Photography 101

Great Horned OwlMy husband recently gave me a Canon Rebel T6 camera as a late birthday gift. I’d been asking for one since I learned birds come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I was thrilled. Now, instead of slinking around my yard to snap grainy photos of birds using my phone, I would try my hand at some half-way decent photos.

The last camera I bought was a Kodak Easy Share C180. Judging by the photos I found on the SD card, I bought it in 2008 to take photos of a family trip I took back to Wisconsin. It was the last time all of my sisters and my mom were together. Before that, my high school sweetie had given me a Kodak Tele-instamatic (circa 1981) with a pack of flip flash bulbs that blinded my unsuspecting kodak tele-instamaticsubjects. My point here is that I am not a photographer. So imagine my surprise when this beautiful Canon camera showed up with all its buttons and lenses. I was more than a little intimidated. But the migratory birds were flocking to our feeders and would disappear soon. There wasn’t time to go through the manual or look online for tips. Instead I attached the zoom lens and parked my butt in a lawn chair I strategically hid under a plum tree to camouflage myself.

Lazuli Bunting 3 (2)Generally this isn’t how I approach projects or hobbies. I am more of a by-the-book kind of gal. I like to know what I’m getting myself into. I prefer having a plan and instructions to follow when I am trying something new. If it wasn’t for the urgency the migratory birds provided, the camera would still be in its box. After taking at least 1,00 photos, I still feel I have no idea what it is I’m doing, but that’s not true. I’ve learned a bit about composition in that I need to focus the center red dot in the camera at the eye of my subject. Shadows cause havoc when photographing birds, so it’s important to make sure the subject is not surrounded by foliage no matter how pretty it might be. Taking photos in the early morning and as the sun is setting creates such beautiful lighting, some of my photographs are lovely. I’ve learned unlike people or objects, birds do not sit still for long. Sometimes it’s best to take an awful photo to identify a bird rather than no photo at all. I’ve also decided I’m more interested in taking photos of wildlife than of people. There’s too much self-consciousness going on there for everyone involved.

My mother has accused me of suffering from Patty Perfect syndrome. Messes and making mistakes have always bothered me, but as I get older, I have a keen sense that I’m running out of time. Leaving the camera in the box until I knew exactly what do with it would have accomplished nothing. All the time I’ve spent in the Huachuca and Chiricahua Mountains, at the San Pedro River, and in my backyard just to photograph birds would have been gobbled up by the mundane chores in my everyday life. Sure maybe I would have tackled spring house cleaning and changed out my wardrobe for the summer, but for what?

I like this new me. A middle-aged woman armed with a camera around her neck hoping and praying to get a glimpse of a rare bird that might only be here for a day or two. Let the dust settle on my coffee table and the cobwebs stretch across the beams in my living room. I don’t care. Life really is too short. I only wish my older self could meet up for coffee with my younger self. I have so much I would like to share with her.

She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

TractorI haven’t been blogging much these last couple of months. Even though I’d like to write about the migratory birds, the orchard, and the honey harvest, we’ve been too busy this spring. Most days I feel overwhelmed with springtime chores and worry I am not going to get everything done.

In an interview with Jesse Thorn on Bullseye, musician and singer/songwriter Neko Case talked about living on a farm in Vermont. When host, Jesse asked her, “Are you comfortable with the kind of like quiet and relative loneliness of living on a farm?” Neko responded, “Oh yeah, I love it. Farms are not quiet, peaceful places at all.”

She went on to mention the constant maintenance and the emergencies that pop up. But she also said living on a farm is exciting. That she notices the first night of fire flies and seeing Jupiter in the night sky.

I resent Jesse Thorn’s choice of words to describe farm life. Though quiet is influenced by our environment, loneliness in some sense connotes sadness and, at its core, desperation—a need for things to change, to get better. I don’t have room for loneliness living this close to the land. And I don’t think nature does either. The quail and coyotes travel in family groups. The migratory birds often show up in pairs or small flocks as they make the harsh trip together to their northern nesting grounds. There is order and dependency, the sense that we are all in this together. It’s a frenzied time of year. I feel it in my bones. I have the energy of a hummingbird right now and find it hard to sit still for any length of time. I am energized by the long days and the constant cacophony of birds.

I agree with Neko’s thoughts on farm life. She admitted that there is always something that demands attention, but she also mentioned the fireflies and clear night skies. There is harmony to country living if you learn not to push too hard. There is also joy, wonder, frustration, and even anger when a pipe breaks or the tractor doesn’t start. But loneliness? No, I haven’t experienced that.

If you find yourself in need of a break from your crazy world, check out Neko Case. While listening to her, take a mini break—a mind vacation to someplace quiet where you can spend a few moments alone. And if you are experiencing loneliness, call a friend or a family member. Believe me, they will be thrilled to hear from you.