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Leaving the place better than we found it
Seeing with my eyes closed
Thomas Jefferson on gun control
How to lie convincingly
Our hardy heartland
Breaking the cycle
How to catch the sun's comings and goings
Thoughts from the inside
Leveraging the internet to build our walls
Twitters from the past
And the invincibility of youth
Without ego projection
Yet another gift of the road
The charming side of obstinance
You are on this page
A movie critic looks in the mirror
We are not alone
As part of the system
Mastering your master
The end of Kumbaya
The wanderer's poet
Running out of dirt
Striking a balance
The Bay of Fundy, where the sea breathes
How to photograph them with anything, even your cellphone
A simple question we get every day
We may be failing to fail
And why no one should hesitate to examine them
Becoming a hero in one's own life story
A writing assignment
A new discovery of something old
Finding new eyes to see old landscapes
Hick humor
Toys for photographing wild places
Experiencing life with God
A radical thought about our radicals
Redemption with style
Hidden heroes among us
Resetting our parallel processor
A village with heart
A lesson from the road
The bullet dodged
A soul sparkles
Isolation in style
Painless ways to lose your virginity : 11/12/15
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The creative part of photography

Wandering Wisconsin's magnificent Apostle Islands, I received a request from home for a blog with more photography tips. She suggested comparing aperture/shutter priority, mastering depth of field, macro photography, and a few more, but left the choice to me.

So it was that I asked Lake Superior what might be the most important aspect of photography. On the road alone, I've taken to talking to inanimate objects.

The waves were crashing with enthusiasm, blasting foam into the sky and shaking the cave where I hid. The message was to forget all the preliminary preparations and rules that fill most structured photo books, and just throw yourself at it. Reminded me of how another friend approached teaching creative writing. Grammar is an afterthought for her. First, her students have to come up with an inspiring thought and write it down straight from the head and heart.

For photography, that would be to jump straight into composition, to compose beauty and wonder within the confined frame of a photograph. The instructions for the proper settings would follow. Simple theory, but how exactly do you hunt down and shoot beauty and wonder?

The quick answer is to surround yourself with the stuff. National parks are good for that, but so is your rooftop with a decent sunset. The long answer is a lifelong quest to discover your own subjective sense of beauty, what touches you deep inside.

This will start from the outside, perhaps a massive waterfall that takes your breath away, or just as likely the swirling grain lines of a little juniper tree. But if you close your eyes and give it a chance, it will arise from within. You will compose in your head the perfect foreground and just the right viewing angle for the waterfall, or picture in your mind the perfect leaf to place next to the juniper grain lines. This is your soul speaking to you. It starts as a whisper, so listen carefully. Eventually, you will first imagine beauty, and then seek it out with your camera at your side.

This will be a very personal experience since we each feel beauty differently. For me, the keyword was contrasts. Not just the color contrast of foamy water over dark rocks, but also the contrast of shapeless, dynamic water against solid rock unchanged for millennia. A young seedling growing amid the roots of a gnarled old tree. A tiny climber in the distance on the side of an immense cliff. A girl's soft hand caressing the deeply furrowed bark of a redwood tree.

This pursuit of contrasts led me to appreciate the dark, that is, soft faint lights on a dark canvas. The appeal took me by surprise, a sure signal that it came from an unexplored corner of my insides. I took to adjusting my shots to be darker than normal, and some photographers pointed out the defect. When this happens to you, as you should hope that it will, that will be the time to stop listening to me or anyone else. You will have discovered your inner muse, and the two of you must continue your adventure.

Of course photography has general composition rules. The rule of thirds, for example, suggests moving the center of attention away from the center of the picture and toward one of the corners. Another suggests drawing the viewer's eye toward the corners with diagonal lines, and yet another pushes the eye back toward the center with vignetting.

These rules are not based on human perception, how the eye works, or any other physical rationale. They're just collections of how others have defined beauty. Worth an experiment to see if such rules speak to you, but don't be surprised if your pursuit of stunning compositions becomes the road to discover your own artistic instinct and talent.

Yet another case of the camera not just a device for looking out at the world, but for revealing what is inside us.

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The ladies of Wisconsin

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Barge going through locks on Mississippi

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Don't bite into this pear

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Fish tales going around

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Islands of the mighty Mississippi

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Niagara Cave

For more pictures of Wisconsin, click here.

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