So Simple that I almost Missed it

OWPSunriseSat

I remember this particular morning. I had awoken early, well before dawn, with the hope of capturing some great images at the local wetlands. A ritual that I look forward to most of the week. Getting away from my daily grind like this usually lets me wash away the “grit” that I accumulate over the span of previous week. However, this morning was not what I expected.

It started out very cloudy, a heavy rain had happened the night before and the outlook for this morning called for more of the same. As I drove to my destination I thought to myself that I should have stayed in bed believing that I would not capture anything on this dreary morning. Yet I pushed on as small droplets of rain splashed on my windshield confirming at least for the moment that my warm cozy bed offered more relief than some wet sticky patch of dirt I was about to step into.

When I finally arrived at the shoot location the earlier rains had subsided. I unpacked my gear and headed into the Wetlands to look for a suitable spot to set up. It was a subtle quiet as I approached the water’s edge where I wanted to capture the Sunrise but instead of seeing clear skies on the horizon I saw nothing but low hanging clouds. Undaunted, I pressed on although I have to confess that I did hold some thoughts of heading to a different locale, one that I thought might be better and one that had clearer skies. What happened next can only be described as “completely taking me by surprise”.

The clouds started to display a hint of color usually associated with that time of day; gray gave way to red then orange which manifested the sky into a soft pastel yellow as the Sun made its journey over the horizon. Clouds that once hung low seemed to unfold allowing the full glory of the Sun to break through and display its brilliance. All of Creation woke with a shout as the Sun passed through the clear opening, paused and continued back into the expanse once again being swallowed up by the approaching storm. But for a few minutes, within a click of time, the amazing images I was allowed to capture were truly wonderful. It was as if God said, “…wait…wait a sec, let Me show you this”.

Reflecting on that morning I realize that sometimes we miss the best opportunity or ignore simple truths because we think that something better might get us to another presumed destination that we want more. We take the absolute truth and exchange it for a lie and more often than not pay a higher penalty for that decision. Had I chosen to move on to a different location I would have missed one of the most spectacular Sunrise’s I ever saw. There have been other times in my life that I thought I needed to do something else to reach a desired outcome only realizing that in the end if I just listened for God who was saying “Wait, Wait”, His Words would lead me in the right direction.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2, the Apostle Paul writes, as inspired by the Holy Spirit  that, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” I realized that there was nothing I could do to earn salvation, I couldn’t pray harder, give bigger offerings, work harder or do any kind of man made work that would win me the golden ticket. It had all been done on the Cross of Christ and nothing else was required. God says it right here in the Ephesians that it is a FREE GIFT and that not of yourselves. I simply needed to Believe that His righteousness alone made the way possible for me to spend eternity with Him. WOW! When I realized that simple truth all I could do was weep and thank Him for His Grace.

Perhaps you have been trying to earn your way to Heaven but seem never to come any closer. Simply put…you can’t! How can sinful man even begin to think that he has any righteousness at all to stand before a Holy God. God’s provision for our sin and the only way to Heaven is through Jesus Christ. Apart from Him there is no other way. Believe  on Him and you shall be saved. Sometimes, the simplest truth is the one that most often is ignored or passed over; like the temptation to leave my photo shoot in favor for another place. I am glad I did not give in to my wayward idea, else I would have missed Gods Gift to me.

 

…gone in a blink

Florida is known for its sandy beaches, sunny weather and the best in theme parks but most folks are not acquainted with Florida’s wild side. Specifically the Florida Scrub Jay which is considered by some as the true “State” Bird. This little blue bird brings a sence of awe to all who visit it but it also commands a warning that few heed.

Scrubjays-(5-of-5)Florida Scrub Jays are native to this state and this state alone, they live in Florida Scrub habitats such as Sand Oak, Sand Pine and Chapmans Oak and are considered by most to be a very docile. The Federal Government classifies them to be a vulnerable species and that is why they remain on the endangered species list. Once numbered in the tens of thousands this lovable little creatures now barely lists 4000 mating pairs through out the state. As dire as it may be, everyone who loves this little guy can also help in the solution that insures the survival of this lovely bird.

Scrubjays-(1-of-5)First and foremost, consider the habitat that it lives in and do what ever it takes to preserve it. Wildfires do major damage to the scrub oak than construction so think about that campfire and its placement. Next, think twice about feeding this bold friendly blue ball of feathers. Sure they will love you if you carry a nut into their habitat but that action will cause them to be dependant on humans for part of their food. I spent the better of the morning the other day with these birds and trust me they have plenty of food to eat. I understand the temptation to feed them and get close to nature in the process but, considering the cost, be patient and they will reward you with the obligatory head landing just to say hello.

With respect on photographing these little guys, I used my 300mm f4 but found it too long in most of my images. I settled on my 70-200mm with a 1.4 TC and that did the job just fine. You could use a point and shoot if that is all you have and if you sit still long enough they will come to you and you can shoot til your heart’s content.DSC_7598

Remember, as the higher species, man has a responsibility to watch over the lesser creation. Not doing so will cause our this favorite woodland creature to be lost forever; 4000 mating pairs may sound like a lot but they can be gone in a blink.

When the time comes to just sit down.

It is interesting how God gets your attention. Over the last several weeks things have not gone the way I have expected. I lost the promotion that I have been expecting and this week I am really sick. No voice, sneezing and coughing and just plain yuk! I haven’t spent much time making pictures either. Yup, just plain yuk! It seems that I am stuck on the running wheel with no hope of getting off. My focus has been been so much on my troubles that I have taken it off of God and I am living with a “woe is me” attitude which I know is not a good state of mind.

This morning I was sitting outside hoping to take in some fresh in an effort to shake this cold when I had some time to reflect on all that has happened. First things first, it must be said that God is Sovereign and He has planned out all of my steps. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that where I am is exactly where God wants me to be. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are to sit around like puppets waiting for the puppeteer to bring us to life, we have determinative free will that causes us to plan our way but ultimately it is God that guides and directs us. (Proverbs 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.) Even when things are going right I tend to forget this truth.

I guess for now wisdom would dictate that I relax and let this illness take it course and relish in the down time trusting in the realization that God is telling me that I need a break.

 

Simply Awesome

This morning I visited my favorite shooting spot as I relax on this my second day of vacation. I morning air was cool and inviting as I made my way down to the shoreline. Not a creature was stirring and the silence was noticeable. Since I arrived well before sunrise the early light was just   beginning to brighten and I could make out the spot where the Sun should come up. What happened next was amazing.

As I walked to the spot I had picked out to shoot the sunrise, hundreds of frogs started chirping! Soon they were joined by a small chorus of shorebirds slowly waking the whole area. I can only describe this as God’s creatures waking up at first light singing their Praises to their Creator for a new day. I felt privledged being there to witness this amazing event. I suppose if Man will not Praise God then the remander of His Creation will.

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Perspective

Recently I was out on a shoot and ran across another photographer sharing the early morning light. As usual we struck up a conversation about the available subjects at this location, what was good and what wasn’t.  I was surprised to hear that there was really nothing to “shoot around here” especially since I had just spent the better part of the last hour capturing some of my favorite shots! Now I should say from the outset that I am not a world class photographer but I have won several contests with my captures. So to hear a statement like I just heard was a little unsettling.

One of the first things I learned as a budding photographer ( and still am learning) was that there are things to shoot all over the place! If you can’t find anything to photograph you are not looking hard enough.  I once tried an exercise where I planted my self and forced myself to look 360 degrees from my location and find something new or different. By doing this simple exercise I was training my eye to pick out new things or maybe the same things seen from a different angle. It was really amazing to see that I could find the odd and fantastic anywhere around me. One of my favorite subjects is the Snowy Egret
which are found just about everywhere around this area. It is easy taking a picture of these comical creatures using any camera you may have. For me I like to take it a bit further with these birds and I’ll wait for the ‘odd shot’ moment before I press the shutter. For example, I love to photograph these birds while they fish. _JAY0800_6705They move back to and fro sizing up the pond looking for breakfast and when the time is right they STRIKE! Head and all goes into the water, splashing and scaring anything that happens to be near them. Many times I have walked away with nothing but the memory of being there but there are days when I get a great shot that is “wall worthy”.

If you are going to pick up a camera you really must have the mindset that you are going to simply not settle for the average “snapshot”. Now snapshots have their place but if you truly desire to find the unique you have to get low and become part of your subject. Find out what makes it tick or what makes it special and then capture that moment. Also become your worst critic! By viewing your own work with a critical eye you will begin to see an improvement with your shots and by all means, shoot for your own pleasure. In the final analysis what you capture must be pleasing to you first; no one else matters (even the most discerning editor). Someone once said that if you love what you do, it won’t even feel like a job but will become your passion.

Finally keep looking for the shot! There are thousands of things right in your own backyard to shoot. Get on the ground, get muddy, become one with the subject and click that shutter!

In the Presence of my Enemies

Over the last several weeks our people, our nation and our way of life have been attacked once more by individuals for some unknown reason. Whether it be in the name of Jihad, or to earn some delusional hope of glory, or if it was simply two idiots brainwashed into thinking they are doing something for the “greater” good. Whatever the motivation the bombing at the Boston Marathon brought back into focus our vulnerability, questioning once more the safety of our daily lives. When we thought we were safe, we were sharply drawn back into the place we left back in 2001 and once again the images of those great towers flood our minds with the horror of that day and the days to follow. So what do we do now? What are we to think?

I guess the best place to start is understanding that “evil” has been around for a long, long, time. For any of us to think that it will simply disappear because we want it to is ludicrous. Evil will be around until the Heavens and the Earth Melt away. Terrorists believe that they can influence a society by making that society believe that their next step could be their last, hence, forcing a standstill from life itself. They know that for them to win they need to intimidate the rest of us into giving up. Using the simple psychological principle of operant conditioning they will slowly but deliberately change our thinking into their desired result. It is not the bombs that will defeat us it is our fear of the unknown and that unknown is the most paralyzing for many.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that, “the only thing we need to fear is fear itself.” I agree with that statement. Although he said that quote in his 1932 Inaugural Address it still applies today! While he made that speech during the Great depression his words need to be heard right now. We have in this country many who call themselves “victims”, not from bombings or attacks from the outside but from a belief that they are entitled to received something from this government. In their minds they think they are the victim of some unfair system, party or group and they hope that if they scream loud enough they will be heard and spare themselves from the fear that they will become something they do not want. In essence they have given up, afraid of taking the next steps to pull themselves out of the mire they find themselves in.

Roosevelt was trying to rally the country from imploding. He knew that he could turn the country around by getting its people up and off the couch, so to speak, he could build a better tomorrow for us all, present and future people included. Another President some 30 years later would proclaim that we should, “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Again encouraging us to get up and fight back, not at petty differences among us but to “find the problems that unite us”. America will be as strong as its weakest link and as weak as it strongest chain. A chain made from cooperation, civility, compassion and understanding while working together to shape a strong union.

Now I know that this blog is primarily a photographers notebook but I felt I needed to address this snapshot that I see sweeping through this country. “A nation divided cannot stand” say the Bible and our enemies will never stop while we wring our hands. Stand up and fight and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop us….ever.

 

Wait…I’m not Ready

     If you have ever planned a photo shoot or spent time waiting for the absolute right time to press the shutter, then what I am about to say should not come as a surprise. It is inevitable that you will miss a shot, forget to change an f-stop or have something go wrong during a photo shoot. For the photographer that could mean re-planning the shoot or waiting until the moment presents it self again. Yet, it may mean simply giving up and trying again another day hoping that you learned from your mistake and vowing not to make the same mistake again. Planning for and being prepared for any eventuality is just part of the job description for anyone wanting to make photographs for a living.
     Recently I was out making photographs in Orlando WetlandsPark, a tranquil piece of Florida nestled in the town of Christmasabout 35 minutes east of Orlandoand I was spending a lot of time “shooting” this Red Shouldered Hawk Juvenile. Those Hawks tend to hang out in the same spot in the Wetlands and I was fortunate to having him “hanging out” while I was there that early in the morning. Light was perfect, the sun had just risen and the warm orange light bathed this Hawks perch perfectly. He was doing all the right things; he looked from side to side, he scratched his head, he puffed up his feathers and he let out his piercing cry seemed to go on forever letting the residents that he was awake and looking for breakfast. (I imagine most of the furry little creatures were not as excited as I was!) I knew that at any moment he would spring off of his perch in search of some unsuspecting little varmint to devour and I wanted to be ready!
     Funny thing about the Wetlands, there is always something interesting to look at. It could be a flock of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, or the resident American Bald Eagle as it buzzes the water looking for fish, or an American Alligator strolling across the gravel roadway in search of better waters. When you are a wildlife photographer something will always be lurking in the shadows, so to speak, that tempts you to take your eye off the mark… and I let myself get sidetracked. I was getting impatient and I let my gaze wander; and when I did turn my focus back to the Hawk I had lost track on what he was doing. It was then that he signaled that he was ready to go, a quick turn of his head and he leapt into the cool crisp morning air, off to parts unknown. My finger was not ready on the shutter button and I missed the shot I had been waiting for. Now I have taken hundreds of photographs of that exact same take off with great success but that is not the point. At that moment I wasn’t ready and I allowed myself to get distracted. Fortunately my morning’s shoot wasn’t ruined and I went on to make some great photographs of that glorious park.
     In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 12, verse’s 39-40 we read, “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Jesus doesn’t tell us when He will come back or for that matter when our days are over. We could die when we least expect it and pass into an eternity without God because we were not ready. God has made a provision for us, 1 Peter, chapter 3, verse 18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. He did this because there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s favor. We are a sinful people and deserve God’s wrath, but that wrath was poured out on His Son so that you and I could be forgiven.
     You see,  all the planning in the world won’t save you from the inevitable and unlike photography, there are no re-takes at judgment. Confess and forsake your sins, and embrace Jesus by faith, who alone is the way to God, (the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 6). Sometimes, God uses the little things around us to teach us great truths that otherwise might be lost and it has always been my wish that my photography would be used by God, in some tiny way, to draw us all into His presence so that we can learn from this marvelous ‘Canvas’ that He has created for us.