The Bad Old Days

I suppose I was about five or six years old, at a time when my awareness of life was just developing, when I began to notice that on some days things went well and that on others they went badly. In my still infantile way of thinking, I conceived the idea of classifying days as either good or bad. As it then seemed to me, some external force, fate perhaps, was conspiring against me to turn what might have been good days into bad ones.

As I understood it then, when bad days happened, I was powerless to change the course of events. On one of those bad days, things were simply going to go awry. I was helpless in the hands of fate, through no fault of my own, and I could do no more than suffer through until better times came along. And suffer I did. The sense I had that things were out of my control, that I was but putty in some larger hands, was oppressive. I felt as though I was a pawn in someone else’s chess match and that I might easily be sacrificed in a game I could not comprehend.

This was juvenile stuff, of course. As I grew into my teens and throughout my student days, I steadily developed a greater source of personal responsibility for the outcomes of my actions. And I built an understanding that I could manage my responses to adverse events by regulating my emotional response to them.

And so it continued into my adult life. I built up my capacity to better manage events in my life through careful planning and, when things didn’t happen as expected, by absorbing the impact as unfortunate necessities. Gone by then was the sense that a day had to be either good or bad as a whole. Bad things could happen, but they need not spoil an entire day if they were mixed in with good things.

It was not until late in life that I encountered the Stoics and their special form of philosophy. From the reading I did, I began to evolve a different, and more helpful, mode of thinking about how to achieve a balanced life, one freed up from being battered by the inevitable ebb and flow of events.

I read first Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, an easily approachable source of wisdom collected from other Stoic writers, most notably Epictetus, the freed slave turned teacher whose brilliant thoughts were set down by one of his students. I sampled the many letters and essays by Seneca, whose writings are replete with valuable advice on living a good life. And, I read many others whose thoughts, inspired by the Stoics, added to their central messages.

“When you are upset by any external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only the way you are judging it. And you can wipe that judgment out at once.”

Marcus Aurelius

A principal lesson I learned from the Stoics can be easily summed up. While I cannot fully control the flow of events that impact my life, some of which can be bad, I am nonetheless in full control of how I respond to them. While I can plan to accommodate adverse events by anticipating their possibility, some are unavoidable. When they happen, I can take full control of my response to these events by managing my response. I can choose to accept the things that occur as though they happened for the best. It is both my opportunity and responsibility to respond to all things with equanimity.

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it already will–then your life will flow well.”

Epictetus

My studies of Stoic philosophy and the work of other writers led me to compile a list of sayings that are helpful to me in reinforcing this practice and keeping it vital. When I’d accumulated enough of them, I had them printed in a slender book titled On Living Well: Reflections on Creating a Good Life. I’ve shared it on Amazon for a modest price. If like me you’ve experienced trouble in managing your responses to life’s ups and downs, you may find this collection of wisdom helpful. For myself, I dip into it daily to refresh my appreciation of this advice.

“Know Thyself”

“Know thyself,” the famous words inscribed on the ancient temple at Delphi, underscore the importance of understanding oneself deeply. Self-understanding can be achieved at varying levels, however. One’s principal likes and dislikes, one’s inclinations toward or away from certain behaviors, even one’s chief virtues or vices lie at one level. These may be easily seen and in a sense tend to be superficially brought to our awareness.

But deeper self-awareness is not only desirable but possible. Many of our character flaws and weaknesses lie beneath our ready ability to see. Others, perhaps, may see what we cannot see or are unwilling to confront. Likewise, we may undervalue our strengths and talents. We may hide them out of fear of failure, or we may be oblivious to their existence at all.

Uncovering those deeper traits can be a difficult and sometimes painful process. It calls for deep introspection. It requires constant attention to the nuanced feedback we get from others. And it demands willingness to admit, at least to ourselves, the errors and failures we commit.

I readily admit to my own imperfections. To help identify and overcome them, I continually try to understand myself, my deeper motives and proclivities, and how they condition the ways I act. To prod myself to dive more deeply into my character traits, I find it helpful to have a source of inspiration. For that reason, I collect quotations and pointed advice from any sources I find helpful. Many of these are collected in a short book I published, On Living Well: Reflections on Creating a Good Life (Amazon).

I wrote this book for me, though others may find it helpful as well. I carry out a daily practice with the book; I open my copy to a random page and absorb the wisdom that’s printed there. This helps me elevate my thinking to a higher plane, above the mundane, and pose probing questions that will help me achieve more profound self-knowledge.

I’d like to share a few of these expressions to illustrate my point. Perhaps you, too, will find these to be meaningful.

Marcus Aurelius, one of the “good” Roman emperors and an incisive practitioner of the Stoic philosophy. His Meditations have been a source of inspiration to millions over the two millennia since their writing,

“It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself, it’s because you are truly a wise man.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is distraction, yet that is the greatest of our wretchednesses. Because that is what prevents us from thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to damnation.” Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 33

“A great failing: to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Fragments, 476

“Few people have sense enough to prefer blame from which they can benefit to praise which leads them astray.” La Rochefoucauld, The Maxims, 147

“Our evil is not just in the outside, it is within us, it is seated in our vitals–and it is that much harder to attain health when we do not know we are sick.” Seneca, Epistles, 50.3-4

Covered Bridge Photos

I have long had a fascination with covered bridges. A throwback to bygone days, when horses and buggies were the principal mode of transportation, many still survive throughout North America. Though some have been retired from service, many are still in active use. And, because they can be an efficient method for bridge-building, in some areas new bridges are being built and older ones renovated for continued use.

When I have a chance, I like to make photographs of these bridges. I’ve done so in several states, but most notably in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, where significant numbers of these historical artifacts can be found and enjoyed. Shown here are some of my favorite photos of covered bridges.

If you are a fan of these bridges, or like any of these photos, they’re available for purchase in a variety of forms–as framed or unframed prints, printed on coffee mugs, blankets, and a variety of other objects. You’ll find them at https://norman-reid.pixels.com/.

State Road Bridge, a town truss type, is 157′ long and was built in 1983. It crosses Conneaut Creek in Ashtabula County, Ohio.

Henry Bridge, originally built in 1840, it was completely reconstructed in 1989. It is a town lattice type bridge and crosses the Walloomsac River in Bennington, Vermont.
Brown Bridge, built in 1880, crosses Cold River in Shrewsbury, Vermont. It is a town lattice type bridge and is 112′ long.
Snook’s Bridge, built in 1880, crosses Dunnings Creek in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. It is a Burr truss type bridge and is 80′ long.

Intentional Camera Movement

Intentional Camera Movement, popularly known as ICM, is a technique in which the photographer moves the camera in a planned way during a long exposure. The result is an image that’s intentionally blurred and that when well done can create an artistic rendering of a scene. I was recently introduced to the technique in my photo club and decided that it looked like an interesting way to make some different kinds of images.

With that in mind, I set up to create a few test images to see what I could achieve. I’ve posted some of my first photos below. All of these were made with a Nikon Z9, but frankly any digital camera can be used. The lens was a Nikon 24-70mm zoom lens, generally stopped down to a high f-stop number. Shutter speeds were in the 1/4 second to 2 second range. Because the sun was bright, I used a low ISO setting, usually 64, and added a 10-stop neutral density filter to cut down on the light so I could get acceptable exposures.

My first results, the best of the 150 or so that I shot, are below. See what you think.

I had a lot of fun making these images and I’ll be making more soon. In the meantime, I’m watching YouTube videos on the technique and making other studies to try to improve my technique. If I succeed, you’ll see more of my creations here in the future.

This was made in a bed of colorful coneflowers and zinneas. I panned the camera while the shutter was open to get this streaked effect. I took quite a number of shots to get this one, which I think was among the best.

This is the same flower bed, with the camera moved in a diagonal direction to get a different effect.

For this image, I rotated the camera in a semi-circular pattern.

Another streaked image with the camera shifted diagonally while the shutter was open. Because the exposure was short, the camera had to be moved quickly. I think I like this image the best among these streaked photos.

This stand of trees is in a woods not far from my home. To get this image, I shifted the camera from the roots to the treetops. This is a fairly classic kind of ICM image. I think it’s effective.

For this image, I started upward toward the top of the trees so there is little of the trunks showing. I also vibrated the camera during exposure, which resulted in the wavy lines of the green leaves.

Yet another tree photo. With each exposure, since the movement of the camera is not under strict control, different effects result each time.

Some Recent Close-Ups

I’ve not had much time for photography the last couple of months. It’s all due to the usual things: yard work, laundry, cooking (I cook a lot and love making bread), finishing up some woodworking projects, and so on. I think you know the drill.

But I needed to make some photos for my photo club’s monthly competition and of course I left it until the last day. The topic for the competition was limited depth of field. That meant close-up photos. I’ve got lots of them in my Lightroom catalog, but for my club, the images need to be fresh, and that meant getting out with my camera and doing some quick work.

I really didn’t have time for much. I had an appointment in a nearby town so I took my camera with me, along with my ultra-sharp Nikon 105mm Z lens. I left a half hour ahead of my appointment, thinking I could find something in the parking lot to photograph. Well, I was in luck, because right beside the building was a small but colorful garden of flowers, mostly cone flowers and zinneas.

I’m shooting with Nikon’s wonderful Z9, which lets me shoot bursts of up to 20 frames per second. With the camera hand held, I leaned in toward the flowers and began shooting bursts as soon as I thought I had my subject in sharp focus. Some 500 images later, I had what I thought might be good raw material for entering the camera club competition. I’ll share my entries; see what you think.

I’ll share one thing about the process. I was amazed at how many of the images were in sharp focus. I did throw out a good many of the shots, but in the end I kept around 150 for further use.

I don’t know what flower this bud will blossom into; I simply liked the lines and shape of it.
This is a more standard capture of a flower blossom, but I liked the way the light in the background created a halo effect.
I thought the lines and patterns of this bud would work well in B&W.
I edited the insect and blossom in On1 Photo Raw using a retro preset and then making other adjustments in the Effects module. It’s a very different interpretation of a flower blossom. What do you think of it?

New Photos Available for Purchase

I’ve recently updated my site to include a selection of photos of railroad locomotives. Featuring both vintage steam locomotives and modern diesels, the photos are available for sale in several sizes. The larger size, 16 X 20 inches, looks especially good hanging on a den or hobby room wall.

The photos may be viewed under the Photos tab (of course). Click on the small images to enlarge them to see them in greater detail.

Virginia Bluebells

My friend Jeff Fleisher and I drove out along a lonely country road to a spot I know where, each spring, there is an extensive field of Virginia bluebells to be found and photographed. Situated in a lowland woods bordering meandering Goose Creek, these lovely wildflowers inhabit both sides of the river. While they’re easily approached on the near side of the water, the road is seldom traveled and one can easily spend a pleasant afternoon immersed in a sea of blue without being disturbed.

A group of Virginia bluebells. Nikon Z9, Nikkor 105mm Z lens, 1/160 sec., f/8, ISO 64, tripod mounted.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are erect plants that thrive in moist, shady locations. Though named for the Virginia in which I photographed these, they are found throughout the eastern United States as far west as the Mississippi River. Their blossoms emerge as pink buds that soon evolve into the classic blue that is their namesake.

Another cluster of blossoms. Nikon Z9, Nikkor 105mm Z lens, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 64.

I did not find these bluebells easy to photograph. In fact, the photos shown are from our second trip to record their beauty. The first day was overcast, and while this can be good for capturing the full color of flowers such as these, the breeze moved the blossoms constantly and the light was too dim for fast shutter speeds that would stop the motion. The alternative was to raise the ISO to levels that generated more digital noise than I wanted. I was not happy with the first day’s shoot and none of those photos are shown here.

The second day was sunny, though the light was filtered through the as-yet leafless trees. In some cases I used a large silver reflector to beam light into shaded places on the flowers to give them full illumination. I used a Stabil tripod, a wooden model handmade in Finland, for most of my images because it let me get the camera down to blossom level.

Getting complete sharpness was a challenge, even so. I had to trade off shutter speed, needed to freeze the constant motion of the blossoms, with the f-stop, a higher number being desired to increase the depth of focus. In the end, what I got was a compromise. To enhance the sharpness of the images, I processed them first in Adobe Lightroom for color and luminosity, the further edited them in Topaz Sharpen AI to make the details a little crisper.

I hope you like these images as much as I enjoyed making them.

Nikon Z9, Nikkor 105mm Z lens, 1/13 sec, f/11, ISO 64, tripod mounted.

Train Photos Now Available

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a number of photos of trains and railroads. I’ve often been asked to make them available for sale. To meet the demand, I’ve created a gallery of photos of steam locomotives. Prints of these photos are available for sale in three sizes:

  • 8-1/2 X 11″
  • 11 X 14″
  • 16 X 20″

Feel free to browse the images and if you are interested in one or more prints, write me via the Contact page.

On Building a Good Life

My most recent book, On Living Well: Reflections on Creating a Good Life, has just been published on Amazon.com. The book, a collection of wise thoughts and aphorisms from many sources, is both a personal manifesto and a guide to creating a life of integrity and wisdom.

To live well—to have a good life—is a goal most of us seek. But what does it mean to have a good life? Is it, as is often believed, a matter of sating desires, amassing possessions and riches, or seeking personal enjoyment? Or is it about serving higher goals and reaching beyond pedestrian pleasures to contribute to the society of which we are all a part?

Drawing on the observations of wise observers across the ages, this volume argues that to live well means pursuing higher purposes, goals larger than personal satisfaction, and values that can give our lives meaning more lasting than simple pleasures.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher whose Meditations have inspired readers over many generations

Achieving a good life is not something that simply happens. Instead, like all worthwhile things, a good life must be constructed deliberately. Its building blocks are many. As this volume shows, much valuable advice about creating a good life can be gleaned from the writings of wise persons from the past. Drawing on a wide range of traditions, the advice collected herein constitutes a valuable set of guideposts to inform a journey to make one’s life a good life.

Four Steps to Better Post-Processing

I’ll frankly admit that in the past I’ve failed to use a steady, and studied, approach to post-processing my images.  My practice, such as it’s been, was to make changes that looked good and seemed somehow better than the original.  The problem, of course, is that while this practice sometimes leads to pleasing results, it’s random and unpredictable.  Since I’ve set no clear goals for my images, my approach has lacked discipline, order, and, ultimately, effectiveness.

I figured there must be a better way.  And as it turns out, there is.  Several resources have led me toward a more practiced and reasoned strategy for enhancing my images in post.  First of these is Guy Tal’s essay entitled “Obsession, Joy, and Torment” in his recent book, Another Day Not Wasted.  Tal argues that color and luminance, which are processed in separate parts of the brain, can and should be used expressively.  As he says, the purpose of editing images is “to elicit some meaning, rather than just to illustrate an appearance.”  In other words, both color and luminance, if thoughtfully managed in post, can enhance the meaning conveyed by an image, rendering it more than just a pretty picture.  Tal’s essay inspired me to seek out practical ways to portray such deeper meanings in my images.

Marc Muench’s recent book, The Art of Luminosity, is a valuable resource on post-processing techniques.  This short volume, available for free from the Muench Workshops web site, examines how to capture luminosity effectively in camera and then how to manage it when processing images.  Muench gives good illustrations of the way he edits images of different types, and they’re both inspirational and instructive as a guide to altering luminosity levels to achieve more effective results. 

Another excellent resource teaches color theory, how different colors affect the brain, and how to use them to best advantage.  It’s See It: Photographic Composition Using Visual Intensity, by Josh and Ellen Anon.  This book, the best on using color I’m aware of, does for color what Muench does for luminosity. 

The question then becomes how to apply this information to my images.  Drawing on these resources, I developed a set of practical actions to help me reveal more meaning, the purpose set out in Tal’s provocative essay.  I’ve boiled them down to four steps.  I’ve applied them here to images I made while participating in Irene Hinke-Sacilotto’s fall color workshop in the New River area of West Virginia.

A small waterfall on Glade Creek in Babcock State Park, West Virginia, before cropping.
The same image after cropping to remove unnecessary areas from the edges of the image.

I start by examining each image to visualize the concept I wish to illustrate.  Visualization may be an overworked term in photography, but it’s basic to creative work.  What it amounts to is this: I must have a clear idea of what I want each image to achieve.  Of course, visualization needs to start before the shutter is tripped.  A poorly conceived image is difficult and probably impossible to recover in post-processing.  There must be good material to work with.  But if I have good raw material, I then need to imagine how post-processing can enhance my meaning and bring it into clear focus for the viewer.  This step is neither easy nor quick.  But it’s important that I take the time to establish a clear conception of what I want to achieve.  Only after I’ve done that can I usefully proceed to subsequent steps.

As I visualized this scene on the New River, I knew that I wanted to contrast the broom sage in the foreground with the softly-flowing rapid in the center and the reflections of the trees on the opposite bank at the top of the image. I increased the luminosity of the white rapids, darkened the water at the top, and sharpened the image to highlight the weeds.

The question naturally arises, how do you carry out a visualization process?  Are there some practical steps you can take to facilitate it?   Can the process be structured so the chances for achieving clear concepts are increased?   Guy Tal comes to the rescue.  In another essay entitled “The Mindful Photographer“ he urges taking time to meditate to prepare the mind for openness to creativity.  But recognizing that this will not work for all photographers or in all situations, he suggests some alternative practices that are as valid for visualizing in the studio as they are in the field.  First, he suggests making a visual inventory.  In post processing, this means clarifying your impressions about the image, identifying things you like, those you don’t, where it’s strong, where it can be enhanced.  Then, conduct a second inventory, this one emotional.  What is your emotional response to the image?  How does it make you feel?  How can the image be altered to bring it into better alignment with what you felt when you pressed the shutter?  Take your time in making these inventories.  If need be, write down your observations, as they will guide your editing.  Then, after you’ve completed the inventories, use them to build a roadmap for making changes to the image that will bring it into line with what you noticed and what you felt.

Once I have a plan, I’ll look at cropping the image.  Although I try to crop in-camera as much as possible, some creative decisions may be needed in post to focus attention on the most important elements in the composition.  Also, if I plan to convert a 3 X 5 full frame image into a different aspect ratio, such as the one needed for a 16 X 20 print, it’s best to do that cropping now.

The initial image of a waterfall on Glade Creek before cropping.
The same scene after cropping slightly to emphasize the whirlpool effect of the water. Additional editing to this version sharpened the details somewhat.

Then I turn to luminosity.  My visual inventory will have identified any distracting zones that draw attention away from the principal subject.  Usually these are bright spots.  But dark areas might also need to be brightened to reveal details important to the overall conception.  After fixing these problem areas, I’ll make subtle adjustments to luminosity throughout the image to enhance my compositional concept.  The intended result is an image that avoids unwanted intrusions, emphasizes the subject I wish to highlight, and is complementary in luminosity throughout.  Though I want well-balanced images, I don’t want images that are bland or, worse, muddied.  Instead, depending on the subject, broad ranges in brightness may be desirable.  The goal is to use luminosity as a creative and expressive tool to enhance the image’s underlying mood as I conceived it in my visualization.

This scene of Sandstone Falls on West Virginia’s New River was characterized by early morning fog over much of the falls. I visualized that as a critical element in the concept I had for this image and in post-processing it I lightened the fog to make it more prominent. I then darkened the water at the left to create greater contrast with the white water in the falls and the hanging fog. A sepia treatment gives a somewhat nostalgic look to the scene, as though it were an old postcard.
My concept for this image was for the leaves on the tree to stand out against the darker foliage in the background. To achieve this, I increased the luminosity of the yellows in the leaves and darkened the greens slightly to create more color contrast.

Finally, I turn to color.  Adobe Lightroom and other post-processing software packages allow local adjustments to the hue, saturation, and luminosity of individual colors.  These controls let me bring out the tones I saw when I captured the image or those I now wish to reflect in implementing my current visualization.  Color adjustments are intended to emphasize the principal subject and reinforce the image’s overall composition.  However, because the human brain makes different emotional responses to individual colors, the color adjustments I make will also affect the deeper meaning the image ultimately conveys.  I need to keep this in mind as I work with the colors. This is when the emotional inventory can help me interpret my feelings about the scene.  How I approach the use of color will affect the mood evoked by the image.  My visualization will guide me in rendering the colors as subtle and subdued or vibrant and intense.

My goal for this image of the Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park was to put attention on the mill in the background and the waterfall in the foreground. I did this by cropping the image to emphasize these elements. But the red leaves were also important to the image, and they seemed dull. To rectify this, I increased the red saturation and luminosity to give it greater emphasis. The challenge was to emphasize the red without making it unrealistically vibrant.
I wanted this detail of the rapids in the New River to be both sharp and to reflect the vibrancy of the colors I visualized. I chose a higher shutter speed to stop the action. In post-processing, I lightened the white of the rapids and deepened the remaining tones to create both contrast and bring out the bold colors in the scene.

This may seem like a lot of work.  And frankly, it is.  But capturing raw images is less than half the process of creating high quality images with sensitivity and meaning.  Thus, to achieve my hoped-for impact, I will need to give my images thoughtful and careful attention in post processing.