Questing for Beauty

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High Key Light. The tiny heart-shaped hole, intricate veins, and beautiful color captured my eye on a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Print available.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

My photography mentor, Shari Miller, shared this quote by Henry Miller yesterday.

In case you are wondering why I have a photography mentor, I have spent the last few months giving careful attention to the incredible and mysterious world of photography through The Arcanum: The Magical Academy of Artistic Mastery. The best way to describe the Arcanum is a fun cross between Hogwarts, a MMORPG, and an online course—all geared towards improving your own photography through peer and mentor feedback, access to tutorials and videos, and the discipline of committing to quests … I mean challenges. I have just completed Sphere 0 and after 10 levels, I have a few thoughts on the whole Arcanum experience.

Henry Miller’s quote would be a perfect motto for our cohort in the Arcanum. Shari has named us “The Cohort of Seers–seeing more of the beauty in the world, in others, and within ourselves.” And with her guidance, my peers and I are embracing a joyful experience of exploration and encouragement. We’ve been having a great time discussing intention, experimentation, color, texture, and having fun with photography. I have taken the opportunity and the space to push myself to try new things, think about my goals and the story I am trying to tell, and learn to find my voice and style. Our cohort is not afraid to experiment or discuss the philosophy behind and in our art. Shari has been a great leader in helping us to ask questions and think about emotion, mood–and borders.

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Through the Looking Glass. While on the driftwood beach at Jekyll Island, Shari’s words about borders and experimenting with mood and texture guided me to compose this other-worldly image. Print available.

While my experiences have certainly helped me improve my technique, both in composition and in processing, the most important areas of growth have been in the discipline of photography and the reflection on the images. For me, taking the time and patience to commit to improving and reflecting on my art has been enormous. I am somewhat competitive, and I love games and puzzles, so the structure of “challenges” is perfect for me! In meeting each challenge, I allow myself the time and focus to give care, attention, and space for growing my artistic voice. In a world filled with busy-ness and need, it has been helpful to allow myself this time and place for focusing on something that brings me joy and allows me to exercise my creativity.

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Grounded in Solitude. I’m not usually drawn to landscape shots, but mindful of my tendency towards busy-ness, I found peace in focusing on this quiet scene. Print Available.

The discipline of photography has provided the foundation, but much of my growth has also come through the reflective piece that Shari and my cohort provide. While we do talk about gear, and theory, and software, and technique, we also talk about emotion, mood, memory, story, beauty, inspiration, gratitude, perspective, and philosophy. My cohort is composed of people from around the world with different ideas, interests, and styles. Hearing their viewpoints and seeing their images and the stories behind their images, provides both inspiration and instruction.

As I begin Sphere 1, the next level in the Arcanum journey, I journey with a sense of gratitude for the space, people, and time to focus on seeing and creating beauty. This journey brings balance and light and reminds me of who I want to be.

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Starry Nights. The swirls and patterns in the driftwood reminded me of van Gogh’s painting.  This was such a joy to process and I experimented with several new techniques, layers, and colors before finally settling on this version. Print available.

 

 

Some Whirly-Twirly Fun

DSC02823-EditSo my Arcanum Sphere 2 cohort has become obsessed with (or possessed by) this fun twirl technique in Photoshop. I finally got around to joining in the fun today. I wanted to pick something both colorful and spiritual, so I chose this photo from the Tibetan sand mandala process I witnessed in the spring. I followed the examples from Alicia D’Amico’s twirling tutorial (see the end of the post for the video).

After doing the basic work of the tutorial, I played with some lighting, saturation, and contrast issues in Viveza by NiK Software and then made some color adjustments in Lightroom.

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The resulting pattern reminds me of both a lotus flower and the acorn. Additionally, the sweeping lines of color from the corners reminded me of the process of mandala destruction as the monks brush the sand towards the center of the image.

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After playing with the saturation slider, I also wanted to try a monochrome image. I decided to do a split-tone version of the same image in MacPhun’s Tonality Pro. This gave me a totally different feeling, with more appreciation for the lines, structure, and appearance of light and shadow in the image.

Here is the instructional video!

Twirl Photoshop Tutorial by Pure Emotions Photography from Alicia D’Amico on Vimeo.

Tel Aviv is Where My Heart Is

No, don’t worry Mom or Michelle, it really isn’t, but I did have a great weekend in Tel Aviv on my recent trip to Israel. I was there for the Christian Leadership Initiative, a Jewish-Christian dialogue seminar sponsored by the Shalom-Hartman Institute and the American Jewish Committee. We travelled to Tel Aviv to spend Shabbat there, and it was quite the lively, colorful city.

One of the highlights of the trip was the Shabbat service on the Tel Aviv pier, with this amazing sunset.

One of the highlights of the trip was the Shabbat service on the Tel Aviv pier and this amazing sunset.

All sorts of guests showed up to the service.

All sorts of guests showed up to the service.

The next morning, we walked in nearby Jaffa to see the development of this coastal town.

The next morning, we walked in nearby Jaffa to see the development of this coastal town. These crows ended up thieving some pretty good baklava from our group.

"Gaining Ground." A little attempt at street photography in Joppa.

“Gaining Ground.” A little attempt at street photography in Jaffa.

This market was closed for Shabbat, but bustling the day before. Alas, we didn't have much time to explore that day, though.

This Tel Aviv market was closed for Shabbat, but bustling the day before. Alas, we didn’t have much time to explore that day, though.

Another shot of the produce market.

Another look of the produce market. I shot this as part of a photo assignment with The Arcanum on “balance.”

Our walking tour of Tel Aviv on Saturday brought us to this monument. The three mosaics in front of the modern building depict three biblical stories concerning Tel Aviv. The from mosaic tells the story of Jonah that is set in nearby Jaffa (Joppa in English Bible Translations). The center mosaic tells the story of building the temple, and the furthest mosaic depicts the transportation of cedars to Jerusalem. Around the fountain, there are more mosaics depicting the history of Tel Aviv throughout the ages into modern times.

Our walking tour of Tel Aviv on Saturday brought us to this monument. The three mosaics in front of the modern building depict three biblical stories. The front mosaic tells the story of Jonah that is set in nearby Jaffa (Joppa in English Bible translations). The center mosaic tells the story of building the temple, and the furthest mosaic depicts the transportation of cedars to Jerusalem. Around the fountain, there are more mosaics depicting the history of Tel Aviv.

There was a lot of graffiti in Tel Aviv. Some of it was political and some pure art.

I appreciated a lot of graffiti in Tel Aviv. Some of it was political and some simply art.

Sacred Detail: The Completion and Dismantling of the Sand Mandala

After discovering the Tibetan practice of the Sand Mandala through the Emory-Tibet partnership last Monday, I visited the display daily, with the exception of Tuesday, to view the progress. You can read about my experience of the opening ceremony and line drawing here and my experience of viewing the construction of the initial stages of the mandala here.

Geshe Lobdang Tenzin Negi is a senior lecturer and the director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Here he is explaining the symbolism of the mandala.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi is a senior lecturer and the director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Here he is explaining the symbolism of the mandala.

I choose the word “construction” intentionally, as I learned throughout my experience that the monks envision the mandala in three dimensions. It is a model of the cosmos and resembles the structure of a temple or shrine. At the heart of this particular mandala is the Buddha of Compassion, Arya Avalokiteshvara. According to the lecturer at the closing ceremony, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, the devotees contemplate the Buddha of Compassion in order to cultivate an attitude of compassion towards all sentient beings. They contemplate how compassion can manifest in holistic medicine and spiritual knowledge and also to inform ethical behavior and the resolution of political tensions.

During the closing ceremony and dismantling, the monks chant prayers of compassion. The dismantling conveys the impermanence of all things, and there is a mixture of emotions, particularly from the unfamiliar onlookers on the dismantling of the exquisite artwork. The monks distributed some of the sand to the spectators, but carried most of it in a sacred urn which they traditionally pour out into a flowing body of water that carries their compassionate prayers to the entire cosmos. After a procession around Emory University, they carried the urn to a creek behind the Michael C. Carlos Museum to complete the ritual.

If you ever want to view variations on the ritual, there are several videos of these monks performing the ceremonies online. These are also the same monks featured in episode 7 of season 3 of House of Cards. We, of course, had to binge watch the season in order to see the brilliant cinematography of the construction and closing rituals. I even used the images and my experiences in my “Creation Theology, Spirituality, and the Arts” course this morning to talk about analogous thoughts of impermanence in Ecclesiastes and temple construction in Ezekiel.

Here are my final images of the series.

The inner sanctum of the Sand Mandala. The Buddha of Compassion is at the center of the structure. Representations of other deities surround the center, places on eight petals of the lotus flower.

The inner sanctum of the Sand Mandala. The Buddha of Compassion is at the center of the structure. Representations of other deities surround the center, placed on eight petals of the lotus flower.

The monks putting the finishing touches on the nearly completed mandala.

The monks putting the finishing touches on the nearly completed mandala.

A detail shot of the outer courtyard of the mandala. I was impressed with the detail in the figures of various creatures.

A detail shot of the outer courtyard of the mandala. I was impressed with the detail in the figures of various creatures and the two-toned swirls of clouds.

Another perspective on the details of the outer sphere.

Another perspective on the details of the outer sphere. Is that a monkey in the lower left quadrant?

A monk lays the initial lines of the outer lotus petal ring.

A monk lays the initial lines of the outer lotus petal ring.

Another perspective on the lotus petal ring.

Another perspective on the cloud creation.

The filigree on the outermost ring represents the flames of wisdom that purify the one who enters into the mandala.

The filigree on the outermost ring represents the flames of wisdom that purify the one who enters into the mandala. The flames consume all negativities and ignorance.

The three outer rings surround the mandala. The outmost ring represents flames of various colors. The black and yellow ring represent a three dimensional cosmic dome that surrounds the mandala. The innermost of the three rings consists of lotus petal designs.

The three outer rings surround the mandala. The outmost ring represents flames of various colors. The black and yellow ring represents a three dimensional cosmic dome that surrounds the mandala. The innermost of the three rings consists of lotus petal designs.

The beginning of the dismantling ceremony. The dismantling involves the same precision and contemplation as the construction.

The beginning of the dismantling ceremony. The dismantling involves the same precision and contemplation as the construction.

©2015 Garber Geektography. These images are not for sale or for any type of commercial use in accordance with the wishes of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.

Takin

San Diego Fun Fest, Chapter One: Tips for Shooting at the Zoo

Baby Orangutan

Baby and mama orangutans snacking on grass.

It’s been a whirlwind week for the geektographers. Last week, we travelled to San Diego for a work conference and were able to add a few days to our trip for some great photography adventures.

One of the highlights of our journey was the chance to meet two of our hero photographers at the San Diego Zoo. Michelle has wanted to go to the San Diego Zoo since she was a child, and the visit definitely brought out the kids in us.  There we met my master in The Arcanum, the marvelous Karen Hutton, and her friend and fellow Arcanum master Laurie Rubin, who specializes in wildlife photography and knows the San Diego Zoo like the back of her hand. It was great to watch them work–and work alongside them–in the field! Laurie also filmed the following short video of Karen and I to chronicle the experience!

Karen’s question about what I’ve learned got me thinking, and like most introverts, I came up with tons of things to say after the fact. So here are my top tips for shooting at the zoo:

  1. Chimpanzee Ropes Course

    There was some harsh light on the orangutans but if you wait around a bit, maybe they will dodge the stark shadows for you.

    Go on an overcast day. This seems counter-intuitive, especially if you are not a photographer or just started. You would think that it would be best to have a lot of light and a bright blue sky. But too much light washes out the animal fur and can create some very stark shadows given the nature of the obstacles in the habitat. I found this was true with most of my shots of the orangutans. Sometimes I would get a great expression, but there would be a huge shadow caused by their hands or some other element across their faces.

  2. Polar Bear Noir

    I shot this polar bear through tinted green glass. With the power of post-processing, you can remove most of the tint and other yucky effects of the glass. I processed this using the MacPhun Tonality Pro plug-in.

    Don’t be afraid to shoot through the glass. Sometimes this will give you the most intimate portraits, but you need to keep a few things in mind. Try to shoot with the lens as close to the glass as possible, and shoot with the lens perpendicular to the glass. Both techniques will help you eliminate glare.

  3. Don’t be afraid to shoot through chain link fences. This is a bit tougher, but if you use a large enough aperture, the fence will blur out under certain conditions. The subject should be far enough away from the fence to get the blurred effect. If the critter is too close, the fence will be in focus as well. This counts for fences on the other side of the habitat as well, which can make for some not so pretty backgrounds.
  4. Takin

    I got some great eye contact with this takin while waiting in the line for the pandas.

    Try to find out something about animal behavior. We were lucky enough to shoot with wildlife photographer Laurie Rubin, who knows a lot about the ways animals act under certain circumstances. For example, when a bird splashes water on its back, get ready, because the bird will flap its wings for a great motion shot. Likewise, it helps to know when the animals will be the most active. When we went to the San Diego Zoo, for example, the Lions were happy just to nap. The next day at the Safari Park, we got to the Lions earlier in the day, and they were quite animated and playful. Likewise, we saw the cheetahs at the Safari Park right after feeding time. We got to see them eat and frolic before settling down to clean themselves and nap.

    Panda Portrait

    We were lucky and got to the pandas right before feeding time, which meant they were curious and playful.

  5. Hunting panda

    The keepers hide the food in the habitat to encourage the pandas to hone their foraging skills.

    Use a long focal length to crop in tight to the action. We had our Sony a6000 with a 70-200mm focal length. Since that is a crop-sensor camera, we had the equivalent of 300mm. Now that pales in comparison to the 100-600mm Tamron lens that Karen was lugging around. Not that I’m jealous or anything.

  6. If an animal is feeling lazy, check back with them later in the day. In the morning, we walked by the snoozing polar bears. We went by later that afternoon and were able to catch a few waking moments for some portrait shots.
  7. Regardless of the circumstances, have fun shooting anyway. We visited both the Zoo and Safari Park on very bright, harshly-lit days. That didn’t stop us from trying to find good shots or from having fun. Sometimes you can’t plan a shoot around the weather, especially if you’re visiting another city, so make the best of it!

All of the pictures here are from our morning at the zoo. We will have another gallery and post with images from the Safari Park soon!

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You See, but you Do Not Observe: Why I love Sherlock and Macro Photography

Sappy

Last year in the early morning at the Grand Canyon, this tree sap caught my eye.

I adore Sherlock Holmes. Truly. I fell in love with the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a child and then, later, the BBC television show starring Bendedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I continue to be intrigued and captivated by both the mysteries themselves and the secret of Sherlock’s power of observation.

Grand Canyon

A cool device used to point out the different geographical elements at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was drawn to the textures of the brass, as well as the initials carved on the sides.

Of course, as Sherlock would state in no uncertain terms to his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, there is no “secret.”  Shortly after meeting Sherlock, John Watson, the reader/viewer’s entry point into Sherlock’s world, admits his consternation and delight in Sherlock’s abilities.  Watson then grants the audience access to Sherlock’s thoughts and echoes the question we all have at some point—how does he do it? Holmes, in response to Watson’s query, responds, “You see, but you do not observe.” Huh. Ok. But what does that mean? Continue reading

Children Flying

Who Wants to Send us on a Scavenger Hunt?

Children Flying

On the Date Night scavenger hunt, the leader asked us to find children flying in Decatur. Dave went back and reshot this iconic sculpture for the “silhouette” category for his Arcanum scavenger hunt.

Who wants to send us on a scavenger hunt?

I must confess, I love scavenger hunts. I enjoy the mystery, the competition, and the creativity. It’s like a quest, but with a list instead of a map. And you use a camera instead of a sword (but I like swords, too!). There’s a focus and a purpose with scavenger hunts, but still plenty of room for improvisation and imagination.  What’s not to love?

Kissing Couple

Michelle’s interpretation for the “couples kissing” category for the Decatur Date Night scavenger hunt with the Showcase School of Photography

Photo scavenger hunts can make fun date nights, party games, or family activities. The captured photos offer interesting insights into people’s thought processes based on how they have interpreted items on the list. A photo isn’t always just a photo! When making a list, try to think outside the box and allow flexibility in interpretation. Think of items that could be interpreted in several different ways. Dave and I went on a fun date night scavenger hunt in Decatur with the Showcase School of Photography this summer, and we pursued themes like “patriotic,” “something cold,” and “something that makes you laugh.” Of course, Dave was a bit grumpy being told what to shoot (he’d make a great 12th doctor). The evening’s activity encouraged me to see the familiar sights of the Decatur square in a new way, paying attention to details, such as patterns, colors, and out-of-the-way spaces. Continue reading