In Awe Of Light

It has been about two weeks since I stood there on top of the highest mountain in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mount Hamilton.  In the last couple of months I have been up there three times.  Twice in the evenings after sunset as a visitor to the Lick Observatory.  In the summer the observatory has a great program with lectures and they open up two of the many telescopes and give normal folks like us the chance to look deep into the  universe to see the past.  My third trip was for the rising of this full moon.  It was dubbed a “Super Moon” because it was a full moon at perigee.  Perigee is the point in the moon’s orbit where it is closest to the Earth.  This causes the moon to appear larger than normal, for this moon it was 14% larger than normal.

Super Duper!

The light that evening was subtle.  It is that kind of light that I think is very awe inspiring because it forces us to look at the essence of objects rather than the flash and glitz that comes with bright and saturated colorful light.  Most people do not give this subtle light a second glance let alone really looking.

Further, with such an event as the “Super Moon” where many people world round go out with the intent of photographing it, the moon goes unnoticed.  The hype that surrounds the “Super Moon” is just that, Hype.  When you see a full moon rising it is usually quite dim as it pops out above the horizon shrouded in haze and pollution.  It is lack luster and even that evening it came up fairly unnoticed.  As I stood there on the mountain there might have been about 4 or 5 other people there as well trying to photograph it, and had I not said out loud “There it is!” most might have missed its rising.

For me however the sad part of the story is that no more than 10 minutes after it rose, it ducked behind a cloud bank and we list it for about 20 minutes.  Once it did reappear, it was to bright and the sky was too dark to make any decent photos with it and the Earth.

In a few short days I will be going out again for the new moon, something even fewer people notice.  What is so enticing about all this?  The light.  It simply amazes me how light can travel so far so quickly bringing information from these distant objects about what they are.  Light is all around us.  We are engulfed in it all the time and yet we rarely realize it because it is invisible until some of it goes into our eyes.  Why those particular photos went in and not some others is a question that has no real answer.  But I do know that none were for no reason. Every photon zipping through the universe that end up in your eyes were destined for your eyes and your eyes alone.  No other eye in the universe will “see” the photons you see and as soon as you see them they vanish forever.  Now that is awesome.

Till next time, Peace.

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Disappointment Deals Delight

The Sun

The Light Source

This past Sunday was dedicated to photographing the annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012.  I had prepared for it on many levels from what exposure to use to where I would drop my tripod to how I was going to make what I captured unique, and had done so for weeks ahead of time.  The one thing that I failed to plan for was equipping my four photo/travel assistants with what they needed to view and keep themselves entertained for its duration.  Despite my earlier attempts to find solar viewing glasses I could not find any vendor who was not sold out.  In addition, the day before the eclipse I found myself in a discussion with another photographer who was making plans to photograph and produce HDR (high dynamic range) photos of the event showing both the eclipsed sun and landscape as they would normally appear to our eyes.  I contested his claim but he was insistent that it could be done.  This caused me to waiver in my plans, and coupled with the possibility of a mutiny on my hands with my assistants forced my hand to change my plans nearly entirely.   I found myslef the night before, rather than getting a good night’s rest, up late scouring various sites on what was capable while still maintaining a real look to HDR photography.  Then I happened to land on a news page about the museum and visitor center at Turtle Bay Exploration Park / Wild Bird Sancturay in Redding, Ca.  The article stated that they would be selling solar viewing glasses for $1 and the article was only written that day, the information had to be accurate, right?

Crescent Sun Ecplisped by the Moon

Crescent Sun

In the 11th hour, I changed all my plans.  My destination was now Turtle Bay Wild Bird Sanctuary in spite of the fact that there would be hundreds if not thousands of people there.  Redding was not that far off the annularity line that it would change what I actually had in mind, and park environment would placate my assistants should the need arise.

We awoke Sunday morning and prepared our supplies for the day’s drive and viewing.  We were out the door with plenty of time and the  four and a half hour drive started out pleasant, however the further we drove the more tense things became in the car.  The tide of pleasant anticipation in my assistants was starting to turn.

We arrived with two and a half hours of buffer before the start of the eclipse.  The plan, buy the viewing glasses, eat lunch, find a suitable viewing location and then wait.  Disappointment met us from the beginning.  First the museum under estimated the response for viewing glasses and was sold out the day before.  Not to worry the employee told me, they will have 500 more glasses arriving at 4 pm, and will be available at the annex store by the famous Sundial Bridge.  By the time we arrived we found a line of about 100 people standing in the hot sun in 90° weather waiting to get in to the store at 4pm.  The roving employee there let us know we were in a part of the line where we might not get any glasses as each person could buy up to 5 glasses, putting us in a risky part of the line.  So with great hope we waited.  Slowly patience began to wear thin among my crew. One wanted to light a fire just because it was so hot, his incredulous claim was he could do it with just a focused pinhole of light.  Another wished he did not leave his water in the car.  Then the other wanted to play, and sleep and be carried on my head at the same time.  My patience was starting to wane.  By 4:45 we were inside and we made our purchase – lady luck smiled on us.

Solar Eclipse Obscured by High Cirrus Clouds


We had less than 15 minutes before the start of the eclipse.  I announced that everyone should evacuate bladders and such for once I start the photo sequence there was no stopping.  No one heeded my words.  I was suspicious.  By the time we finished eating and squelching some sibling rivalry fires, the eclipse had started and I missed the initial contact of the moon with the sun and disappointment found its way into my head.

For the next two and a half hours, it was one dispute after another, one distraction after another, one question after another.  My mind was not focused at all on what I was doing.  My photos were not being timed carefully and I would miss the twenty second mark I had planned for each photo more times than I could keep count of.  I was also plagued by clouds, thin nefarious clouds that were just thick enough to keep the light levels jumping all over the place.  I could not make a sequence of more than 4 or 5 photos that had the same exposure level that I needed to make a time lapse sequence possible.  I also saw in my view finder this very odd haloing and glow around the sun nearly the whole time.  Something I did not notice in my practice photos.  It brought me great concern that I might find flares in all these photos making them useless in the end.  My mind started slipping into thoughts of inadequate equipment syndrome, something that did not torment me in more than a decade.

The Annular Eclipse of May 20th 2012 in total annularity

With This Ring

As the moon continued its encroachment of the sun, the anticipation of my assistants increased.  The arguing vanished into amazement, the prevailing thirst quenched with wonderment, and I as well was awe struck by the magnitude of what was occurring before my eyes.  Here was the moon, an entity in our sky that could not be seen if not for the light of the sun, moving in front of the source of what makes it existent to our eyes and blocking it out.  However, rather than overshadowing the sun it instead forms a ring of heavenly light as the the two wed in the sky for nearly 4 minutes in a display that had no beginning and no end.  It was as if time stood still and the world became dim and humbled in the grandeur of their union.  Being so close to a multitude of people, even though out of eyesight, we were not cheated out of hearing the cheers that belted out throughout the park as the ring became complete.  It was a spine tingling moment not to be soon forgotten.

The moon breaks the ring of light as it exits totality

Broken Light

Nonetheless, being created things that had a beginning so long ago, their nature is to end and they exhibited their primal nature with the moon breaking the ring of light as it continued on its way past the sun and ending totality.  Again a second cheer rings out among the crowd.  The event everyone came to see had happened.  In my exhilaration any thoughts I had about not capturing the eclipse the way I had intended had vanished if not for just a brief time.  I continued until the dreaded clouds that obscured the sky and mustered havoc with my exposures obliterated the light of the sun, just 10 minutes before the eclipse concluded.  A disappointing end, and one that brought question if I would have any usable photos at all.

After a long drive to Turtle Bay, and sitting square in the sun and heat for nearly five hours, I had to look forward to another long drive home unsatisfied in my work and with no hopes of a return on the investment made.  We arrived home just past midnight and my first act was to see and download the photos.  At first glance all were useless.  Not more than 4 or 5 photos in sequence were exposed at the same settings, making the probability of a time lapse sequence happening slim to none.  So I turned off the computer and retired to bed  hoping to come up with something in the morning.

The next day I started to process the photos to find almost all of them have a glowing halo around the sun that I could not remove without great difficulty.  In my desperation I start to process the photo Broken Light in a manner that I would never normally do to discover that the halo I was seeing was nothing more than the clouds that were obscuring the sun glowing in the light.  The use of the solar filter on my lens allowing me to view and photograph the sun had made the clouds so dark that they did not appear as clouds when normally processed against the brightness of the sun.  So with my modified processing suddenly the lost photos became as surreal as the momentous eclipse itself.  I searched the net for other photos of the eclipse to find that no one had anything like what I had been given.

My disappointment was suddenly transformed into delight.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to produce a time lapsed sequence of the moon eclipsing the sun.  However in hindsight, what I had envisioned would not have been very interesting and what I was given instead has pleased me much more.  Funny how things turn out.

Now I am looking 5 years ahead to the next eclipse that will cross over this neighborhood of the Earth, maybe then I will see my original vision come to fruition.

Peace to you All!

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The Gold in Golden Gate

The Golden Gate at Dusk

The Golden Gate

Yesterday afternoon I had the crazy idea of making a panoramic photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge as dusk was taking over.  It is rare to find the bridge clear of fog, and last evening was just one of those nights.  I pitched the idea to my four assistants and at first they were lukewarm to the idea, as it required a little bit of a hike.  However after a little cajoling and the promise of being able to romp on a beach they have never been to before sealed the deal.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to bring along the distractions that follow them in making sure they stay safe, but nothing is as precious as their company.

I don’t have much more to say right now, other than enjoy this photo.  Here in California, even the man made stuff looks pretty darn nice.


P.S. I also photographed the bridge on three 4x5 transparencies which will be stitched into a panorama as well.  I’ll post it when it becomes available.

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In The Blink of an Eye

Totem Drop

Totem Drop

About two years ago I became interested in filming things using a high speed camera.  This type of a video camera takes video at very high frame rates, 300 fps and above.  At about that same time Casio introduced a consumer level camera the EX-F1 that had the capabilities of taking high speed video at 300, 600 and 1200 fps!  In addition to that, it can take full 6MP frames at 60 fps with a unique buffer system that captures the first 0.5 seconds before the shutter is tripped and the 0.5 seconds after the shutter is tripped allowing the decisive moment to be captured, almost guaranteed.  I made many short experimental videos using that camera of things to fast for our eyes to normally see.  And while it was interesting I became preoccupied by other things and set that work aside.



In the last few months the interest has had a resurgence.  I saw a short video segment of a Discovery Channel show titled Time Warp where they filmed water drops falling into a shallow pool of water.  It was incredibly fascinating and piqued my interest to go back and do more high speed photography.  I also have been very fascinated with the nature of water for several years and so the two desires met and I embarked on trying to photograph water drops in the midst of the interaction between the water drop and water pool.  I tried many different techniques using natural light but none were successful, forcing me to succumb to using strobe lighting in the studio.



Now I have nothing against using strobes, so don’t get me wrong.  Studio work is fun, but its studio work.  The added variable of changing light is gone and so is the magic, for the most part, when some great light appears illuminating the subject for that brief few moments and forcing you to work fast to capture it. Those moments bring a great sense of satisfaction.  Unlike that, studio work is more predictable and once the test photos are done and the lighting is set, its just shutter work from there on out, well almost.

Don't Blink

Don't Blink

Enter in a new variable – time, or should I say timing.  Trying to capture a water drop in the midst of its interaction with a pool of water is to say the least an activity that requires great patience and perseverance.  Once I managed to set up a working light arrangement, I spend the better part of a day watching water drops fall over and over and over and over, tripping the shutter again and again and again.  One image after another comes up missed and I would delete and delete and delete…oh wait that one is good.  In my most recent attempt I made over 500 exposures and only 20 frames captured some form of interesting interaction.



The most interesting by far is when one drop of water is rebounding as a jet or totem and a second drop collides with it.  In 500 frames I only managed to capture 4  frames with a collision.  The drip rate of the water has to be timed perfectly and only two drops can be allowed to fall otherwise the water surface become much to turbulent and chaotic.  Its definitely a challenge and one that I will keep tackling until I get something spectacular.  The quest goes on.

This crop of images was just the first round and I plan on making many more.  I am not sure what I will do with these, or if people like this kind of stuff, but it is most certainly fascinating and something that I can do almost any time I have nothing else to do, day or night, sunny or rainy.  I am still interested in making these photos using only natural light so if any of you have any ideas on how I might be able to do that, I would love to hear them.  In the mean time enjoy these and I will keep you posted.


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Sparks Of Light – 7/21/11

Sometimes I get these thoughts that just come out of nowhere.  I find them interesting and think they would make a great blog post but I either don’t have the time to develop the thought or I just don’t know what else to say about it beyond that.  So I think I will just post it here as a “Spark Of Light” thought for that given day.

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The Gathering

Stones Gathered Together

The Gathering

Last month I ventured out with my four photo assistants to one of our local beaches to beat the heat brought on by a strange early summer heat wave.  When we arrived at the beach we found the typical summer northern California coast pattern of fog due to the upwelling that takes place along the coast this time of year.  We came donning summertime attire expecting sun and fun…oh well.  However the temperature at the coast was well into the 70’s and a bit humid due to all the fog, so even though we did not see the sun we were not worse for the wear.

This particular beach is situated about a half mile from the highway and the walk takes us across a wonderful coastal plain.  I think because of this walk, very few people make the walk out to the beach as we rarely find anyone there, this afternoon was no different, and we had the beach to ourselves.  The overcast light and foggy sky left much to be desired in the way of seascape photography and I decided to not even take my camera out.  I just walked along soaking in the full bouquet of the ocean air and reveling in the light sea spray the kissed my face.

Then one of my assistants rushed up to me gleefully and urgently trying to show me the amazing stone that they had found.  And the idea was sparked…This would make a great photo.  I instructed my assistants to find as many unusually colored, marbled, or shaped rocks as they could find.  Soon we all were wading in the surf watching for the glimmer of a hidden “gem” to make its way to the surface of all the small stones that riddled the beach.  After about two hours of searching and arranging I finally pulled out the camera and composed this photo.

It was a memorable day.  But in hindsight it was much more than that.  Many things need to come together for something great to take place.  We sometimes try to rush greatness into existence before all the necessary ingredients are present and instead we find mediocrity or worse, failure.  We also never know when an opportunity for greatness will emerge and how we need to coax it along in its emergence.  However it appears, we need to be aware of it and grab hold of the reins and lead it on to its full fruition.  If we allow it to pass us by we may never get a second chance to make it happen.  I guess this rings of the notion of carpe diem – seizing the day or living in the present.  If we can live in the moment, seizing it and living it to its fullest, then later in the future we can look back at the past and feel no regrets, no remorse, and no sorrow for not capturing, if nothing else, a memory in our heart that will be a story that lives on forever.

The Gathering, for me, was the coming together of five hearts enamored by the marvel that is our world where Earth meets Water and the special interaction that takes place between those two elements.  It was the coming together of love, wonder, effort, toil, and hope in the hearts of five individuals that gathered together on one intention of showing the world the marvel of our Mother.  In that I found a great thing.


Oh, P.S. Which is your favorite stone?

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Old Cameras, New Techniques – New Cameras, No Techniques

I recently exhibited my photographs at the La Jolla Festival of the Arts in beautiful La Jolla California.  It was a pleasant show and the quality of the work of other artists was top notch.  At such venues where the show is not held on the street, the environment is more relaxed and I like to set up my 4×5 wooden field camera as part of my show display.  It really is a conversation starter and the visitors to my booth are mesmerized by the camera and then even perplexed that I actually use such an old camera.  I don’t know what shocks them more, the fact that I use it or the fact that the camera is only about 6 years old while it looks 150 years old.

The funny thing is that they think because it is an old styled camera that I photograph using wet glass plates!  I have never touched a glass plates in my life.  When I tell them I use film I get this perplexed look.  I then explain to them how the camera works.  I take off the lens attached to its lens board and show them that there is nothing inside the bellows and that a camera is nothing more than a black box with a light focusing element on one end, the lens, and a light capturing medium on the other end, the film or digital sensor.  I explain how the camera is focused by moving the lens closer or farther from the film, how the tilts and swings help in choosing the plane to focus on and how the shifts help in correcting distortions.

I then explain how I scan the films and prepare them to be printed digitally and suddenly this somehow seems incredulous to them.  I then point out that with scanning film at even moderate scan resolution I end up with raw image files that hover around 500MB and that even the highest resolution digital cameras available still only produce files that are about 240MB.  We then walk over to a large 20×25 inch photo hanging in the booth and I point out all the fine detail that is retained and then they start to see the light.

They start to understand that making a photograph is serious business and not as easy as it is made to seem with todays automatic cameras.  They comment to me that I must really be invested in a scene to haul out and use such a big camera.  They are correct of course.  They comment on how I must know a lot about light and camera operation, not to mention processing and printing techniques and again they are correct.  Even though I use an old camera, I employ many new techniques to maximize the amount of information in my photographs so that the finished image on paper is as close to how I experienced it and hopefully so that they can experience that moment as well.

When making a photograph I use a top-down / bottom-up workflow.  It starts with seeing something that moves my heart.  That is the peak of it all, the scene has to move the heart somehow for some reason sometimes beyond our understanding at the time it is seen.  From there artistic decisions about perspective, composition and lighting come into play followed by technical decisions about focusing and focal planes, apertures, light levels and shutter speed.  Only then can the shutter be tripped to capture that light.  The process does not end there however.  The latent image on the film, or RAW sensor data, then has to be developed and then printed on to paper using a myriad of techniques in either a wet darkroom or a digital darkroom on the computer.

Over the years cameras have steadily become more sophisticated while becoming easier to use and taking over many of the decisions that a photographer has to make in the photographic process.  Starting out with built-in light meters and moving to auto exposure and auto focusing.   The sophistication continued into the digital era as well and now photography is instantaneousness.  Modern technology has taken a difficult time-intensive process and has rendered it to as simple as pushing one button.  Gone are the technical decisions about how much light is available, what aperture-shutter combination to use, and to some extent where or what to focus on.  Focus, even though taken care of automatically, still only focuses exactly at only one distance from the camera, and without a proper aperture setting, important elements in the composition are rendered out of focus and hence the photo is considered “bad”.  Focusing and aperture selection were the last technical decisions that photographers still had to make as the camera had no idea what the photographer was aiming at.  So even though the modern camera was loaded with auto-everything, good technique was still important.

Enter the latest contender to simplify photography.  The Lytro camera was recently announced with the ability to capture an image and choose what to focus on afterwards entirely in software.  In other words that camera  has eliminated the need to focus or choose an aperture entirely.  Photographic technique has now been laid to rest and operating a camera has now been completely rendered to pushing a single button.  Don’t get me wrong, the technical sophistication that goes on in the background is truly amazing and the science behind it is even more fascinating, but where does that leave us as photographers?  The ability to make images is now so ubiquitous with “cameras” on almost every device imagined that the demarcation lines have been blurred between the photographer and everyone else.  Today’s cameras require no technique at all.  Just point and press a button – you can focus later, set exposure later, and mimic whatever aperture desired later.

Photography, writing with light, requires technical proficiency in understanding and working with light.  Yet the majority of  today’s “photographers” have no clue about light the very medium they work with.  They don’t need to as they have a machine that does everything for them.  I wonder what authors would think if there was a device, perhaps called a Scribbler, that produced novels at the press of a button.  Would they be as accepting as photographers are about the technique-less camera?



Hone your photographic technique and be that writer of light that moves the hearts of those who take the time to see what you saw and feel what you felt.  The camera cannot do that for you.


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Longing For Peace

It has been difficult for me in the last several weeks.  The new moon came and went, and even though I photographed it and made a beautiful composition of it I found it difficult to post anything about it.  I have been thinking quite a bit as well, and unfortunately returned to listening to the radio news and talk shows.  I really must learn to leave that nonsense, however I sometimes need to know what is happening in our world.  Let me tell you… what you hear is very depressing, so much so that it pushes me closer to being a cynic, which is never a good thing.

From the earthquake in Japan and the resulting nuclear catastrophe to the charlatans setting up fake aid organizations duping sincere folks wanting to help to the impending world contamination with radioactive iodine and cesium, the whole thing is infuriating.  We really can’t find better ways to boil water to turn turbines to spin generators to make electricity…really?

Then there is the unfolding war in Libya that is so unfortunate.   It is very frustrating.  But hey, call it support for the freedom fighters and everyone is on board.  Never mind that the citizens of Libya had free housing and free education and health care for everyone!  Now lets drop depleted uranium munitions there as well.  Argh!  We don’t have enough deformed war babies being born in the world.

But wait there’s more.

Let’s tax the poor and give the rich a tax-free pass so that we can turn our nation in to a dysfunctional third world country governed by an oligarchy rather than a democracy.  I could not believe this when I heard it. The top 1% of the U.S. population control 42% of the financial wealth! Huh?

And lets abolish Medicare and Medicaid so that our elders and children who can’t afford health care just vanish so we don’t have to worry about them anymore. And don’t even get me started on education.

Now I could go on and on venting about all that is wrong in the world but that would be wrong in and of itself because it does not do anything to constructively fix any of it.

So instead, in my longing for peace in our world, I asked myself what do we need to do so that we humans can be at peace with ourselves as well as with the world.

I think we need to foster 7 things in ourselves to see change take place in our world: Truth, Repentance, Resolve, Gratitude, Mortality, and Remembrance.

I expressed my thoughts with this short video.  I hope it will make a difference.

If you like it, please share it with your network of friends.  Maybe, just maybe it can affect a change.

Enjoy and as always, Peace!

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Mercy: Day 6 – Shade

For anyone who lives in a region of the world where it is hot, like in a desert, I think it goes without saying that shade there is a great blessing and mercy.  Temperatures in the shade can easily be 20 to 30 degrees cooler than in the sun.

However, I want to look at shade in a different way.  Actually from a different meaning altogether.  If we understand light then we should know that light, pure light, is invisible.  I have mentioned it before in this journal that right now, there is light passing between you and this monitor and you cannot see it.  Likewise, in the total absence of light we can’t see anything either.  Mix the two, pure light and pure darkness and the result is shade.  It is only in the shade that we can actually see.  This mixing produces a spectrum of intensities that range from pure darkness to pure light.  Also, depending on the physical objects basking in this shade, we also see hues of varying color.  Mixed with the intensities, we get all the millions upon millions of possibilities in the visual spectrum that we observe in the world, all of them emanating because of shade.

In spite of the digital nature of Creation, in its continuous flip-flopping between existence and non-existence at the hand of the Sustainer, the resulting interaction of shade produces a continuous spectrum from pure darkness to pure light.  It leaves the heart in awe and the mind in unfathomable perplexity.  At the same time, by permission of The Light, one of the 99 beautiful names of God, we are given a glimpse of this amazing Creation through the mercy of shade.  It leaves me in humble awe every time I look out to see.

Postscript Light

Postscript Light

Till tomorrow, Peace.

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Brushes Of Light

Light, we see by it and at the same time it is invisible.  The more I ponder about light, the more perplexed I become.  Duality is its nature behaving as both a wave and as a particle known as the photon.  We can recognize it as a wave after it interacts with an object and we see various colors.  Its interaction with an object takes place as if it is a photon.  When it is present we can see and in its absence we are blind.  It brings a steady flow of information to our eyes and by it we interpret the world we live in.

Brushes Of Light

Brushes Of Light

But how we see the world and what is really there are two very different things.  It is difficult enough to understand this for a stationary object let alone for one that is constantly moving, like water flowing in a stream.  By the time you see the moving object it has already moved to a new point in space.  Luckily, light moves so fast, 186,000 miles/second, that the distance that something can move in the time that its light reaches our eyes is for all practical purposes so miniscule that we can say we see it in its actual position in space.  Further, its motion is so fluid that we see it as continuous. 

Throw a camera into the mix, which is an intermediary between the photographer who experiences the object and the viewer who only sees the photograph, and it creates a departure from reality.  Due to its technical nature, the camera can either freeze a moment in time or produce the illusion of motion as the object streaks passed its fixed lens.  Then in the hands of the photographer, the photograph itself can be manipulated in such a way as to remove any reference to reality bringing about an abstraction that only hints at the natural presence of light itself.

In the hands of the photographer, the one who writes with light, art is created through a simple tool of capture – the camera. Handled deftly, and the camera moves beyond mere capture, and becomes the translator of the intent of not just the photographer but of the artist within as well.

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