Signs of Health

The weather this week was not as bad as I feared, so we were able to take some nice walks around town and spend a lot of our afternoons out in the back yard 1. Our normal route by the river is very crowded at the moment, and trying to keep distance from people is next to impossible 2, so yesterday we opted to head away from the river instead.

It was a wonderful time, and we were able to stop at a friend’s house and do a “social distance visit 3.” In ordinary times, it’s where Bump spends his days while my wife and I are working, so he was ecstatic to see the other kids. Their family had been busy coloring the sidewalk with helpful advice 4 and encouraging messages. I was so happy I remembered to put my wide-angle lens on my camera!

After we chatted for a bit we began our walk home, altering our path any time we found someone on the path in front of us 5. When we were a few blocks from home I noticed something which I found remarkable. Palmyra has a train tracks which run down our main drag 6. On the one side of the tracks a nice promenade runs through part of the town, which is a lovely feature I’d love to see us utilize more. As we came towards Broad Street I noticed what I guess was a father and daughter duo, kneeling on the walkway. It was then I saw the pieces of sidewalk chalk in their hands and, fascinated, I diverted my walk to see what they were drawing 7. I didn’t want to force these folks to move back from me, so I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked to the drawing to take my photos 8, but what I saw gave me great joy. It was one word, in huge letters, “Breathe.”

Father-Daughter Partners, spreading joy

Just, Breathe.

I thanked the pair and rejoined my family to finish our walk. And after we’d arrived at home I noticed the partners coming down our street, stopping on occasion to draw some encouragement on the sidewalk. This his how they were spending the beautiful afternoon–blessing others with hope and compassion.

It was a beautiful thing. A sign of health.

For the rest of my images from the walk, see my SmugMug Gallery.

  1. Bump loves running. 
  2. Bump and I walked one block along the road, but bailed when we looked at the more narrow part of the street and saw a mass of people. 
  3. Six feet apart, Bump couldn’t get out to play with the kids. 
  4. Wash your hands! 
  5. It is an odd thing to feel the need to treat other walkers like potential bio-hazards. 
  6. It splits broad street, which is an interesting quirk of the town, but it also reduces the scope of our downtown area, which is a bit of a bummer. 
  7. Always being mindful of my physical distance from folks. 
  8. I may go back today if the rain holds off some. 

The Stairs

It was a lovely day yesterday in the Delaware Valley, so my wife and I decided to take Bump for a walk down by the river. It wasn’t the best time of the day for photographs, the light was harsh, but it was so beautiful I couldn’t consider leaving my camera behind. I attached my fisheye lens, as I’m fascinated by the different looks it affords me. The photo below is an example of why I enjoy walking with this lens.

I’ve attempted to photograph these steps on a number of occasions, but I’ve never had a lens wide enough to do justice to the scene. At 7.5 mm, however, the fisheye allows me to capture the whole set of stairs, as well as Delaware River and Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. The lens distortion at this angle adds to its charm. I developed the photo in color, and then added a black and white filter. I love how it turned out.

Stairs in the seawall on the Delaware

Panasonic G7 with 7.5 mm fisheye lens, ƒ/4, ISO 200, 1/500 sec

Ski Mount Stupid

In Random Thoughts #7 I mentioned how I wanted to create a tee-shirt which read, “Ski Mount Stupid.” A lot of people probably don’t know what that is and, to be honest, I only remember about it when it pops up in an article somewhere.”Ski Mount Stupid” is about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The effect looks like the image below.

The y-axis in the graph is the level of confidence a person as in their knowledge of a topic. The x-axis is the amount of competence a person develops on a topic over time. Confidence begins at zero, but quickly rises to lofty heights in short order. At this point a person will feel that they know everything about a topic and will consider themselves an expert on the subject. This high point is known as “Mount Stupid.”

As more time passes, people who are planted on Mount Stupid begin to realize how little they actually know. As this happens people’s confidence in their knowledge plummets into the “Valley of Despair.” This is an awful place to be, but this is where the journey toward actual competence begins.

I ski Mount Stupid all the time 1, let me share one my more recent examples.

I’ve always loved astronomy, and ever since I took up photography as a hobby I’ve wanted to get out and do some astrophotography. To prepare myself I began watching youtube tutorials on how to set exposure, the maximum shutter speed you can use to avoid star trails, how to prepare RAW files for stacking, and the best applications to do the stacking process. After getting a lens which was ideal for this type of photography I thought I was ready to head out and get some fantastic photographs of the night sky.

It was a disaster.

I knew what the tutorials told me to do, but I had no idea why they were telling me to do what they were telling me to do. It was depressing, I fell into the valley of despair and stepped away for months from trying to do any sort of astrophotography. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to head out to Long Beach Island for a retreat this past January that I dared to try my hand at some astrophotography again. Before I headed out to the beach, I rewatched some of the better tutorials on YouTube and began to ask “Why do they tell me to set it that way?” as I watched. I was confident I’d do a better job.

I didn’t come away in a state of depression after developing these photos. That was an improvement, but the results still didn’t look as good as I hoped.

So I headed out to Long Beach Island again, with an even better understanding of what the tutorials were telling me what to do. I took forty exposures and developed them the way the tutorials told me to do. I was confident I was beginning to understand what was happening and I’d have my decent photos of the night sky at long last. The results were “meh,” and I was ready to just give up. Once again I got stuck in the Valley of Despair.

And then my brain kicked in and I began to look away from “the tutorials say to do this” and instead turn to what little I know about photography. As the light bulb in my head began glow I realized that my photos were over-exposed. And when that clicked for me I began to look at my settings, and adjust them to levels my photo stacker 2 would be able to use. After that, my results were much improved. They still weren’t where I want them to be, because I the photos were way over exposed out of the camera, but I’m at the point where I’m beginning to understand why 3. The upward slope out of the Valley of Despair has been reached 4.

Skiing down Mount Stupid was awful. I’d really been looking forward to using the sky stacker software I purchased, and when things didn’t work out it was not enjoyable. In fact, I would describe the ride down Mount Stupid as, “Frustrating, disillusioning, and often bitter.” It is also, however, necessary. When we come to grips with how little we understand about a topic, we can begin the journey toward wisdom and humble understanding. That’s an amazing ride.

So go ahead, dare to ski Mount Stupid. You’ll probably hate it, but in the end you’ll be glad you did.

Ski Mount Stupid

  1. I’m doing it right now, to be honest. 
  2. I use Starry Sky Landscape Stacker, in case you were wondering. This application takes multiple images and aligns the sky, while keeping the foreground aligned separately (it doesn’t move, after all). The result is a composite image which takes the light from every exposure and combines them. This brings out more detail. 
  3. From what I’m learning, you want them to be a little over exposed. The problem is, the settings all my tutorials were telling me to use were hitting up against East Coast light pollution and blowing my images out. 
  4. At least, I hope. We’ll see. 

The Light

It took three exposures to make this composite. It’s my best from the shoot, but it’s a terrible camera angle.

Last week I found myself at a pastors’ retreat on Long Beach Island 1. I was excited because it was the first time in years that I’d be in a location which didn’t suffer from insane light pollution. I resolved to take some time at night, no matter the temperature, and head to beach for some astro photography. My photos didn’t turn out great, I was too impatient and didn’t get enough exposures with the same camera position, but the experience was amazing.

LBI is a barrier island on the Jersey Shore, and it’s winter population is minimal compared to the height of summer. At 8PM on Monday night I set off from Harvey Cedars Bible Conference and walked the few blocks to the beach. I didn’t encounter a single vehicle the entire walk. It was as quiet a moment as I’ve ever experienced. No planes flew over head, no voices rang out into the night from the vacant summer homes, there wasn’t even much wind. When I reached the top of the dune path the sound of the surf cradled my heart, and I was enveloped in glorious darkness. I haven’t seen stars like that for a long time.

It wasn’t like being in the Arizona Desert, or some of the areas designated to be free from light pollution which you find scattered across the county. If I turned back toward the mainland the glow in the sky washed everything out, and it wasn’t dark enough to see the Milky Way with the naked eye 2. But it was breathtaking nevertheless.

After I took my photos 3 I turned and headed back down to where we were staying. As I was turned back West toward the mainland, the sky was washed out by the light and seemed drab–it was almost oppressive. When electricity was being rolled out in cities the idea of “conquering the night” was touted as one of the big selling points. And, really, we did. We are able to treat night as day, all we need are the right kind of lights. But looking up at the during that walk back to my room, knowing how much beauty was up above right behind me, I couldn’t help if our conquest cost us more than we knew. On the dunes I felt a profound sense of awe and wonder, and recognized my own smallness. Looking up at the glowing haze toward the West made the world feel small.

Psalm 19:1 reads,

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork 4.

I appreciate the wonders of artificial light, I depend on it, but I wonder if maybe it’s also made us a bit less aware of transcendence–and less likely to wonder.

  1. Affectionately known as “LBI.” 
  2. That’s on my bucket list. 
  3. And, again, not enough of them. I need to do another trip soon just for the photography. 
  4. NRSV 

On the Beach

Earlier this week I attended a clergy retreat in Harvey Cedars, NJ. It was a blessed time, filled with time for contemplation instead of programming. I spent a good portion of our time in silence walking the wintering streets of the Summer resort with my camera. Few cars were out, fewer houses were occupied. My only earthly companions were the wind and the sky above me.

As an experiment, I decided to put my 7.5 mm fisheye lens on my camera. This afforded me all sorts of options to frame my shots, and created some impressive perspective. The fisheye perspective on landscape shots, in particular, exudes transcendence. The wide field of view, combined with the distortion, create a massive sense of scale. Looking at my photos from my walk in silence makes me feel tiny, which creates a wonderful appreciation for the greatness of both the world around me and the Creator of all things. My favorite from the series is below, the rest can be found on my smugmug page.

Beach path across the dunes

Panasonic G7 with 7.5 mm 7 Artisans fisheye lens • ISO 200 • 1/4000 sec

Getting Fishy

This past Christmas I received a fisheye lens from my daughter as a present. It was a thoughtful gift, and I’m going to get some wonderful use out of it. I already had a circular fisheye lens to use for astro-photography, but a standard fisheye lens opens up a whole new set of creative looks for my photographs. It’s also easier to “de-fish” the photos, which reduces the distortion and creates some spectacular wide-angle shots.

I’m looking forward to taking this lens into Philly to get some distinct street views, but I was able to take it down to the river to put it through some paces 1. My favorite photo is below, the others can be found on my smugmug gallery.

The Delaware River

Lumix G7 with 7.5 mm fisheye lens • ISO 200 • ƒ/8.0 • 1/1000 sec

  1. I also want to get it into Central’s sanctuary at some point.