Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

The Shadow Knows (Pic of the Week)

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What better way to capture “wear your stilts to work” day?

Regardless of the medium (film, digital, black and white, color), the most intriguing part of photography is light. With that, of course, comes shadow. For most of my landscape photography, I prefer no shadows at all. An overcast sky is like nature’s softbox, providing an evenly lit world where nothing hides under shadow and all can be properly exposed. Waterfalls can be captured with slow shutter speeds to make them look silky, rather than choppy, almost as if they’re painted.

Contrary to what some believe, colors typically come out richer when there’s no bright sunlight. This is due to film’s and digital sensors’ nearly exponential inferiority to the human eye at detecting the varying levels of light in a scene. Effectively, you have a better chance at capturing exactly what you saw in overcast conditions than on a sunny day.

A scene I shot several years ago stands out as an exception. It shows, in fact, when cameras’ tendency to increase contrast can enhance a photo.

First, we see a man holding his toddler. He wants to get from point A to point B, and I’m not the only one contemplating his next move. The sun and shadows work together to emphasize what’s coming.
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Next, he takes action, but from this distance it isn’t quite clear exactly what’s happening.
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Here, in a cropped and enlarged version, it becomes clear that he implicitly trusts the child not to toddle right off that cliff.
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Somehow the darkness below the little girl makes this all seem more ominous than it probably is. At least, I hope it does. If not, this guy certainly ruins his chance for parent of the year.

I went there hoping for the perfect conditions to capture a scenic waterfall. Instead I caught a moment that, regardless of its outcome, promised to make a lasting impression on parent and child. Nature’s lighting made up my mind for me.

[I snapped these pics at the base of Cedar Falls on Petit Jean Mountain (pronounced “petty gene” by the locals), in my home state of Arkansas. It’s part of the Ouachita Mountains (say it “wahshitah”), a very old and scenic range that extends from southeastern Oklahoma to west central Arkansas.]

12 Responses to The Shadow Knows (Pic of the Week)

  1. Awesome. Funny, I spent most of yesterday afternoon thinking about how little I learned of photography (lighting, saturation, etc.) in classes I’d taken. I rue that fact.

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  2. That pic at Cedar Falls reminds me of how original language so often gets ‘localized’ over time. I saw the name of the mountain and thought, “puh-tee jahn.” You know, with the schwa sound in the second word. So many of the original French names and places in the southern states have had the local spices change the flavour forever.

    I’m now considering asking my boss for a ‘wear your stilts to work day’. That would be a whole heap o’ fun!

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  3. Wow… definitely not “father of the year” material…

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  4. La La – Learning knows no age limit (not that you’re near any kind of limit even if there was one). Okay, I’ll stop talking now.

    Simon – Oh, boy, do we have some great manglings of French words and terms. Bois D’Arc is pronounced Bo Dark. It’s too bad, really, that so many things carry that name. Churches, streets, companies in various fields. Google reveals all.

    I would almost bet money that Louisiana is the only state whose residents say it right, and then only way down south.

    Dave – I was hoping the guy would turn around so I could give him a thumbs-up with a dopey grin. Kind of a silent, “Nice job, dumbass!”

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  5. That top picture does explain why you hike your pants up so high, Mark. Legs that long bring with them alot of fabric weight trying to pull the pans down. Defensive hiking, obviously.

    Also, I’m not sure I’m freaking out about the father in the shot. I mean…sure, there’s danger, but depending on the child, I can see it. I started caving with my Dad when I was 5 and helping him work electrical at 11 or 12. Maybe that kid is a bit young…but not much. Whadya think? 4, 5?

    I’ve thought a great deal about how hard it will be to trust Norah to do relatively dangerous things as she gets older. I know I’ll be nervous, but to some extent, isn’t it good for them push themselves? I remember this old tree in my back yard. Dad put a rope that let me get to the lowest branch and from there I could scurry up to this massive branch about 20 or so feet off the ground. I’d go up there and just sit and look over the yard. My Mom tells me now how terrified she was every time I went up there…but it was wonderful for me, I think.

    Regardless…amazing pictures.

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  6. The French language gets mangled, and then you end up with a word like ‘Arkansas’. And don’t even get me started on ‘colonel’. Show me the R in that one! (It’s not Americans, it’s the entire English language. Go to Scotland and you can throw phonetics right out the window.)

    I’m of a mind with Moksha about thrusting kids into dangerous situations. Heck, we leave all our electrical sockets uncovered and regularly give both boys screwdrivers to play with. I like to think of our house as a sort of Darwinian testing ground. We have two boys; we only need one to carry on the name, right?

    I joke, mostly. I want to protect my sons, but not shelter them, you know? It’s a hard balance and one of the many, many things parents have to agonize over. My mom tells me the story of the first time she sent me to mail a letter all by myself, the mailbox all of five blocks away. She trailed behind me, hidden, the entire way. Letting one’s kids into dangerous situations is a hard thing, but necessary. I just wish Mom hadn’t waited until I was 18 to mail my first letter.

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  7. MG and Simon – Good points about the fine line between ensuring safety and being too cautious. Maybe the zoomed look at it makes her look older than she looked to me that day. I just remember being very scared for that little girl. As a guy who grew up climbing on that kind of thing almost daily, I love it and I’m glad to see Ben getting into it, as well.

    As I get more familiar with his abilities, I’ll relax a little. Maybe the father above had seen his little girl handle this type of climb just fine in the past.

    At the time, of course, I wasn’t a parent, so passing judgment came much easier.

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  8. Now I know how to take a photo of myself that will spread the girth.

    On a serious note, it is neat how shadows and angle can change the perspective of a photo. The first photo I thought the ledge was about two inches wide. Once the child was there it, it appeared more like two feet.

    When I look closely at the last one it appears that it could be a wide as five feet after you are on it.

    These remind me of the email sent around with a photographer leaping across and bottomless gorge to get a perfect photo opportunity.

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  9. Blitz – Two-dimensional photographs need help for depth perception, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for the link to the guy leaping. Judging from what’s really down there, I’d say his leap still was too risky for me.

    Back on July 20, 2006, I posted a pic I took of a friend more than 18 years ago. No tricks here, but a steep hillside ran up from the trees below to make his drop “only” about 50 or 60 feet. He made it, by the way.

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  10. That is still crazy Mark. “Only” 50 or 60 feet? I have trouble watching them walk across the crevices at Everest on the aluminum ladders.

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  11. I missed this entry somehow. Probably moreso than the child being placed on the ledge, is the confidence that one has to have with carrying their child into places like that. One slip…and it’s a bad day for everyone. Of course, I felt the wrath once before when I supposedly “Michael Jackson’d” LC over a waterfall when he was really small, so I probably don’t have room to talk.

    It’s hard to believe the Richie Rodgers actually fell off of the top of Sugar Loaf on two separate occasions and lived to tell about it both times. It just doesn’t seem possible. Broken leg once…two broken arms the second time, and a busted up face. Still…doesn’t seem possible.

    You’re going to freak when you see Sugar Loaf next time. There’s some MONSTROSITY of a building being put up right at the Northwest part of the mountain. I don’t even know what it is yet, but it’s huge. The mountain is still open for hiking…..for now. I hope it always is. I want our kids to be able to go up it.

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  12. Just looked it up online. It’s the new ASU campus apparently.

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