“You find yourself alone, sometimes. Without a home, no protection. You don’t know which way to go. You’re lost, no direction”. To be free – Mike Oldfield.
And when in the middle of the night the desperation vanishes and we start to move, this is the feeling: Like wandering in a forest of endless trees, feeling all directions the same. All the effort of rising, of standing up again to find the exit of the labyrinth, just to discover that all the paths look exactly the same and exit might just be an illusion, with not a real existence.
Sometimes we feel confident, in a rush of security, and we make long term plans. We decide what is good and what is bad, and we grasp a clear path towards our objectives. But when we start walking again, the landscape of our feelings drastically changes from one step to the next, and is easy to lose the planned path.
In real forests, the solution is simple: Find a recognizable landmark (a tall tree, a river… maybe the sun). Something that allows you to walk in a straight line until you reach the end of the forest. But when the tall trees of our forests are problems, situations, people around us… how can we find the equivalent of a landmark?
The solution is confidence in a person who knows the best for us. Perhaps is a friend, someone who we trust even if we don’t share its point of view. And even if trusting another person blindly doesn’t make us feeling comfortable, thinking in the “us from the past” as an independent person can help to keep working into finding the solution. If in a previous moment of mind clarity we decided what it was good, maybe trusting those decisions, even if they seem blurry now, might lead to the desired solution. Of course, some decisions taken in advance seem terrible once we are forced to face them in the appropriate moment. But, if that’s the case, we know for sure what to do, so we cannot consider ourselves lost. It is when everything seems diffuse and nothing seems correct when trusting any external help, no matter what, will lead us out of the forest. And even if the path leads us to the opposite direction we wanted, we will be able to correct that once we are outside the forest.
My statistics teacher told me once, many years ago: “The closest you are to something, the less you see it”. Perhaps that’s the reason why we need to really trust someone else when we are lost, even if it supposes a risk: It is worse to roam in circles for the rest of our lives.
“Especially at night I worry over situations I know I’ll be alright. Perhaps it’s just imagination. […] Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear.” Overkill – Men at work.
Watching the Pantà de Sau (Reservoir of Sau) when it is full of water grants you a wonderful sight of the landscape surrounding it. High steep hills all around the water and trees covering every meter of land. The perfect place for a summer evening getaway. But when the water descends, a more interesting thing appears.
It turns out that under the water there is an abandoned church. It was there before the water, with the rest of a village, and was abandoned when the reservoir was created. Still, the water couldn’t destroy it and, if the level is low, the bell tower of the church appears in the middle of the surface, like the haunted ghost of a better time. If you are lucky, you can reach it with a canoe. If you’re luckier, the water will be so low that you will be able to enter on foot and walk around the ruins, like an archeologist discovering the ruins of an ancient civilization.
It makes me think in how life tends to submerge us in so many kinds of problems, until we surrender and accept to live drowned, accepting that situation as the “normal circumstances of life”. How we tend to accept the pressure just because we feel there is nothing else to be done. When we are in our personal night, drowning in a sea of tears, it is the only thing we seem to be able to perform.
But from time to time, the water flows away, the pressure descends, and the true essence of us arises for everyone willing to see. Sometimes just a part of our true selves, and sometimes we get completely out of the water for a small period of time until it returns again. But in any case, if someone is lucky enough to be there, s/he will be able to see the amazing show of being ourselves, with all of our greatnesses and with all of our beauty, empty of misery and pain.
It’s a pity that the surroundings of us are usually lonely, with no one really interested in looking instead of just seeing. And at the end, more sooner than later, we will feel drowned again, looking for salvation under the sea of problems and worries.
“Oh can’t you see you belong to me. My poor heart aches with every step you take”. Every breath you take – Police.
We live our lives surrounded by people of all kinds. Taller, smaller, richer, poorer, more or less intelligent… Every person we interact with every day was born in the same way as us. It’s everything else what make us different from them.
In some cases is heritage: Some people inherit money or terrains from their parents, but in many cases inheritance is not limited to material things. People inherit the education from their parents, the relationships they have made in the past with other people, their fame. You can get a good job because your employer knows our father for years, or be the coolest person in high school because your family was rich enough to pay for your studies, a car, parties… while other people has to spend their spare time working to survive. Or just be tough to be an honest, or a successful kind of person, just because it was the environment you were raised in.
And one of the most curious ways of inheritance is the social one. You can get things done just because other people are willing to do them for you, because they trust you.
But a person, at the end, is just a person. Strip any human being of every possession, physical or social, and you get nothing more than a “bag of dirty water”. Think of the president of any country. As a human being, in the physical sense, has nothing different from any other person in the country. He just decided to take some decisions who lead him to become president because the rest of the people agreed with that. If that president created a new law that nobody wanted to obey… What could he do to accomplish his desires?
People are only as powerful as they want us to believe. And, of course, if you stop believing but all your neighbors still do, you won’t achieve anything. But power, trends, fashions, popularity… is nothing more than a great shadow that people freely decide to obey.
But we keep submitting to people every day, to their wishes and whims, as if they really had actual power over us. Perhaps is a boss, using you as a toy or pawn in their particular game, or perhaps is a sentimental partner, using your faith in the relationship to get more than s/he should. We could break that chain that ties us easily, but we choose to keep it, while we convince ourselves that we cannot do it.
It reminds me to Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, where the gods only had as much power as people believing in them. Your word is trustable only if people think so, and you only will have as much power as people accept to give to you. But that power is not real, is just a promise of actuation, a word. Just like money has not real value as its own, it’s just a paper you trust to be able to change for things when you accept it in exchange for other things.
So, we spend our lives submitting to people we shouldn’t, not because they have real power, just because they convinced us they do and our lack of self-confidence obeys, submissive.
“You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness, like resignation to the end, always the end”. Somebody that I used to know – Gotye.
Walking around Tavertet just at dawn, when everyone is still in bed, makes you feel really lonely. You are surrounded by old and cold stones in buildings, roads… meant to be used by people, but there is no one around to use them. Only you.
The birds singing and the cool breeze hitting your ears are the only sounds that reach you from time to time. The rest is just silence, emptiness, void. If you walk, the noise of your footsteps follows you, but it’s just an echo, a byproduct of your own presence and nothing more. Stop moving, stop wasting energy, and the sound disappears again. You are a product of civilization, in the middle of a civilized place, but completely alone.
And yet, it can become addictive. The sun raising, slowly, with its orange light that seems warm but can’t fight the cold surrounding air. The quietness, so estrange for the people of the busy cities where everything is in movement and activity never ceases. The contrast of the mountains, the sky and the small stone buildings opposed to the concrete skyscrapers of the city… A charming perspective that can make you get lost in the middle of nowhere, feeling happy of the security it imbues in you. The security of no one near you able to harm you.
And it reminds me of many people all around the world. People seeking shelter in the loneliness, in the emptiness of aching souls just to avoid suffering more pain. People addicted to being alone, looking for it actively (even if they don’t really want to), just because it feels safe. It’s kind of addictive feeling alone while suffering, keeping everyone far away as a protection against pain.
But in the long run, if you stand still for too long in the border of the cliff where Tavertet is, you’ll become bored and cold. The sun will end its rising and will start to decline. The day will become night, and the temperature will drop. No food to provide energy for walking and, eventually, you end the journey becoming as cold as one of the old stones which form the ground.
And the worst of all is losing the opportunity to see, to live, everything else life is deploying in your journey.
So it is time to start walking again, heading to the next place to reach. To say goodbye to the beautiful views of the town, and remembering the isolated calm from a different place. What you learnt there will still be with you wherever you go afterwards.
“If he asks you good buddy was I laughing, tell him I was crying… tell him I was crying”. Railroad worksong – The Notting Hillbillies.
Sometimes, things end with the prettiest colors, with the most extraordinary explosions of light. In the most destructive, but still beautiful, way. But even in its beauty it feels catastrophic.
The end of something important is always a hard event. It may be the loss of a family member, the breakup with a partner you are still in love with, the loss of the job of your life, the betrayal of someone you considered your friend or failing that one last chance about something. In those moments is hard to see anything else than darkness and desperation, as if the world you knew was completely gone and nothing else remained in life to be done. Sadness, even depression, might be the only companion we get in those moments, and when the people from outside try to make us see the good things around, the only thing we feel is their misunderstanding of the situation. Empty advice, easy words said to give more satisfaction to the adviser than to the advised, is all company some people may have. Of course, they do it with the best of the intentions, but completely lacking of usefulness, from a so distant perspective that they are not even worth remembering soon after.
It’s hard to see the colors of the dusk when you believe that the day is your complete life, and it is almost gone.
But future is always changing in many different and unpredictable ways. And although we can imagine a full spectrum of future possibilities, we always keep our mind locked in the most destructive one, the pessimistic outcome. We forget that sometimes, those endings, those changes, lead to some new things that turn out to be better, and we wouldn’t have reached them without that forced ending.
Usually, problems are worse in our minds.
So the next time you suffer from an ending, stop for a while (anyway, why hurry? you won’t have anywhere to go in that moment… Right?) and look around. Perhaps you are missing a lovely show while crying for a future that nobody knows still about. Perhaps, as time goes by, you will realize that those sad times were, in fact, important times, when your life changed in a radical way to something better and you were not noticing.
And if it is not the case… try at least to find the best thing in the middle of your desperation. You are going to suffer it anyway, so taking something good from it, even if it is tiny, will make the bad things slightly less bad.
In the following days, I am posting a work I’ve been preparing for the last few weeks: Sojourn.
It started as every good adventure does: with a journey. I got lost (in good company) for almost a week in the deepest of one of the most famous regions of Spain: Catalonia. And although it is widely known by its political issues regarding independence, I could just forget about this and focus in the beautiful landscapes and places it has to offer.
Traveling usually awakes my mind and makes me think on many things, some of them abstract, some personal, but usually philosophical. When you climb to the top of the highest mountain around or contemplate the surface of a reservoir, many things can populate your mind. Not only awe about the landscape, but also the mind is skilled into making wide and abstract connections with many other topics. You start thinking about who you are, what makes you the person that you have become, what decisions you took that could have led to different consequences… And also you think about the people you care most (even if they don’t know or don’t care in the same way).
When I started this journey, I was asked by someone close to bring with me something “free or very cheap” as a present. Although the “very cheap” part was fulfilled a few days ago, I came to the idea of the “free” part: I was giving my experience as a gift. My own experience trough photography. Not only pictures of the places I visited (we all have those pics, even more nowadays with a camera in every smartphone). My pictures were carefully taken and selected, and accompanied with feelings. Those feelings come in the form of texts (my thoughts about them), but also with pieces of music, with quotes, even with a story behind (that the reader will have to unravel by filling the wide gaps I’ve been leaving behind). The picture this time is just one more brick of something bigger, a part of me. I wanted to make people feel what I felt when I was there. And I want make people stop and think a little bit about every topic, and how what is written, and the picture, relate to their own life and experience.
Although every picture is accompanied with a personal reflection, not all thoughts arose just at the moment of taking the pictures, in the same way that not all my thoughts and opinions are reflected in this work. Sometimes only trough deep and careful meditation (even hours of thinking and writing the same paragraph) we can reach to the true meaning of something. But what it is important about a picture is not usually what it made feel the photographer when he took it, but what it makes the viewer feel after contemplating it.
So this work tries to be the “picture of my mind”, of the thoughts and considerations I have been having in my mind for the last few months, and how this journey (completely outside of my comfort zone) can relate to them. Like the Sojourner rover sent to Mars, from which this work takes its name, this is the exploration of something new (a place), related with something old (my mind) to discover the truth about something important (myself).
I hope you enjoy this experience, and find the places, sensations and thoughts as amazing as I did.
In the previous post I gave some technical tips for taking pictures in concerts. The post came from a conversation I had with a colleague a few days ago, and it included about half of the things we talked about. In this second part we we’ll see other recommendations, less related to the technical part and more related with the artistic way of taking those pictures.
Spot metering and ETTR (advanced)
One of the problems that you’ll surely have during the event is the variable amount of light, which will change along the scenario. The camera has a built-in photometer to measure light and controlling the exposure parameters (on guiding you on the adjustment if you are using manual mode). But if the measure is wrong you will end with a poorly exposed picture.
When using evaluative or center weighted metering, the camera will take into account a lot of information in the scene and will average it. This means that if you have a big area poorly lit or with an excess of light, the measure will be wrong. The best way of dealing with it is using spot metering. In this mode the camera will measure the light only using the central point. This way you can point it to the place of interest, measure it and be sure that the subject you are interested in will be correctly exposed (but you have no guarantee on the other parts of the picture).
Anyway, if you still need to use one of the wider modes, stick to evaluative, as it gives more importance to the point closest to your focus point and less to the further areas of the image.
For more information about the metering modes you can see this resources for Canon or Nikon (in other brands modes are similar).
A concept related to spot metering is exposing to the right (ETTR), where you take the pictures as overexposed as possible without blowing up any important areas. This allows storing a higher amount of information in the area with less noise (highlights). In concerts, many of the information is in the dark area of the histogram, and the highlights are usually empty, so storing the picture in the highlights (overexposing) and correcting afterwards in the post-processing can help to decrease the noise levels. This technique, however, is advanced, and the photographer should be confident with it in simpler circumstances before trying it in a concert. If any part of the picture is blown up (pure white) you won’t be able to recover it.
The best way to perform this operation is using spot metering, pointing it to the brightest place of the scene that we want to be correctly exposed (e.g. we might want the white shirt of the singer to be well exposed but we don’t care if the bulbs of the lights are blown up or not, so we will measure in the shirt). We will adjust the camera’s parameters in this point so the photometer shows the indicator as right as possible (usually +2 o +3), but still inside the scale (it’s better to not reach the final line than getting slightly too far outside the scale, usually marked with a right pointing arrow). Finally, once taken, if the picture is overexposed we compensate it while processing the raw file.
RAW format and processing
Shooting in JPEG will allow you to take more pictures in the same card, but at the price of poorer quality if you need to touch anything later. And have for granted that you’ll need to touch things… many things. This is the reason why you should always use RAW format. Using RAW means that you will be in charge of processing it to get the final image (instead of the automatic process the camera does). Think about it: Who knows better how the picture should look like, your camera or you? If you are opposed to photographic retouching you are lucky: standard processing of the RAW usually doesn’t count as retouch. You are just making an interpretation of the information the sensor stored. The camera also does that, the only difference is that the camera just applies default values blindly and you can decide the optimum ones while you see the result. It is the digital equivalent of choosing the brand of film, choosing the times and amounts of liquids or the times used with photographic paper. In the era of film cameras nobody opposed for that.
When adjusting the parameters, you should take care that the main subject is correctly exposed by adjusting exposition controller. After that you can recover the highlights and control the shadows with the respective controllers. Blacks and whites should be used in a way that both are just at the limits where you won’t see any pure black or white area (of interest) in your picture. Also, take a look at the noise levels and adjust the color noise value (as much as needed) and luminance (a good balance between noise and sharpness).
Finally, if you are going to process it further in other software, don’t do any sharpening and wait to the final step to do it, as quality quickly degrade if modifications are made after a sharpening process (even resizing!).
Get the best place you can (or allowed)
In a concert there are a lot of people. We want to make the best possible pictures, but sometimes somebody’s head will challenge our ability (and patience) as photographers. If we are taking the pictures for ourselves a rogue head in the middle of the picture can be annoying, but if the pictures are for professional use this can render them completely unacceptable and without any chance of recovering.
If it is possible, try to talk with the organization to get a favorable position. Sometimes the first line is reserved for press and photographers, or at least you will get a reserved place near the stage. If that is not an option try to arrive with enough time and position yourself in the best spot you can. Sometimes, if you have in mind the kind of pictures you want to take you will see that some places are more adequate for them than others.
Also, try to analyze the public and the “sweet spots” during the show. Sometimes people may get more concentrated in some areas than in others, or you might find some higher spots where people won’t interfere. Analyzing the space around you is a necessity if you will be surrounded by the rest of the public.
Also, if you have confidence with the performers, try to get some pictures before the concert, when there are no people around. Those pictures will not replace the ones you will do during the act, but might help as a failsafe in the case that something unexpected happens. The pictures before, taken with a calmer mood, will probably be sharper and with more quality than the ones taken in the hot moment.
Take advantage of eventualities
Finally, one last piece of advice. During a concert, many unexpected things may happen. I’m not talking about UFO abductions or Superman appearing to save the day. But sometimes the singer might adopt the exact position where the light creates a mystic halo around his head, a burst of smoke might create a great effect, or the performers might do some nice movement that they won’t repeat (like rising a fist to the air or jumping).
Always be ready for those eventualities, and be sure to catch them with your camera. In the worst case you’ll have the most iconic picture of the event instead of a lot of cliché pictures. In the best case, if more photographers are present, you might be the only one to have the best picture of the event. And this opens a lot of opportunities.