Month: February 2014

Home / Month: February 2014

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Rising!

February 18, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Emotions Above
The sky has its moods, just as we do, and it displays those moods with a range that is infinite in its variety.  It moves through hot and cold, dry and wet,  wild and calm, bland and dazzling, expansive and close, soothing and scary, and everything in between,  creating a whole new world with each and every moment. And never the same way twice.
DCF 1.0Its moods affect our own, perhaps more than any other part of our natural environment.  It is ever-present, surrounding us as we move  beneath it and go about our daily lives. We feel its air flow by us, and we call it wind.
We breathe it in and out of our bodies, if we are to continue living.  If we were fish, the sky would be our ocean.
Maybe that’s why  Chicken Little was so frightened of the sky falling.
Imagine the sea that gives us life suddenly draining away into nothingness, leaving us gasping in the vacuum of space. No wonder we pay so much attention!  Even the nightly news carries a special segment devoted to the sky: the weather report. The  moods of the Earth’s atmosphere are just that important in our lives.
Chicken Little was worrying with no need, as we all know from the story. There’s little chance of the sky falling, or draining away, or suddenly disappearing. But that doesn’t matter.  The sky, and the weather coursing through it, good and “bad”,  affect our feelings probably more than any of us realize.  It can affect us as it did Chicken Little, leave us running in terror and confusion for some kind of shelter before the march of an oncoming storm; or it can make our eyes and our mouths open wide in stupefied wonder at one of its majestic spectacles.  Sometimes it can do both in the space of fifteen minutes.
You don’t need a weatherman to know
Most of us have a window in our bedroom which gives a glimpse of the sky the moment we awaken. Does that affect our moods? Well, I know it does mine, and I didn’t realize how much until I once closed the blinds for a couple of days. All of a sudden I didn’t know what to expect, and it was a little unsettling. How should I feel about the day? I missed the setting of the mood,  and the whole day was off from there.
Overcast close skies aren’t necessarily gloomy and depressing, and clear sunny skies not necessarily cheery.  Every sky has it’s own contribution to the mood of our days, it’s own special colors, shapes and textures moving through light and shadow, and evoking its own unique feelings. Every sky is familiar, similar to every other sky we’ve ever seen, but always and ever brand new .  Like the thoughtfully assembled backdrop for a compelling stage play, it gives meaning  by supporting and furthering everything that already is going on in our lives.
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The vastness of the dome of sky is never more obvious than when we can see the individual layers of sky filled up with clouds.  Sunrises and sunsets are wonderful partly because of their colors, but also because the low light throws throws the clouds into relief,  making the three-dimensional structure of the sky more apparent to the eye.  Far from making us feel small and insignificant,  if we realize we too are included in this spectacle, it can lift us up with it, as if we and sky were one, and both of us happily dancing in the stratosphere. We have a vast room in which to grow.
Those in the heart of the busy, congested city, can take a virtual trip to the uncluttered countryside, just by climbing up on the roof to witness all the space up above us and be captivated by the ongoing drama of the Earth’s daily weather.
It’s all in the mind, you know
I used to experience dark, overcast, rainy days as gloomy. I could feel my mood sink when morning skies were heavy, and the time spent on such a day was wasted, just waiting for good weather to return. When the weathermen lamented the rain and apologized for forecasting foul weather, I believed him.
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But a trip to Alaska  in the wilds around Juneau changed my perspective. After a few weeks in the dark, overcast, rainy weather that persists there for weeks on end, I began to appreciate the close, intimate feel of the land, the beauty of mist and fog mixed with rain that became like a blanket of privacy over everything, intimate, soothing, protective. When I returned to Kansas City I missed that feeling, and actually looked forward to the days when such awful weather would come our way.
Storms and violent events frighten us. Fog makes us feel safe, protected, enveloped in warm love.  Lightning and thunder stir our blood, make us ready for adventure. Monotonous overcast skies, featureless and dull, can instead be like repeating a mantra, calming the soul and direct our attention to our inner selves.
A spring thaw after a long, raw and sore winter melts our frozen hearts, and shoots life into our spirit in expectation of the quickening of spring.
Autumn colors of butterscotch, caramel and apple form a palette that readies our bodies for the long soft sleep ahead. Crisp, bittersweet, delicious fall is a harvest of wisdom that sets all of summer’s learnings into our bones.
Winter’s solace is sleep, and dreams, and the sowing of the seed in the earth, where it can rest in self-contemplation, waiting for itself to flourish.
Summer’s heat of creativity and adventure gives us room and time to explore our world,  and skies form the warm canopy over our fun activities.
But no matter the mood of the skies,  they influence our own moods in ways we’re probably not aware of, from subtle to obvious, from mundane to sometimes quite surprising.
So watching the sky is a great way to acknowledge the backdrop of your life — and to discover and enhance your own mood as well.
And images of the sky are a great way to share the best of those feelings with those you love.

Shooting Heaven and Nature

February 9, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Photographing the sky is probably the laziest type of nature  photography there is. You don’t need to travel to far-off places, book an expensive safari, have adventures or even leave the house. And locating the subject  is pretty easy: the sky is usually right overhead.
The catch? Waiting for something to happen that might be photo worthy can take a long time.
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Most of the time the sky is just, well, the sky. We think of it as featureless and uniform because it so often is. Every cloud looks like every other cloud, or so we think. We take it for granted, and pretty soon stop looking up altogether.
That’s why it pays to pay attention every so often.That’s where the surprises come in.
With the possible exception of sunrise and sunsets, photo-worthy moments of cloud and weather don’t always announce themselves ahead of time. They can happen at any time, and can last for hours or perhaps only a minute or two.  And when they do happen, I have found, it is usually at the most inconvenient times!
Shooting the Heavens
Of course, having a spectacular weather event and a camera does no good if you can’t see the sky. Finding a spot with a view can be hard, especially in cities. I have discovered a few open lots and high spots within a couple  blocks of my Kansas City home that afford a view of sky, at least in one direction or another, and another dozen spots around town, just in case I am out driving. Perhaps there are some spots near where you live that encourage sky gazing.
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However, you don’t need a spectacular view to get a spectacular picture.  And the presence of trees or houses in the photo can actually give a sense of scale to the image, making the majesty of the sky more evident against the smaller details of the landscape. If you can’t find a better view than right where you’re standing, shoot first and ask questions later!
There are no rules, as far as I know, but the first one would have to be: always carry a camera. These days, if you have a phone, you have a camera, and today’s cellphone cameras can take fairly good picturesBut a camera that gives you a little bit more control over the settings can be helpful. Here are some of the fancy things you can do.
Focus is usually the easiest part: the whole sky is focused at infinity, by definition, so you could just focus your camera manually to infinity.  But using the auto-focus can be easier and more accurate. Be careful, though: uniform, featureless areas of sky or cloud will drive the auto-focus mechanism bonkers.  (Sorry for the techno-speak.) In that case, focus on areas of sharp contrast or detail in the clouds, or toward a distant landscape,  then keep the focus set as you move to shoot the actual subject. Shooting at the highest f/stop (with the smallest aperture) that you can get away with will also increase the sharpness of the image.
Metering photos
On most bright sunny or cloudy days,  you’ll need to “fool” the light meter by intentionally taking a picture that is darker that the camera thinks is correct, by as much as two or even three f/stops (or smaller shutter speed). I don’t know why this is, but most cameras bleach out sky and cloud at the regular settings. Darker tones seem to bring out the fine contrast in very bright subjects.
At night, of course, the opposite problem presents itself: not enough light. Use a tripod if you need to,  or just hold the camera steady for long exposures one. Digital cameras are much more forgiving of low light conditions, and you can always increase sensitivity on the camera without the photo becoming overly grainy. Exposures more than about a half-second will show cloud movement, depending how fast clouds are moving, so it is sometimes worth it.
Telephoto or zoom lenses are helpful in getting small or faraway events, but look for a telephoto that has a wide view when open, as well.  Even then, it may take four or five pictures to encompass a spectacular sunset or a storm front as wide as Wyoming. So, take the pictures! Hold the camera relatively level as you sweep side-to-side snapping a shot every second. Then go home and download a free software program (or your camera’s software) to “stitch” the photos into a panorama.
Crazy Weather
Sun dogs, arcs, iridescence and halos can be challenging to capture because they usually occur close to the sun. You can used a tree or signpost or just your fingers to block the sun’s disc, but try photographing without them, too, because most digital cameras can capture the detail without the sun washing out the entire picture. Aim the camera directly at the sun if you can, to minimize lens flare and reflections.
Photos of the land and the sky together, of course, give you two natures for the price of one. When the land is present, you get a true sense of the scale and majesty of the sky.  But usually, when you take a picture of the sky, the land appears black in the image. When you “shoot” for the landscape, the sky is to bright to see any detail.
The trick to capturing both, is to “bracket”, or take a series of photos at different exposures, from too dark to too bright. In the darkest, the sky will be perfectly exposed, and in the lightest, the land. You can then combine the two halves to display the best features of both, using digital imaging programs on the computer or that came with your digital camera.
There is no lazier, simpler and more accessible way to explore nature than to just lie back and gaze in wonder at the vast ocean of sky.  To be able to capture images from the gazing, well, that’s stealing fire from heaven!