Unfurling ferns

I haven’t taken many pictures since Reggie died, in part because I no longer have a slow-puttering dog to walk in the mornings and in part because April is always a busy month. Whereas for years my life revolved around the morning ritual of waking, walking, and writing, over the past two weeks I’ve settled into the slightly different habit of waking, doing yoga and meditating, and then writing.

Lily of the valley

It’s a routine that seems to work for me, at least right now, when I’m making a conscious effort to go gentle on myself. But this morning ritual of yoga, meditation, and writing doesn’t offer many opportunities for photography. Whereas on a walk you can be perpetually on the lookout for interesting things to photograph (especially if you’re walking an old dog who stops and sniffs every few feet), my yoga mat and the bare corner where I meditate aren’t visually interesting. That’s the whole point, after all, of facing a wall when you meditate: you’re not looking for interesting images, you’re just following your breath as it comes and goes.

Flowering shrub

This past week I’ve been walking our beagle, Melony, in the evening: a way of continuing the walking I love, but in a different way than I walked Reggie. Melony and I haven’t yet developed the same rapport that Reggie and I had, where he would quietly wait while I photographed things and I would quietly wait while he sniffed, peed, or pooped. Eventually, Melony and I will reach the point where we settle into a mutually agreeable stride; for the time being, though, I concentrate on walking the dog when Melony and I walk, not on taking pictures. That will come soon enough, but not yet.

Lady bug on garlic mustard

This morning I knew I wanted to write a blog post today, since the rest of the week promises to be busy. Knowing I didn’t have any photos from this week’s Melony-walks to share, I walked around the yard with my camera to see what I could see. Even without an old dog’s pace or an inquisitive beagle’s curiosity to assist me, I managed to find a few interesting things to share. During a week that promises to be busy, a handful of backyard photographs is a windfall indeed.

Tiny pollinator

It’s a question I’ve been repeatedly asked by both my blogging and non-blogging friends. When you write a post, which comes first: the pictures or the post?

More raindrops on hosta

The answer, of course, is “It depends.” In some cases, I have a specific topic or theme I want to write about–often, something on my mind that I’ve written about in my paper journal–so then I find pictures to accompany that theme. These pictures might go along with what I’m blogging, or they might simply be whatever pictures I have on hand. This latter scenario is why so many of my posts about Zen are illustrated with pictures of graffiti. Because I typically walk through Central Square before sitting at the Cambridge Zen Center, on any given day that I blog about Zen, I usually have lots of graffiti pictures close at hand.

Kousa dogwood

In other cases, though, I have pictures of a particular event that I plan to blog, so I start with those pictures and basically write an essay “around” them. Some examples of this kind of post would be the entries I’ve written about the Boston Marathon or pretty much any of my sports posts. Given a bunch of photos from a hockey or basketball game, I try to think of something to say that would go along with the pictures. These posts feel more like news articles than journal entries: I’m basically reporting on something I did, and I’m illustrating with pictures of what I saw. These posts feel different (neither better nor worse–just different) from the more “personal,” journal-inspired entries.

Orange beetle

And then there are days like today when I simply have a picture–in this case, a tiny bee pollinating a cluster of pink flowers, which I took in our backyard one morning this week–that I want to share because I like it. There’s no big story behind how I came to shoot a picture of a bee in the backyard, or how I shot any of today’s other photos on various dog-walks this week. I just had these pictures lying around, so after posting them on Flickr, I tried to think of a reason (excuse?) to use them on-blog.

The all-time classic unanswerable question is “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” For writers who both blog and take pictures, though, a close second in the unanswerable question department is “Which comes first, the pictures or the post?”

Tiger lily

Every year, Photo Friday asks participants to revisit their annual photo archive to choose their “best” photo, and every year, I have a difficult time choosing just one picture. So instead of one picture, today I’ll give you five previously-blogged pictures plus one new, unblogged image for good measure. Why be stingy when the Universe abounds in beauty?

The above picture of a rain-spotted tiger lily is one I almost forgot to blog this past June, and the following image of the ivy-covered wall of the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene, NH is one I blogged in case of emergency in November.

Ivied wall

The following closeup image of a dragonfly in our Newton, MA backyard is one I shot in September, then blogged in October, it sometimes taking me a while to decide how I want to use a particular picture.

Backyard dragonfly

This kind of delay between when I shoot a picture and when I blog it wasn’t an issue with the following image of a pixelated Marilyn Monroe from the graffiti wall in Cambridge’s Central Square, which I took and then blogged on a Sunday in August: a photo so fresh, it qualified as news.

Pixelated Marilyn

Lastly, in July I blogged the following image of a sculpture at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which had been wrapped in plastic to protect it during renovation.

Wrapped and falling

And that bonus, never-before-blogged final image? A peek at one of my favorite pieces in the new Museum of Fine Arts wing that is the result of all that renovation, from a photo-set I haven’t gotten around to blogging. Someday, someday.

Looking directly

This is my belated submission for this past week’s Photo Friday theme, Best of 2010. Here are links to previous year’s “Best of” posts: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.

Toppled

For as long as I’ve been snapping photos to share on my blog, my basic photographic philosophy has remained unchanged: shoot first, then sort the good pictures from the bad later. This photographic philosophy is pretty much the same as my approach to writing, which is “Write a lot, then cut the crappy stuff.”

Bittersweet nightshade on chainlink fence

I’ve often said a digital photographer’s most valuable tool is the “Delete” button, and it’s true: you don’t see most of the pictures I take. When I go dog-walking with my purse-sized digicam, I shoot as if I have pixels to burn, and I do. I’m wasting nothing but battery charge if I take a couple dozen photos and share only a handful. Sometimes you can’t know what will look good on your computer screen until you take a couple dozen pictures, upload them to your laptop, and begin the process of delete, delete, deleting all but the best.

Over the years, I’ve discovered another so-called secret to taking and sharing lots of pictures. It all comes down to the morning’s first picture. It doesn’t matter what that first picture shows, and it doesn’t matter whether that first picture is “good” or not. What matters, though, is that I go ahead and take that first picture.

Twining

It sounds like a silly truism to say that you can’t take any pictures until you take the first one, but it’s true. On some dog-walks, my camera stays in my purse, either because the day is too dark or wet for pictures or because I’m feeling uninspired and nothing grabs me as being photo-worthy. Over the years, though, I’ve come to realize that “photo-worthiness” has more to do with me and my eyes than it has to do with whatever I’m looking at. As soon as I see one thing that’s interesting enough to make me reach for my camera, I’m likely to see another and another and another. The first photo, in other words, gets me to open my eyes for subsequent photos.

Berried

On the television show American Pickers, antique-hunters Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz travel the country in search of forgotten treasures buried in piles of rusty junk. On any given “pick” through a cluttered barn, garage, or cellar, Mike and Frank use the term “breaking the ice” to refer to their first purchase, which is usually something small and insignificant. In order to convince the owner of that cluttered barn, garage, or cellar that they really are looking for (and willing to buy) the dusty antiques they refer to as “rusty gold,” Mike and Frank buy something–anything–to get negotiations rolling. Once Mike and Frank have bought the outing’s first (and typically inexpensive) tchotchke, they’re ready negotiate larger purchases.

Each day’s “first photo” serves the same purpose for me, I think. Before I can get down to the serious business of finding overlooked visual goodies on my daily dog-walks, I have to break the ice by opening my eyes, reaching into my purse, and getting my shutter snapping. Once the ice is broken, you never know what you might find.

Backyard dragonfly

I must admit my predilection for macro shots. Perhaps because I’m short, I tend to focus on small objects that are close to the ground, which means I take lots of extreme closeup pictures of flowers, insects, and other tiny things. Even in my nature journal, I have an obvious preference for drawing the small pieces and parts of the natural landscape versus the whole landscape itself. At a loss for how to depict an entire forest, I’ll draw instead a single leaf from a single tree.

Backyard dragonfly

Macro shots are interesting because they focus (literally) on small details you might otherwise miss. It’s not uncommon to see dragonflies zooming around, but how often do you get to stare a dragonfly in the eye? What I like about macro shots is the way they force you to notice and admire the small, easily overlooked details in even the most mundane things. Looking closely at even common objects reminds you that you can find the whole world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Macro shots force us to look closely at the world around us, and looking closely often leads to admiration as we realize how complex and intricate even the smallest natural details are.

Backyard spider

But there’s a downside to macro shots. When you zoom in to look closely at any given thing, you necessarily lose the context of that thing: as the saying goes, you miss the forest for the trees. Looking at the two photos of dragonflies I use to illustrate today’s post, you have no real way of telling where I shot these pictures. Is the green foliage in the first shot from a marsh I visited, or is the white background in the second shot a clear expanse of sky? Truth be told, I took all three of today’s photos in our backyard, with the first photo showing a dragonfly perching on a dessicated stem in a patch of perennials and the second photo showing the same dragonfly outlined against a segment of sidewalk. Only in this third photo of a colorful garden spider can you tell for sure that the “wild” setting for this particular photo shoot was a suburban backyard, given the telling evidence of a garage door. Macro shots allow you to look closely at small details, but you’ll necessarily miss the bigger picture. When you seek the whole world in a grain of sand, you can miss the reality of the entire seashore.

This is my contribution for yesterday’s Photo Friday theme, Macro shot.

Extreme closeup

When you go to sporting events with a super-zoom camera, you end up seeing things that might otherwise have escaped your notice. When you go to sporting events with a super-zoom camera, in other words, you discover that spying on your fellow spectators is almost as much fun as watching the game on the field.

Let's go, Red Sox!

I’ve always been a people-watcher, and sporting events are a great venue for people-watching. Sporting events attract large crowds of people, and when people think everyone else is watching the action on the field, they feel free to be themselves in public. Just as folks naturally assume that no one is watching them while they drive, the presumed anonymity afforded by a large crowd allows fans to feel like they’re sitting at home on their couch, watching the game on TV. If everyone else is watching the game, no one will notice (or care) if I spend the game reading the newspaper, texting my friends, or consuming inordinate amounts of food and drink.

Get your snow cones!

Because J and I attend (and take photos at) so many baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey games, we’ve expanded our photographic subject matter to include many things besides what happens in the actual game. We have an ongoing challenge to one another, for instance, to photograph food, believing that hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, and beer add a great deal of “flavor” (both literally and figuratively) to any given event. When I see this picture of an entire tray of snow-cones, for instance, I instantly remember how HOT it was to sit in the outfield at Atlanta’s Turner Field on a sunny, 90-degree day last month. Sweating in the stands–and cooling off with an appropriately cold treat–is simply part of what it means to watch a baseball game.

Snow cone

Because both J and I are constantly on the lookout for interesting candid shots of fans, food, and the like, we spend only part of any given game concentrating on what’s happening on the field. The rest of the time, we entertain one another with an ongoing people-watching play-by-play. I might point J toward an interesting example of fried dough, for instance, or J might nudge me toward yet another shot of someone taking pictures. I’m sure to other people-watching fans, J’s and my behavior is incredibly odd: who, after all, goes to a baseball game in order to watch (and take extreme closeup pictures of) other fans? And yet, I get a perverse kick out of the thought that some other people-watching photographer might be photographing me photographing yet another fan. Isn’t the entire fan experience just as much a part of the game as the actual players and score?

A closer view

Both my blogging and my photography have always felt a bit like snooping. There’s a vicarious thrill in reading someone’s blog, and there’s an exhibitionist thrill in sharing: we humans seem to enjoy both watching and being watched. The whole point of spectator sports, after all, is spectating, so who can blame you if your eyes wander from the field to take in one’s fellow fans?

Both J and I try to preserve the anonymity of the people we shoot: like Jo(e) with her blogged pictures of friends, family, and naked bloggers, J and I take a lot of pictures of the backs or sides of people’s heads, their eyes hidden by hair, sunglasses, or an occasional pair of binoculars. Both J and I also try to shoot candid shots that respect the human dignity of our anonymous subjects: the point isn’t to catch someone doing something stupid or embarrassing but to capture those moments of genuine humanity we all share. Like journalists looking for human interest stories, both J and I are on the perpetual lookout for images that capture what it means to be alive and human at any given moment.

Hotdog & peanuts

As admittedly odd as J and my photo-obsessions are, I’d like to think that looking at the world through this sort of eyes is a boon to my creative life. At any given sporting event, there are shots that are obvious–hockey face-offs, for instance, or basketball free-throws–but the real artistry, I think, lies in shooting the non-obvious shot. When I first saw last week’s Photo Friday theme, Eyes, what I immediately considered sharing was an image of gratuitous cuteness. After spending almost a week thinking about last week’s Photo Friday theme, though, I decided to go with something less obvious. My own eyes, it seems, are drawn to shoot things that other folks might not admit to looking at, one of them being the binocular-assisted eyes of other fans at a hot Atlanta ballgame.

This is my long-overdue contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Eyes. Most of today’s images come from my photo-set from the third and final Braves game J and I attended during last month’s Red Sox pilgrimage. Enjoy!

Lush

You might say I’m addicted to color. Apart from a single roll of black and white film I shot in the early ’90s when I had to “use up” a roll of film after having taken several portraits of my then-husband for a company newsletter, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the world monochromatically. Although J and I often joke that black and white photography is synonymous with “art,” I see the world in full technicolor splendor: the more (and the brighter) colors, the better.

Kind of blue

You can understand, then, why I laughed when I saw last week’s Photo Friday theme, Monochrome. “Oh, they’re going to get flooded with black & white art shots,” I thought to myself, and I figured I’d have nothing to contribute. But in the almost-week since last week’s Photo Friday theme was announced, I double-checked the definition of “monochrome.” If interpreted in its loosest sense, “a painting, drawing, or photograph in a single hue” could refer not just to a black and white image, but also to an image that is all-green or all-blue.

So today’s offering is a lush-green image of a rosette of new pokeweed leaves, and an accompanying image of an all-blue section of empty seats at Gillette Stadium before a New England Revolution soccer game. Each of these monochromatic images contains enough color to sate my color-addicted fancy, although I have to admit an unabashed fondness for this dichromatic version of those Gillette Stadium seats. Some addictions die hard.

Primary colors