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.

On Hideous Lizards and Good Brown Dogs

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It’s funny the things that stick with you. The seemingly forgettable details or moments that you look back on with fondness.

This past weekend, I returned home to New Mexico after a far too long two-year personal drought. Life, work, whatever, gets in the way (no excuse is good enough).

The occasion of my return was the high school graduation of my oldest goddaughter. At almost 19 she is no longer that curly-haired blonde toddler who captured our hearts. She is a smart, sassy, funny, talented and gorgeous woman and I’m a bit weepy right now just typing that. I’m so proud of her.

I have been working too many hours and it’s fair to say I dragged my ragged self onto a plane, glad to go home. Sometimes I feel like I wander a little too far away from New Mexico. I forget the foundation of my soul and going home never fails to readjust my mind, my very DNA. It gets me back to remembering who I am and what matters.

Plus I eat good when I’m there, and green chile itself will help anyone get right.

Each time I go home, I’m overwhelmed at all of the things that have changed since the last time I was there. El Paso is growing fast. The area around Las Cruces too. More cars, more buildings, more people. It’s crazy.

So then I start to seek the familiar. What hasn’t changed. What is there that I remember so I can have a touchstone. A “hey, there that particular thing is, just where I left it.”

The feedlots in Vado, for example. I was pleased to find them there, cows huddled under the water misters. The inevitable cow scent on the breeze.

The Organ Mountains. Craggy, uneven, and absolutely gorgeous. I see those mountains that once watched over my college education and smile, glad to say hello again.

So today at work when I was homesick, missing my best friend and the peace of her back patio, I started going through the photos on my phone to help me with the pain.

Did I find photographs of vast mountain landscapes? Did I see the faces of my loved ones? Did I have a whimsical photo of a cow?

No I did not.

All of those sorts of photos are on my actual camera. Weirdly, I took very few photos with my phone on this trip.

So I will share with you the two photos I did take. Memories I’m carrying in my pocket to remind me of home. This gives you an awful lot of insight into my muddled mind:

First, a photo of my goddog. I may have taken one or two photos of him in the past.



The gray hair around his eyes and in his muzzle makes my heart hurt, just a little

The second will take a little more explanation.

You see, to get back to Las Cruces, I have to fly into El Paso and while that’s not my town, over the years I’ve even grown a bit fond of that crazy place.

When I stumble off the airplane and into the terminal I find that nothing much has changed. Then my heart softens a little when I see the genuinely godawful carpet in ELP’s main terminal. Seriously, it’s so bad, it makes me sentimental.

Nothing says “welcome home” like lizard carpet. Apparently, I was so overcome I had to take a photo.



Not conducive to overcoming a hangover

And now I’m glad I did, I just found out today that the infamous ELP carpet is due to be replaced, like this month! Yipes.

That means next time, I won’t be greeted at the door by the funky lizards. And as my goddog isn’t getting any younger, one day I’ll roll up to my best friend’s house and won’t get to experience his side-angled lope and velvety soft ears.

That’s too much to consider. Right now, I will rest easy knowing that hideous lizard carpet and beautiful brown dog eyes remain just where I left them. I feel my connection to home, which makes sitting in this dull gray office just a tiny bit easier to take.





Both photos ©2018 Karen Fayeth, taken using the Camera+ app on an iPhone. Don’t steal ’em. Thanks!



Back Out Into the Wintry Days

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Here it is, Sunday, January 7th and I’m staring down the barrel of Monday.

It’s time to get myself back into gear.

You see, not only does my employer shut down between Christmas and New Year, but I was also able to scrape up enough hours to take this past week off. I’ve just had seventeen glorious and fun filled days away from work. Days of setting my own agenda. Of not looking at work email. Of working on photography at midnight if that’s where the fancy took me because I could sleep in the next day and the next one after that.

Last week I existed in a fabulous sort of limbo land. 2017 no longer, not quite 2018. It suits me.

All good things must come to an end, and so must my extended vacation. Tomorrow, reality slaps me across the chops, as reality is prone to do.

This morning The Good Man and I left our warm and cozy home to venture out into the rainy, wintry cold for Sunday breakfast. Pancakes to bid adieu to vacation and bonjour to 2018.

Through visible breath and rubbing hands together I looked up and saw a bright red maple leaf shellacked to the windshield. “Hey that’s pretty,” I said and took a quick snap.

Now, I realize that in this simple winter image I somehow exactly captured my mood. No more holly jolly songs and soft Christmas lights. No more Santa and wrapping presents and warm cookies baking in the oven.

It’s now winter, plain and straightforward. No more looking forward to the holidays, instead we look to Spring. I have a lot of (needed) California rain to endure this year because that is what the Bay Area does in winter.

This is the long slog, when it’s still dark early and foggy mornings and shivery cold.

But soon. Yes soon, the world moves into winter so we can know the spring. Daffodils and cherry blossoms are just around the corner, but for today it’s a sodden leaf in cold rainy hazy blue surroundings.

So I won’t lose hope. Tomorrow may loom large, but I will pop back to the surface like a bobber and keep swimming. I will have great successes and I will fail a lot too. I will be mad and sad and happy and grumpy and overtired and all the things I was on December 21 when this wild leave from work began.

Okay 2018. I put you off as long as I could, but you are now top of my To Do list and I’m going to tackle you.

Starting tomorrow.



©2018 Karen Fayeth



Guardians of My Childhood

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I’ve already shared this photo on Facebook but I wanted to share it again here because I sure have been looking at this photograph an awful lot lately.

While spending a few fun days in New Mexico a couple weeks back, I went to Bien Mur to look for a couple of gifts. I haven’t been to Bien Mur since I was a teenager and it was so beautiful to be there on a sunny winter day.

The only sad part was that the shop had taken down their high shelves which used to house a collection of some of the most beautiful Kachina figures I have ever known. They are cemented in my memories. On this visit, the shop only had a few small Kachina figures. Perhaps the art of making the Kachina is waning? I sure hope not.

Anyhow, upon leaving Bien Mur, I took a right turn and headed east up Tramway, past the newish buffalo paddocks, and kept driving. The day was clear and bright and beautiful and I found that I had to immediately pull the car over and hop out and take it in.



The camera on the iPhone 6 is pretty good and I’ve discovered that the pano feature on the native camera app works pretty darn well.

After several photographs, I simply stood and stared. And stared. How I love the Sandia mountains. How I miss using them as my directional device (as in…”if the Sandias are on my right, then I must be headed north”). How I miss the beauty, the open valley, the terrain of my homestate.

It was so comforting to be back in the arms of the mountains that protected me in my youth. I’ve hiked, skied, and just stood atop that high peak. I believe the folds and curves of the Sandia mountains can be found in my very DNA.

Back here at the office, I showed the photo to someone and they asked me how much Photoshopping I had done. I replied “Well, I took out a contrail, that’s it.”

“But you boosted the color, right? I mean, look at that sky!”

“Nah,” I replied, “The sky really is that blue in the high desert.”

My coworker walked away thinking I was exaggerating.

That’s okay, fellow New Mexicans, we know the truth. It can just be our little secret.

My Fair New Mexico, our visit was all too brief. I count the days until we are together again.












Image Copyright 2014 © Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone6 and the native Apple Camera app with only the most minor of Photoshop work. Because who can improve on something that pretty?




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