This Before and After is a bit more dramatic than the last one I shared. Unlike the autumn shot near Tippin Rock, I actually changed the scene a bit for my shot of “Friendly Bucks.” It’s not something I do very often, and these days I’m more tempted not to use a shot than to change it significantly, but in this case I justified altering the background due to the unique context of the subject and the fact that the background alteration drastically improved the final image.
The original photo was taken in 2006. I loved the moment captured, but the white corner of sky in the background was very distracting.
To improve the straight out of camera version, I fixed the white balance, leveled the horizon (which resulted in a slight cropping of the edges), and cloned the mountain part of the background to fill in the white sky. All of my images have slight tweaks to exposure, shadows/highlights, blacks/whites, contrast, clarity, and vibrance/saturation, but this one required a little more work than that.
The end result is something that is much more breathtaking.
Now there are certainly folks who would frown on the level of manipulation inherent in changing the background of a photo. I don’t disagree with them, and I would never enter the edited version of this photo in a nature photo contest like the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest, which requires that photos are not heavily manipulated or altered, or claim for it to be a photo documentation. By adding or removing an element of the scene, it is altered beyond the point of standard adjustments, and I am honest about that and would never try to pass it off as an original representation of my camera’s view at that time. I don’t regret capturing the scene from this angle, because by doing so I was able to get both bucks in the same focal plane, which might not have been possible if I had shifted slightly to have a cleaner background. This interaction also lasted just seconds, and the fact that I captured it at all is something I am proud of.
The goal of my photography is to show the beauty of the natural world and capture moments in my life that are important to me. This photo does just that. Changing the background results in focus falling right on the two deer and prevents the viewer from being distracted by a bright part of the image that detracts from the subject. It enhances the beauty, and accurately represents what someone standing next to me might have seen. Since the point of the photo is the interaction between the bucks, altering the background helps me accomplish my goal. To me, making this change on this photo was, and still is, the right decision.
Upcoming holidays + me cleaning my house = photo sales! I’ve got a handful of matted prints that need new homes, so I’m letting them go cheap!
All photographs posted below are available as 8×12 inch prints surrounded by a 12×16 inch white archival mat and foam core backing, shipped you to in a clear plastic sleeve. Cost is $35 for the first photo, $30 for each additional photo, and includes FREE shipping in the continental United States.
It’s early, very early and still quite dark. You step carefully and slowly as your weary eyes struggle to adjust to the dim light until you finally manage to find the spot you are looking for. You set up your tripod and camera, find the perfect composition, and adjust your settings, making sure you are ready for the light show that is sure to come. Then you wait for the sun to rise.
The morning is calm, the air still save for a gentle breeze that brings the sweet scent of the nearby ocean to your nostrils. You hear the song of gulls crying out through the darkness, over the soothing woosh of the waves, as you lick the salt from your lips. Already, you can feel the stickiness of the air. All of these sensations combined touch something in your spirit. Despite the darkness and how tired you are, there is no place else you’d rather be.
And then the peace is broken. From behind you, you hear something, and it is not the call of the gulls or the woosh of the waves or even the pad-footed trot of a murderous feral cat. Instead it is the unwelcome sound of another human being.
From here the story can go a number of ways. Despite the trepidation you initially feel in your heart, the newcomer might be just a passerby, or possibly another photographer that stays well out of your way. If you are lucky, which you probably are on most days, the arrival of another person won’t interfere much with your sunrise shoot. But if you aren’t, which happens to most of us at one point or another, your pleasant morning can completely ruined by the intruder.
I have been both the first person at a spot and a latecomer, but I have yet to have had a negative interaction with another photographer in the field. I have heard many sorry stories however. From photographers maliciously bumping one another’s tripods to tour groups crowding single photographers out of tight spots and shouting matches between workshop leaders, the type of behavior shown by some photographers in the field is downright appalling. Childish tantrums and bullying have no place in nature. I don’t care whether you are the Kanye West of nature photographers or not, don’t be a jerk.
Nature is a sacred place. I’m not religious, but the closest I have ever gotten to feeling a spiritual connection to anything has been when I am out in nature. Screaming hissyfits destroy the sanctity of these most serene and peaceful places.
Just a few weeks ago, I was at Sparks Lane, a very popular photo spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The sun had not yet risen and at least a dozen or so photographers were standing shoulder to shoulder on the narrow dirt road, composing the same shot of trees forming a canopy over the path, waiting for the light to get good. Everything was pretty much fine until a couple with a dog in a beat up rusted out sedan wanted to get through. The photographers parted ways to let the car down the road and then resumed position, only for the car to stop just a short way down the road in a spot that was quite plainly obviously ruining everything! The passengers, oblivious or uncaring to anything other than their own desires, just stayed there, and a few of the photographers in the group started to whistle and yell at them to move. Because I can’t stand hooping and hollering on a peaceful spring morning, I walked down the road towards the car to quietly explain to the passengers that they were in our way, but they drove off right as I reached them. Just a short while later, they came back in the opposite direction and again parked in the road. This time, I got all the way up to the car and very kindly explained the situation to them: photographers had been waiting all morning for this shot – it was a beautiful morning, wasn’t it? – and the light was getting gorgeous. They were in the way, and would they please consider moving? I even invited them to join us and see what a beautiful photograph they could get from our vantage point, and made sure to compliment them on how cute their dog was. While the couple in the car seemed to lack the graces of civilized society, they indeed moved on without a fuss and the photographers were able to get their shots. Instead of having to hear each other shouting and complaining, we listened to turkeys gobble as they strutted in the fields, the toms displaying for their ladies, over the hushed whispers of happy photographers and muted sounds of many camera shutters.
In the past, I have met and befriended photographers simply by walking up to them and introducing myself while in the field. I often go out in nature to be alone, so I hate when another photographer shows up on a day I’ve intended to shoot solo, because then I’m suddenly concerned about them – and whether I’ll get in their way or they’ll get in my way – instead of focused on creating images. The worst is when a big group shows up and it goes from being just me on the beach to me and ten strangers on the beach, all with cameras. I know how awful that feels, and the resentment and frustration that goes along with it. So I’ve resolved this problem by introducing myself to anyone I’m sharing space with and putting the situation out there early. I often say something along the lines of “Hey, I want to get good shots here and I know you do too, so I’ll try to stay out of your way and I’d appreciate if you could do the same for me. I think we can both get the shots we want if we just communicate with each other – that way everyone can be happy.” I do this whether it’s just me or I’m leading a whole group. If I am leading a group, I make it clear to my group that the other photographer has every right to be there as we do, and if the other photographer got there before we did, I make sure they get the priority spot. I’d hate to be somewhere early, all set up, and then have a workshop show up and crowd me out, so I make sure that I don’t do that to anyone else.
I’ve heard so many horror stories of photographers setting up right in the way of others, of workshop leaders bullying out other photographers so they and their clients can get the best shots, and of photographers with big egos just doing whatever the heck they please regardless of how it affects anyone or anything else. In some cases, bigger name tour operators have brought groups to areas where local photographers, workshop leaders, and guides have invested their whole careers and think that because of “who they are” they can do whatever they want wherever and whenever they want. They show no respect to the people who really truly know certain areas best, including sometimes their own ground agents. Etiquette, it would seem, has gone right out the door.
Nature is not a war zone. It is no place for battle, at least not between egos and a-holes. Let predator and prey clash, not us against ourselves. As photographers and people, I hope we can learn to respect one another and treat each other with kindness. If that is too much to ask, at least respect nature and keep the peace.
There are many reasons why we need nature. Perhaps the one that draws me most often is its ability to bring me to a happy place, to free me my mind from negativity and confusion, and put a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart.
When I’m stressed or having a bad day, or just feeling terrible because life seems hard or the world seems kind of rotten, I go out in nature and the smell of the air, sound of the wind and water, and the excited little movements of birds and other lifeforms ease away the pain. Nature doesn’t erase the ugliness of the rest of the world, but it helps restore my own spirit, giving me the strength to face it.
Yesterday, some vile person deployed explosives near the end of the Boston Marathon route. Those bombs killed at least three people and injured more than 140 more. Runners and spectators suffered severe injuries, some losing limbs. One of those killed was an eight year old boy.
I’m in Florida right now, many miles away from Boston. I feel helpless, as I’m sure I would even if I had been home in New Hampshire, only two hours from the city. Still, it doesn’t make any sense, and down here, even with the tragedy on every television I come across, I feel isolated in my pain. When devastation hits so close to home and touches something you love and that has become a part of you, you feel it differently I think.
I was in Back Bay, the area where the explosions occurred, just one month ago visiting friends. I knew runners in the marathon – some were teammates from my college track and field team. The bombings are senseless, cruel, and devastating.
This morning, I went for a run around Vilano Beach. I like to run or do some other physical activity every morning because it gets my day off to a good start, and like nature, exercise is therapeutic. Getting outside, in the fresh air, and moving helps clear my head. On my morning run, I saw a pelican and flowers. I watched the sun rise and saw the light of the day turn from blue to gold to white. Sand sparkled on the dunes, and the sweet scent of the salty ocean air mixed with the smells of spring filled my nostrils. There is a flowering vine here called confederate jasmine that I particularly love. Gulls flew overhead, laughing, their white bellies glowing in the morning light, and grackles cackled as they plucked food scraps off the sidewalk and flew them to the tops of nearby palm trees.
The world is no better nor no more evil today than it was yesterday or the day before that. During our lifetimes, we will experience a lot of cruelty and suffer many pains. Sometimes the world will seem hopeless and horrible, but it’s not. For each individual that exists with cruelty in their soul and hate in their heart, there are hundreds of thousands more who are filled with love and compassion. Despite the tragedy of yesterday, I think we need to feel hopeful knowing this. I also think we need to embrace what it is we love about the world, be it friends and family, or wild things and open spaces, and be thankful for all that we have, because it really is so so much.
If like me, you are struggling to make sense of all this or another misfortune in your life, stop. Go outside. Find nature. Spend some time with her. You’ll feel better when you do. She won’t give you the answers to all your questions, she won’t resurrect the dead, and she won’t erase the bad things that sometimes happen in this world, but she’ll remind you that there are so many good things too.
A friend of mine from Antioch, John Dunham, just so happens to be an alumni of nearby Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont, and still volunteers for the college to lead caving trips to caves throughout the northeast. I had never been caving before, but thought it sounded like fun, so I joined John and a group of six students from Marlboro College to explore Clarksville Cave near Albany, New York.
Caving is a pretty sweet way to explore a side of Mother Nature that few people experience. We crawled through tiny passages, on hands, knees, and bellies, getting covered in wet clay and trying to avoid the pools of water that had gathered in the gullies beneath the surface. We wedged ourselves into crevices that seemed impossibly narrow, and shimmied ourselves through tight spaces between rocks. I felt my limbs twisting awkwardly at weird angles, my muscles struggling to pull and push my body through the most absurd spaces. Sometimes the cave opened up into small “rooms” rarely big enough to stand in, and in one section, we waded through a cold and shallow river of rushing water in a spacious underground tunnel that reminded me of something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
At one point, while standing in the underground river, we stopped to turn off our headlamps and experienced the darkest of dark. The blackness surrounded us so completely, it was impossible to see anything, and I even was able to brush my eyelashes with the tips of my finger and still see nothing at all, not even the faintest shadow or outline of my hand.
The girls started to sing – I’m not sure what exactly, but they sang in-the-round and their lovely voices filled the cave with the sweet sound of music. Eventually, the song they had chosen to perform came to an end, and their voices faded out, two by two, gently and beautifully, until the only sound in the cave was the loud rushing of the water around us. We stood in silence and total darkness for a bit longer, then switched our lights back on and continued our exploration of the underground world. I could never ask for a moment like that to happen, but when it does, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.
When I climbed up out of the cave to grab lunch on the surface, I felt like a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day. According to my calculations, we have six more weeks of winter. Funny when you consider that we’ve hardly had a real winter at all this year!
At the end of the day, I felt like I had been beaten up. I could feel bruises already forming and my muscles were fatigued. I was dirty and tired, wet and cold. My joints ached a little, and I had the distinct feeling that Mother Nature and I had an interesting relationship. I loved the feeling of her abuse, but realized that, unlike unhealthy relationships between people, the challenges she put before me only heightened the rewards she dished out. The thrill I get from being outside in and nature makes the soreness I feel afterward more than worthwhile. I thrive on the adrenaline and endorphin kick I get from physical exertion, and I love nature; put the two together and you end up with one happy Kari.
Nature is therapy to me, and sometimes, I suppose therapy is painful. Therapy forces us to examine our real selves, to dig deep inside and push beyond the barriers that are in our way. Emotional walls or physical ones made of rock and earth, we can gain a lot by conquering them and exploring beyond that which is known. The journeys are not always easy, but they make us stronger, and we are better for them. Perhaps that is why I do some of those “crazy” things others wouldn’t dare to do, like biking across the United States or climbing Mount Washington in the winter.