. More colloquially it’s been called the food equivalent of crack, and I can’t disagree.

Nothing more joyful than a huge pile of lumpia at the holiday party. No matter how many are in the pile, they will certainly ALL be gone within no time, and I will do my part to make them disappear. So freaking good.


6) Let’s keep talking about holiday pot lucks because the Bay Area likes to eat, something I have always loved that about living here. In addition to lumpia, holiday eating in the Bay is an enormous cross section of diverse foods, all of them delicious.

This year my loaded down holiday plate included lumpia, pork buns, chow mein noodles, Italian seafood lasagna, samosas (delicious little savory pockets from Indian culture), German stollen, Hungarian floating island dessert, pecan pie (hello pecan producers in NM!), enchiladas, guacamole, ceviche (done in a Brazilian style), and much more.

I mean, come on! The amazing diversity of the Bay Area means the best of foods from around the world. What’s not to love?


7) I’m not done talking about food either. Holiday season is also Dungeness crab season. Starting roughly in November (start dates depend on a lot of things), this is the time of year where the commercial crab season opens, and oh what a season.

For many Bay Area families, it’s tradition to go down to the wharf or to certain places at the coast on Christmas morning to buy crab. Fresh caught that morning, and you can take it home and cook it yourself, or pick one out from the steaming vats.

As a single gal, I used to celebrate holidays with a dear friend, and she loved this tradition. She’d go out early in the morning to buy crab then put a huge stock pot in the middle of her dining room table to catch the shells and we’d dive in with hands and metal crab crackers. Some folks think eating crab is too much work, I say those people leave more crab for me and that’s just fine. Delicious!

8) Going to the beach on Christmas day. One of the best Christmases I ever had was when I was all alone, a little depressed, and I made the excellent decision to pack up some leftover Chinese food, a blanket and a small radio and head to the beaches of Half Moon Bay for the day. It was a balmy 65 degrees and for many hours I had the beach all to myself. I read, I ate, I zoned out, I watched the waves, and I wasn’t lonely for a minute.

9) The smell of eucalyptus and fog. Okay, fair enough, this is not just a holiday thing, but for some reason it stands out for me during the holiday season. The Bay Area is home to quite a few Eucalyptus trees, which are actually an invasive species, but are now just a part of life here.

The Bay Area geography means we have what is called a “marine layer“, which is the reason for the iconic fog we experience. Roughly explained, when a warm Bay Area day meets the cool, cool Pacific Ocean, they crash into each other and create fog.

Add to that when a Eucalyptus tree gets warmed up, it releases its very aromatic oils.

So you have a warm tree giving off oils and by the afternoon a marine layer pushing ocean fog into the Bay Area. This creates a smell that is unique to the Bay Area all year round. Add in the moist damp air from the rainy season that starts around the holidays and you have something that will forever be etched in my mind. Even my sister recently commented on her memory of the Eucalyptus smell from her last visit.

10) To use a colloquialism from the internet, I truly love the way the Bay Area is so very extra at the holidays. Examples include the enormous real Gingerbread House at the Fairmont hotel, the entire Oakland Zoo covered in holiday lights, the huge Dickens fair, the full size skating rink constructed every year at the Embarcadero Plaza, real live reindeer at the Discovery Museum, the lighted boat parade with holiday lights from San Francisco’s not one but two yacht clubs, and that’s not even the beginning of a comprehensive list. There is always something to do, to try, to remember, and to make a tradition.

The Bay Area loves the holidays and I love everything about that.

_______________


Well that ended up being an awful lot of fun to write. Maybe posting this version right after my New Mexico version becomes my new holiday tradition.

Basically, I just love the holidays and all the food, smells, and trees, so I guess wherever in the world I live, I’ll find something to love and write about at the holidays.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. Feel free to tell me what you love best about the holidays where you live either here or on any of the social media where we connect.

And to you and yours, wherever in the world you are, wishing a wonderful, joyful, and magic holiday season.





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