Mono Lake

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March 28-

I’ve long been fascinated by other worldly images captured on the shores of Mono Lake near Lee Vining, California. With vistas across the ancient lake basin to distant mountains and the odd mineral deposits known as tufas jutting from the water and lining the lakeshore, photographic opportunities abound. I finally got the chance to visit in the fall of 2014 while participating in Gary Hart’s Eastern Sierra Workshop, and as you can see on the evening this was shot we were blessed with placid waters and pastel colors at dusk. It was a very enjoyable shoot, one of my favorite evenings of the entire workshop (and though it hasn’t performed so great sales-wise, this is personally one of my favorite photos from that trip as well.) I look forward to one day revisiting Mono Lake as I believe it’s the kind of place that can drastically change in appearance based on conditions; and I would love to get a shot contrasting this one with a storm rolling off the nearby Sierra.

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As mentioned in yesterdays blog post, I’m doing a bit of an experiment this week. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

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Below the Fold

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March 27-

Getting back to my Photo of the Day posts with this shot from Orange County, California. I’ve shared a few versions of this before, but it continues to mesmerize me as I work through minor adjustments on this and other images, trying to decide on some new releases for the upcoming season. This one is especially poignant in that regard as I feel it’s very reflective of time. There’s just a certain mystique about it; a mix of something tangible yet really unknown. Kind of like standing in the present and trying to make sense of what’s in the future or what has passed; drifting through tangents of consciousness at the peril of missing out on the beauty of the moment. Such is time and such is life, and if you’re not careful either can get away from you.

On a lighter note, you might be wondering about the title of this post- “Below the Fold.” This is in reference to an old newspaper term, and the practice of putting the most eye-catching images or headlines on the top half of the front page, or above the fold, where it would be visible on the newsstand and enticing to potential readers. In this case, however, I’m curious how many of you actually look beyond.

The reason I’m wondering is lately I’ve been kind of reevaluating my online efforts and looking a little closer at the analytics that accompany this blog and my social media accounts. With this page in particular I’ve noticed some discrepancies that I’m trying to figure out- namely the fact that somehow my posts seem to receive more “likes” than “views.” For those of you not familiar with WordPress analytics, bloggers have access to limited information which provides a glimpse of how people are engaging with their sites. This includes various stats, but it’s primarily centered on how many times people have viewed blog posts and how many have expressed enjoyment by clicking a little star icon to indicate that they like what they see. (Much like the little thumbs up on Facebook, a heart on Instagram, etc.)

So how is it possible that people are liking my posts without viewing them? It’s not exactly a chicken or the egg scenario. I mean a person has to first view a blog post before they can decide they like it. Or do they?

I kind of have two theories as to what is going on here. A) The WordPress analytics are inaccurate or B) Other bloggers just go through and randomly “like” posts without actually viewing them.

As for the latter, WordPress has this thing called the Reader to help you find new content or follow the work of other bloggers. Basically it will show you the title of a post, a lead photo if there is one, and the first couple of lines a blogger has written. For whatever reason there is a “like” button attached to this preview. I’m not well versed in all of the functions of WordPress, but I’m assuming that a blog post only gets credit for a view if a person clicks on it to read beyond the preview, whereas it can get likes right on the spot.

So what does it matter? Nothing really, but it is a little bit frustrating to spend time on a blog post and realize that very few people are actually reading it. Beyond that, it seems kind of insincere to me that other bloggers would take this fly-by approach and I can’t help but wonder why. The only explanation I can think of is they’re “liking” the previews in hope of others turning around and actually looking at their own sites. Views and visits are important in this online world, arbitrary as it seems, especially if the occasion should ever present itself (jobs, sponsorships or freelance opportunities) where you need to demonstrate your digital relevance. There have been times when I’ve put out a 1,000 word blog post and within seconds of it going live I already have 12 likes, much faster than a person could have possibly read it. Even if those on the other end mean well, it’s always demoralizing to pour yourself into something and have someone brush over it and say “yeah, sure, that’s great…” without giving it a second thought.

So this is all my roundabout way of asking for your help. Like I said, I’m wondering how many people view my blog to read these posts in their entirety (aka below the fold) and how that compares to how many “likes” I get. If you’ve made it this far, please leave a comment below and let me know that you have. You don’t have to say much if you don’t want to… just write “Yes” or “Read it” or something to that effect. And if you have thoughts, insights or similar experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to mention those here as well.

It’s just a little experiment I’m conducting, and I’ll discuss what I learn in a post to come soon.

Lake Louise Bouquet

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March 24-

It seems this wild bouquet might be a good share on an otherwise nasty day here in Eastern Iowa. It’s especially frigid where I sit; as I listen not only to the driving rain against winter plastic still covering the windows of our old farmhouse, but also to clanging in the basement as the furnace repairman tries to get us heat again. It could be much worse- better the furnace go out during a 35 degree March cold snap than one in January when it’s 35 below! Still, if I thought I could type while wearing gloves I’d have them on right now…

This photo was taken in August 2011 while my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Canada’s Banff National Park. Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world, and a spot we hope to return to soon. I mentioned in a previous post that I have a number of files that were shot long ago that are in need of revisiting, as they’ve never been properly processed. Those from this trip, which included stops at four of Canada’s National Parks, are among them. At the time I was just beginning to learn the ins and outs of digital photography, and while I didn’t yet have editing capabilities (i.e. computer and software) I knew that I’d eventually go in that direction. Therefore, I shot in a mode called JPEG + RAW which saves two file versions of every photo.

When the camera saves a JPEG file it basically makes the editing decisions for you, providing a fairly polished, fairly final product. When you shoot in RAW the camera basically saves a whole bunch of conditional information, leaving it up to you to edit and process to your liking. This gives the photographer far more control over their final image.

There’s a little bit of a stigma people have toward “computer enhanced” images. In reality, all digital photography is computer enhanced to a degree, it’s just a matter of if it’s done by the photographer or by the processor inside a camera. People hear of photographers editing or processing and jump to the conclusion that this somehow means we are manipulating our images. The term “Photoshop,” while itself a popular editing software has become synonymous with acts like patching a giant purple moon above a rainbow spanning a backlit waterfall. (Unicorns and stardust optional.) While it is true that modern technology makes such creations possible, it falls on the photographer and his or her own sense of ethics and integrity to decide where to draw the line.

Personally, I believe in presenting photos that are as close to how the scene really looked as possible. I believe there is abundant beauty and enchantment in the natural world as it is without alteration. In a photo such as this one (which has been processed from its original RAW file) I made adjustments to brighten and add some contrast to the overall scene. I also made the decision at the time it was shot to use a slightly longer exposure to allow motion blur in the stream. Without these choices, the image would appear flat, lifeless and dull, which is in no way representative of how things appeared in real life.

Just something to think about next time you hear a photographer speak of editing, and something I’ve been wanting to clarify in case anyone has questioned times I’ve mentioned it myself. All digital photography, from that shot on top end DSLR’s to what you shoot on a cell phone is computer enhanced. It’s all a function of processing, just as it was in the days of film. The burden falls on the photographer to decide on the level of honesty in their work.

World Water Day

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 Kootenai River, Montana

March 22-

Happy World Water Day! Today as we recognize and celebrate the vitality of water and the importance it plays in every facet of life, we also must face the grim reality that over 660 MILLION people worldwide lack healthy access to this most precious resource. That’s something easily overlooked in developed nations where we fight wars over oil, waste millions of gallons of water on carefully manicured lawns and give little thought to countless other practices that reflect how badly our priorities are askew. A change of course is imperative. Our practices are unsustainable, and a wholesale social refocusing needs to occur on several fronts.

First of all, we need to support both government and philanthropic efforts to address the issues of water access- at home and abroad. This includes well construction and sanitation projects in developing nations, where often people must forego schooling and other productive daily pursuits because of the inordinate amount of time devoted to gathering clean water. We also need to consider our aging infrastructure in developed nations. Crumbling, out-dated methods of conveyance not only leak (wasting freshwater and the energy used to pump it) but contaminates such as lead can also create public health emergencies as we’ve recently seen in Flint, Michigan. It’s very easy for us here in the United States to take clean water for granted, but without a concerted effort and investment in maintaining the systems that allow us access, Flint will merely be the writing on the wall.

Along those same lines of not taking water for granted, we must alter our consumption habits. Of course I’m not talking about drinking less water. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water for household purposes each day, most of which is not ingested. Instead we take long showers, excessively flush toilets, and leave the faucets flowing while brushing our teeth. We’re obsessed with green grass and shiny dust free cars to the point of judgement toward anyone who dares deviate from this social standard. In these examples, it’s easy to come up with home remedy type solutions for how we can cut water usage; and in fact, we absolutely should! But in addition, people need to be more conscientious of other practices that are extremely water intensive, such as industry and agriculture, and alter consumption habits with this in mind as well. Consider all the plastics that we use. Massive amounts of water is needed to produce it. Think about how much food we throw out and the water that was irrigated to grow it. This is yet another case of how we can lessen our environmental impact by not being so damn wasteful.

Finally we need to do everything within our power to protect our natural water sources. We need to be mindful of chemical disposal, yard care applications, and what we allow to wash down storm drains. We need to support organic food production and responsible agricultural practices in order to limit the amount of nitrates and pesticides entering our waterways. We need to protect our aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams from contamination by mining and energy production. And we need to do away with corrupt politicians who are clearly in the pockets of big ag and big industry, working to invalidate safeguards such as the Clean Water Act.

Freshwater is not an infinite resource, but it is infinitely necessary. It’s time we act accordingly.

 

 

International Day of Forests

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March 21-

Today we celebrate the International Day of Forests, an annual event created by the United Nations in 2012 to raise awareness of the many functions that forests perform which are vital for life on Earth. In addition to providing habitat, food, medicine and acting as carbon sinks to reduce the acceleration of climate change, forests also play a key role in supplying us with freshwater. This essential service is recognized in 2016 with the event theme “Forests and Water” in honor of that ecological relationship.

According to the UN International Day of Forests Event Page

-75% of the worlds accessible freshwater is supplied by forested watersheds and wetlands

-Roughly a third of the worlds largest cities rely on forests to protect drinking water supplies (for example, New York City draws much of its water from wild lands in the Catskill Mountains)

-Forests act as natural water filters

-Nearly 80% of the worlds population lives in threat of impeded access to clean, fresh water

Unfortunately, even with modern understanding of the complex interrelations between forests and watersheds; or the almost universally accepted knowledge on the realities of climate change, deforestation still occurs at a staggering rate. Our planet loses an area roughly the size of England each year due to timber harvest and the clearing of forested lands. This exposes vast watersheds to contamination, destroys entire ecosystems and contributes almost as much in total CO2 emissions as the global transportation sector.

While it’s going to take a monumental effort to reverse such a trend we’ve got to find a way. It falls on each of us as consumers to do our part and to live in a more sustainable manner. Please educate yourself on the impacts of deforestation. Reduce, reuse, and recycle paper and timber products. When necessary buy only sustainably sourced lumber. And know where your food comes from. Avoid products that contain palm oil or other ingredients that contribute greatly to these problems. It may take some individual effort to get informed and to break old habits, but there really is no other viable option. The future of our planet (and specifically the life it supports) depends on it!

Happy Equinox!

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March 20-

Happy Equinox!

Sorry, I’m a bit late again with today’s post- too much basketball (and lots of heartbreak here in the state of Iowa.) However, this seemed like an appropriate shot to celebrate the first day of spring. It was taken at Rochester Cemetery right here in Cedar County, and while this year’s oaks have yet to bud and the wild geraniums have yet to bloom we can look forward to these sights in the warmer days ahead.

Whitetail in Winter

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March 19-

Our Photo of the Day this evening is a simple shot of a whitetail doe playing hide and seek, which I captured last month while hiking at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Northeast Iowa. I think I caught her a little off-guard as this unit of the park gets few visitors, especially in the winter (mine were the only human tracks to enter these woods since at least the last snow, a week prior.) While I might have been better served to switch to my telephoto lens and try for a better shot, that would have meant dropping and unzipping my pack- which would have likely sent her running. Instead I settled for a shared moment, speaking softly in hopes of conveying that I meant no harm- pausing only for an instant to admire her and snap this photo, then moving on to keep from causing additional undue stress. The deer walked away equally as calm. It was one of those moments of utter peace that can only be experienced while slipping gently through the forest.