Jan 5 2014

Give Beauty a Chance

_CES2968eSomeone recently paid me a compliment that meant a lot to me.  After posting some pictures from an area I had not been to before this person said, “You find beauty wherever you go.”  I’m not sure this is totally true but I do confess that it is something I strive for.  I choose to look for beauty.  Now I realize that what one views as beautiful is highly subjective.  Rob Sheppard and I were photographing in the eastern Sierras a few years ago and we both had a chance to take close up images of a rattlesnake.  Using a telephoto lens I focused tightly on the snakes scales and was amazed at just how beautiful they were.  When I showed the image to others later on some were repulsed; they saw no beauty at all because all they could see was a poisonous reptile that they happened to detest and be afraid of.   Interestingly, I’ve had similar responses when I have shown or posted images taken in winter.  If there is ice or snow in the picture some automatically dismiss the beauty that might be found there simply because they strongly dislike the cold that is associated with snow and ice.

_DSC5241Once again I understand that not everyone will agree on what is beautiful but I do feel that most people can and should strive to expand their perimeters of beauty.  Years ago John Lennon famously sang “Give Peace a Chance.”  Today I feel like uttering the cry “Give Beauty a Chance.”  We all need beauty; it is one of the things that makes life worth living.  Beauty makes us feel better.  It  is also good for the soul since in most cases beauty promotes a sense of gratitude or thanksgiving.

Another reason I think beauty is important is we tend to not only admire but be willing to work for the protection or preservation of that which we find beautiful.  This is true in numerous areas but I am most familiar with the realm of nature.  If people had not found certain species of birds, animals, trees or flowers beautiful many of these would have become extinct by now. Whole areas have been set aside as state or national parks primarily because large groups of people considered them beautiful.  Perhaps other species or places will be preserved and protected in the future if more people will only expand their vision and give beauty a chance.

_CES2599In the end I find beauty to be something spiritual and closely connected to God.  God is the Creator of beauty and is beautiful in and of Himself.  A number of contemporary praise songs have recognized this and include words like “You are beautiful beyond description.”  Long ago the Psalmist prayed, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4)  The Psalmist found God to be beautiful, especially when he visited the temple.  I, too, find God to be beautiful, especially when I visit the larger temple of Creation.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  I believe this to be true and that is one of the main reasons why I look for beauty wherever I go.  I believe that I can experience God in beauty.  I believe you can as well.  For that reason I ask everyone, “give beauty a chance.”


(I took the top image on Friday at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at the Buttermilk Mountains in California, and the bottom image yesterday evening during my first visit to Bluegrass FWA in southern Indiana.)

Jul 3 2013

Seeing Things My Way

_CES5117“I wish you could see things my way.”  How many times have you heard that?  Or for that matter, how many times have you said it?  Typically when we hear or speak these words the intent is for someone to change another person’s perspective on something.  It might have something to do with politics, religion or any number of other things.  Regardless of the subject the point is that  there is a desire to change one’s view.

mag4586As I write right now I am wishing a lot of people could see things my way but here it is not some viewpoint I’m thinking about.  I mean it literally.  I wish more folks could see things through my eyes because they are missing out on so much.  It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a whole bunch of people fail to see the beauty of Creation and also the presence of God in the midst of it.  They seem oblivious to what is obvious to me.  Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t see nearly as well as I could but I do feel that when it comes to “seeing Creation” my vision is pretty good.

What has got me thinking about this is a number of comments I’ve received recently about pictures I’ve posted on Facebook.  I posted a close-up picture of a red flower last week and someone commented on how beautiful the center of the flower was.  I got the impression this person may not spend a lot of time looking at flowers close up.  Another person commented on an image of a dragonfly I posted.  This time the comment was that they did not realize that dragonflies were so colorful.  Once again it made me wonder if this person had ever made an effort to actually look closely at a dragonfly.

_CES5476This afternoon I stopped to photograph a coneflower in the yard of some friends.  At one point I stepped back and asked one of them if she would like to look through my camera.  She expressed a degree of surprise at what the macro lens revealed.  Due to prior experience I knew exactly what I’d see through the lens.  She didn’t.  I almost found myself wanting to say “I wish you could see things my way.” Fearing that what I’m saying may sound cocky I want to reiterate again that there are lots of people who see God’s Creation far better than I do and they also photograph it better but it just seems that there are too many people out there who aren’t taking the time to really see what is all around them.  I want them to see more.  I want them to see better.   I want them to see things my way.

HS5373This desire springs from my wish that people would come to appreciate better the wonders of God’s Creation.  If they did I can’t help but believe that it would have positive results.  First, they would likely learn to appreciate nature more and would become true advocates for its protection and preservation.  Second, they might very well find God’s fingerprints where they had not realized they can be found and in the process come to love God more and worship Him better.  It is for these reasons I wish more people could see things my way.  It is for the same two reasons I often find myself asking God to help me see more clearly.  I know I have not arrived yet.  I realize that I have barely touched the surface when it comes to seeing the wonders and beauty of Creation.  I also acknowledge that my love for and worship of God constantly stands in need of improvement.

I have a sneaky suspicion that there are lots of times God says to me “I wish you could see things my way.”  That’s why I sometimes find myself singing the words of the old hymn,Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.”  In the end that is my ultimate wish, to see things God’s way.  Is it yours?


(I took all four of these above images recently near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)

Sep 7 2011

My Obsession With Seeing

I have an obsession about seeing.  This is true for me both as a Christian and as a photographer.  As a Christian I long to see God.  I realize that I will never see God in all His fullness and glory this side of heaven but I also know that there is far more of Him to be seen than I have thus far experienced.  In the musical Godspell the song “Day By Day” begins with the words, “Day by day three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly day by day.”  That is my prayer too.

As a nature photographer I also long to see the world around me more clearly. I’ve been doing nature photography long enough to know that I often miss much when I’m out shooting.  That’s why I usually pray before I go out to photograph.  I ask God to help me to see Him in His Creation and also to help me see more of the wonders in His Creation.  Andreas Feininger once wrote that “a camera is an instrument for intensified seeing.”   I truly believe that with God’s help my camera can help me see better.

In recent days I’ve continued to read Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  As the title suggests, he has a lot to say about seeing in this book.  Several things he’s said has caused me to pause and think.  For example, at one point he says “We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see.”  I suspect he is right about that and this has implications for both my spiritual and photographic vision.  I need to be “ready” to see more; “expect” to see more; and “desire” to see more.

In another chapter Rohr writes, “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.”   Who I am truly does affect how I see and experience both God and His Creation.   There are experiences from my past that may well limit how I see things.  Hopefully I can be conscious of how this affects my spiritual and photographic eye.  I am not, however, bound to my past.  I can, and likely shall, have new experiences that will enable me to see God and His Creation more clearly.  Some of these experiences I will have control over, others I will not.  The main thing is to always be open to learning and growing so that I can see better.

In yet another chapter Rohr says “Good religion…is always about seeing rightly.”  Here he quotes Jesus’ words found in Matthew 6:22, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.”  I know that Rohr is right.  That, once again, is why I’m obsessed about seeing more clearly.  For me there is even a connection with seeing more clearly photographically and seeing more clearly spiritually.  I really do want to see more clearly but by now you’ve already figured that out.


(The three images above were taken last month during a trip to Breaks Interstate Park, a location about 30 miles from my home.)

Jun 29 2011

What Can We See Of The World?

Photography encourages me to slow down and really see the natural world around me. It is tempting to hike quickly down the trail, hoping to find that image that jumps out at you, when all along, there have been great shots all around you.

One frustration that photographers often have when doing this is that you may see a wonderful scene in front of you, but you cannot easily capture it with the camera. Cameras have severe limitations in seeing the world compared to what our eyes can see. When conditions include bright light and dark shadows, we often see much more than the limited range of the camera. This was definitely true when Chuck and I went to the redwoods a couple of weeks ago. It was all sunshine, which in dense woods like these, that means bright spots of light and lots of dark shadows. I was on the trail waiting for Chuck to shoot some rhododendrons in bloom and as I paused, I noticed the beautiful light on the ferns under the big trees in front of me. No digital or film camera can capture what our eyes can see in such conditions, however, the photo at the top of this blog does show something close.

How is that possible? With something called HDR or high dynamic range photography. By taking more than one exposure that would cover the range of brightness, I could bring those exposures into an HDR software program to combine the images, revealing what was really there rather than a restricted image based on what the camera could capture. Here is an example of what the unaided camera is restricted to.

Chuck and I were talking about that and how that seems similar to what we see of the world compared to what God sees. We are like the restricted camera, incapable at times of seeing the wonder of an ecosystem (we just don’t have the capability God has of seeing all of its connections and beauty in that), incapable at times of seeing the full possibilities of others (God’s love means He sees beyond their limitations and lets their possibilities bathe in his grace), and so on. HDR and regular photography may give us a metaphor for what is possible to be seen vs. what we usually see.

In Numbers 22:21-35, Balaam beats his donkey and discovers his vision is more limited than the donkey’s. He thinks the donkey is being obstinate, yet the donkey is actually seeing a messenger from the Lord that Balaam is incapable of seeing. Balaam has a restricted vision, while the donkey’s is enhanced HDR!

In 1 Kings 19- 9-18, Elijah hides out because he is afraid. He is convinced he is the only faithful one left and that he will be killed if he returns home. He has restricted vision. God lets Elijah know that a bigger vision would show that thousands of others are faithful. Elijah is not aware because of his limited capability of seeing, while God lets him know more is available.

Of course, we can never see everything that God can see. There is a level of perception and vision that we cannot even imagine. However, we can ask God at times to open our eyes, to give us HDR vision to better see the world He has created. If we think what we see is all there is to see, we will be like the limited view of the camera, and miss a lot of possibilities in the world around us.

That takes us back to the first thought — that sometimes the most beautiful things are around us, we just need to slow down and truly open our eyes. Sometimes we need to ask God for HDR possibilities of seeing!

— Rob

May 22 2011

What It Takes to See God

What would you think if you went to your eye doctor to have an eye examination and he or she proceeded to run an EKG on you?  It probably wouldn’t make sense. What do the eyes have to do with the heart?  Physically not much but in the spiritual life there is a close connection.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)  Apparently only those whose hearts are pure have a chance of seeing God.

When Jesus said this he did not mean that here on earth we can actually see God with our own two eyes.  That is not possible.  God told Moses long before that no one could see Him and still live.  There are, however, other ways of seeing and that is what Jesus was referring to in this beatitude.  He was pointing to an intimate fellowship with God that is possible here and now for those whose hearts are pure.

The heart he had in mind was not the organ of our body that pumps blood throughout the circulatory system.  For Jesus the heart was a symbol of one’s total personality.  It was inclusive of mind, emotions and will and, therefore, the source of the motives, values and images which shape our life.  We sometimes think of the heart as being the seat of emotions.  For Jesus it represented much more; it encompassed one’s complete life or character.

Those who can see God are those whose entire life is pure.  The word “pure” in this case means to be cleansed and washed.  It is also used in the Bible to describe someone who is single-minded.   A person is pure if there is no conflict of interest or loyalty in his or her life.  A lot of us are not pure in heart because we have divided loyalties.  We have yet to commit our lives fully to Christ.  Having divided loyalties causes us to be cross-eyed.  Our vision is blurred and as a result we cannot see or experience God as we might if we were more focused on Him.

Soren Kirkegaard once said “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”  The one thing he said we must will is the will of God.  When our hearts are focused primarily on God—and not a hundred different things–we are not cross-eyed but can see things clearly. 

I believe all of this relates to seeing or experiencing God in Creation as well.  If our hearts are not right—if they are not focused first and foremost on God—it is unlikely we will see God in Creation very often.  If, on the other hand, we live lives where our focus is primarily on God then we will see the Creator throughout His Creation on a regular basis.   What some of us need to experience more of God in Creation is not better eyesight but a purer heart.  For that reason, perhaps we ought to pray with the Psalmist, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)  Truly blessed and joyful are the pure in heart for they shall see God.


(The top image is a cone flower I photographed in Tennessee.  The bottom image is a wild rose I photographed in Olympic National Park.)

Aug 8 2010


ONP 116It has been my pleasure to spend the past five days in Olympic National Park. An equal joy has been the opportunity to spend this time with Pat O’Hara and his wife Tina. Pat is a well-known nature photographer who has served as a mentor and source of inspiration for my photography for the past eighteen years. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him!

ONP 018Being with Pat this week has given me a chance to reflect on some of the people who have most helped me in the art or discipline of “seeing Creation” photographically. There have been numerous persons that have influenced me but three in particular come to mind.

I have heard more than one professional photographer say that Pat O’Hara has “the best eyes in the business.” He truly does have a gift for seeing the natural world from a unique perspective. My “eyes” will never be as good as Pat’s but his work inspires me to try to look beyond what others see.

Rob Sheppard, my blogging partner, has been yet another important mentor for me. Rob, too, has a unique approach to photography and seeing Creation. I’ve learned to see things differently reading his books and watching him practice his “down and dirty” approach to photography. He has also taught me to try to consider my surroundings more.

ONP 923Bill Fortney is the third person I would identify as an important mentor. Bill’s photography is wonderful in many ways but I particularly admire the way he is able to isolate portions of a scene and create interesting compositions. He does this whether he is photographing nature, an old train depot or items at an antique store. He has taught me to look closer at the scenes before me.

When it comes to seeing Creation it truly does help to have mentors. They certainly don’t have to be photographers, just folks who are more aware than most of the beauty found in God’s Creation. On this particular day I give thanks for Pat, Rob, Bill and all the others who have helped me see the wonders of God’s handiwork better. I hope I can somehow do the same for others.


(The Olympic marmot, Hoh Rain forest scene, and wildflower display were all taken this past week in Olympic National Park.)