Rule of Thirds with some Light & Shadows

I started a new quilt top as soon as I returned to Michigan and have a third of it sewn together so I decided to take a break to respond to this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge: The Rule of Thirds. About a third of the distance home we stopped to spend a week-end with our daughter in Winston-Salem where she moved last December to start a new job at Salem Academy and College. We went for a walk-about of the campus and both of us were instantly smitten. They were celebrating their 250th anniversary with homecoming and graduation ceremonies. Old Salem is a living museum and Salem Academy and College is a part of this museum.

I composed this photo to highlight the main hall of Salem College built in 1856 but also wanted the photo to show that it overlooked the town square of Old Salem. I did minor cropping to center the banner announcing its 250th anniversary and the elegant porch within the center of the four lines that divide the image into horizontal and vertical thirds. I left the trees that frame the entrance in shadow so the eye is maintained in the center.

Salem Academy and College, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a women’s college (Bachelor and Master degrees) and girl’s academy – the oldest private educational institution for women & girls in the United States. The Moravian Church settled the town of Salem beginning in 1771 and the town was built to facilitate the Moravian core value of a holistic form of wellness that included physical, mental and spiritual growth. They had established a single brothers school in 1771 and wanted to provide the same for girls. In 1772 the town opened their school for single sisters and the girls lived in a cramped church residence until 1782 when the single sisters and older girls choir moved to their own residence. Although the Academy and College no longer are associated with the Moravian Church, the history of its early beginnings is evident in the buildings they use for girls’ and women’s educational activities.

This is a natural for thirds. I wanted the blooming azaleas to have center stage but also wanted the white picket fence and the old brick building in the background to help tell the story of this living museum. As I look at it with my heart, I look for the historical story written on the building in the shadows, and see the azaleas playing just a supporting role.

The literature I’ve read uses the phrases single brothers, single sisters and choir frequently and I spent a lot of time wondering what it meant. Finally I learned that “choir” relates to the segregation used in the Moravian Church to separate males and females in worship and for learning when young people were still single. I look forward to learning more about the progressive educational system instituted by the Moravians in Old Salem.

I experimented with how to use thirds when composing this photo. I found that using the lower horizonal third line to dissect the front table top pulled that table into center front with all the other tables serving as supporting cast for this story of women coming together over meals in celebration of their educational heritage. I find the tables in the dappled shade to be very inviting. The building in the background is the residence hall for the boarding high school students of the Academy.

According to the web site, “Schools for girls were rare in the early South.  In Salem, Single Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein began a small day school for girls in 1772.  By 1788, families across the South were asking if their daughters could come to Salem to receive an education.

In 1805, a girl’s boarding school was constructed in Salem, and the first class had 30 girls from across the South.  Girls took classes in reading, writing, syntax, history, geography, music, drawing and needlework.  In the late 1880s, the school was approved to offer a college education as well as the traditional preparatory program” provided by the Academy.

I was intrigued by this short shaded path – my daughter says she travels it often instead of going a few feet to the right or left to use the wider brick walks that would take her to her destinations. I wanted to capture the spirit of this path that causes a person to choose to go down it when it doesn’t directly lead to where they want to be. I took several photos and worked with each one but this one captures its essence best. I cropped so that the path, fountain and door fall on the right third vertical witness line and eliminated the building wall that is on the right. This made the trees more prominent and emphasized the shady walk. On the left I cropped to include some of the tree as a balance for the composition, along with the azalea. This puts the path off-center to symbolize its off-the-beaten-path nature. Horizontally I cropped so the canopy uses a bit more than the top third; the fountain, the tree on the left, and darkly shaded path the middle third; and the rest a skimpy bottom third. This was a breaking of the rule of thirds to emphasize the power of shade and light.

You have probably caught on that I didn’t get last week’s Lens-Artist Challenge “Rule of Thirds” finished before this week’s challenge of “Light and Shadow” was published. If I wait a couple more days I could integrate a third challenge into this post. Is including a third challenge too “shadowy” to fit into the “rule of thirds?”

Lens-Artist: Color Expressions

I love color, I love playing with colors when I create quilts and when I edit my photographs. I had great fun when I was arranging these bouquets of flowers for your pleasure. But I get ahead of myself, here, because what attracts my eye and draws me in with my camera is the play of light and shadow that creates the beauty of colors. The colors in each one of these flowers makes my heart and soul smile – big!

The Naples Botanical Garden has wonderful collections of orchids and water lilies so I have tended to use them the most for my winter posts. Today, for this Lens-Artist Challenge, I decided to show you some of the other colors of the the garden. I have been going two or three times a week and every time I walk around I am surprised by new small splashes of color or changes in the reproductive cycles of those plants that I have been photographing for a few weeks and result in new colors of buds, blossoms or fruits/seed pods (I’m saving those for future posts). I have provided captions for those that I can name – if you know other names I would be very appreciative for your knowledge in the comments section.

I found this last plant in the Idea Garden, where ideas are given for growing flowers and vegetables in the southern Florida tropical climate. Does color have a sense of humor? Can you identify the five colors? The chef at the restaurant in the garden really likes hot peppers for seasoning.

Chinese five color hot pepper

To find out how others are interpreting this photography challenge of “color expressions” you can click on the link.

Getting Ready to go North

Sending some sunshine ahead of us.

A strange thing is happening as we are preparing to head north, as we always do about the middle of April. This year Jim made the proclamation that we weren’t going north until the end of April. He is tired of my eagerness to get “home,” wanting to leave around the 15th – and then complaining that it is still cold in Michigan in April. We are staying a week longer and spending a long week-end with our daughter in North Carolina before completing our snow-bird journey. The strange thing that is happening is that I’m not ready to leave Florida. I finally felt like I was here and enjoying myself as I was walking across the parking lot towards the pool a couple of weeks ago. It was a jolt of awakening to my surroundings and a voice in my head saying how nice it is to be here. The first three months weren’t easy as Jim and I worked together to deal with his double vision and severe fatigue as a result Myasthenia Gravis. We have lived and loved together for so long that what happens to one, happens to the other.

I love the coloring of this one.

The zinnias in the Idea Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden have started me thinking about my northern garden. I have a space where I plant zinnias for some late summer and fall color. The past few years I have planted seeds, then waited and waited for the first blossoms. When I visited the Botanical Garden here in Florida in January the zinnias were just starting to bloom and then a couple of cool months later I noticed they had pulled them all out and the next week they planted another batch of seedlings. I was amazed when they were blooming a couple of weeks later. This year I’m going to buy seedlings to speed things up in my cooler northern garden, but will also be realistic that they won’t bloom as quickly as in hot southern Florida.

We have five more days before we head north so we are eating up what is in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. I think I can put together some meals that aren’t too weird with the help of the neighborhood grocer with a great fish counter and a deli with really good salads. I’ve been thinking of making a batch of molasses cookies but will need to barter with a neighbor for some butter, maybe for a dozen cookies. On the subject of cooking, I am really looking forward to going north to my new gas range. The one here is electric and even after using electric cook-tops for over 10 years in Michigan and Florida I haven’t learned to regulate the heat so I don’t burn grilled sandwiches. Two grilled sandwiches always take six slices of buttered bread – four to eat and two for the garbage.

I was so enjoying being more relaxed about Covid during our winter months here in Florida. We were spending time with friends at the pool and in our homes, going to very early suppers (late lunch?) at restaurants with outdoor seating, and even forgetting to put masks on when going into grocery stores. These activities felt like getting back to normal. We felt well protected with transmission rates falling and having been vaccinated and boosted. Then four of our friends in our condo association got sick a week ago and tested positive for Covid. I had played in a Rummy Cube tournament at the pool with two of them a week ago Saturday so I could have been infected. Amazing how quickly we put the defenses in gear and also rallied round to make sure friends had tests and people who were sick had enough food and weren’t getting so sick that they needed medical help. Fear moved into our home again as we worried about sick friends who had serious heart problems, and friends who didn’t want to get sick because they had plans to see a 9-month pregnant granddaughter on Easter. And of course we have felt some anxiety about whether Covid would disrupt our schedule for going back to Michigan. We are well stocked with rapid tests so we will make sure we test negative before we leave on Thursday and maybe again before we get to our daughter’s home on Friday.

We are going to take less stuff back and forth this year (said in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021). We both thought we did a good job of bringing less when we drove down last October. We mostly have full wardrobes in both places and have coffee makers and sewing machines and household tools for both homes. As I am starting to put things on the guest beds, I’m wondering why I feel so overwhelmed with packing to go home this time. Maybe it’s because I’m a year older and both of us are having trouble with fatigue. Maybe it is because we are taking some things north for our children. Maybe it is because we are taking almost a week to go home instead of three days, making a stop at our daughter’s home in North Carolina. I think we are doing okay – I just have those week-before-we-leave jitters because I know what needs to be packed but can’t pack because we are still living here for a few days. I have this constantly running brain loop of things I want to remember to take home. Instead of getting ahead of myself like that, I think I’ll just putter around and take a deep breath. I’ve packed for various kinds of trips for too many years to get cocky-jawed about it now.

I think this pairing is a nice one I can use up north.

As I am finishing up this post I am smiling. Although it is snowing in Michigan today I am looking forward to being in my northern home, seeing northern family and friends, and experiencing a northern Spring. Today I have tasks to do and things to pack. And we have an exciting trip north planned this year.

Lens-Artist Challenge: Why the Blur?

This week’s Lens-Artist Challenge is about “bokeh” – that blurring of certain portions of a photo that photographers can achieve with the right settings and point of focus. I have a basic understanding of what I need to do with the camera, but to compensate for my lack of confidence in knowing what I am doing, I frequently take several photos with different aperture settings and sometimes different focal lengths. Then I can chose which photos I think best achieve the goal of bringing out the beauty of my subject. I am a very humble, amateur, self-taught, late-blooming photographer – but I know what I like in the photographs I take and when a photograph can be sent to the thrash can.

I realized, as I was perusing files looking for photographs with blur that is pleasing, that I use blur for many reasons. This first photograph of a lily taken outside my Florida door has a plain wall as a background and I really like the very subtle blur of the bud and leaves behind the in-focus bloom. I wanted the eye of the viewer to explore the beauty of the blossom.

I was drawn to the next subject because of the suggestion of a story in the three blossoms and the beautiful colors in the center. My choice was to keep most of the immediate foliage and flowers in focus to give context to the flowers (instead of zooming in to only portray an individual flower), while blurring a very busy background.

I was taking a photograph of something beyond the little critter below when I noticed him peeking out from behind a leaf. I zoomed in close to him to shortened my depth of field so that he didn’t get lost in the very busy background – something that I image he was trying to do. My primary goal of this photograph, however, was to capture his silhouette through the leaf. The bokeh helped me accomplish my primary purpose instead of being the main purpose. I don’t think I ever make bokeh my primary goal.

The next photograph is one of my favorite tulip photos, taken outside the Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea, Kentucky. The settings I used created a blurring of background shrubs and railing to the extent that they create a sense of depth but also are recognizable so they provide a setting for the tulips – provide a bit of story. I also like the effect of the gradual and subtle blurring towards the back of this bed of tulips. No single tulip is focused, instead the story is all about the beautiful bed of tulips and the blending colors.

When I walk around the Naples Botanical Garden I am always looking for images that can tell a story. When I see beautiful blossoms I think about where they are blooming and wonder about their life-cycle. Because I visit two or three times a week, I make mental notes to check back on our next walk-about to check on changes taking place. I noticed the blooms in the tree below and wanted to record the characteristics of the tree along with the blossom. This time the subtle bokeh helped me retain the structure of the tree while maintaining the focus on the flower. On future visits I will watch for seed pods, to complete the story for a future post.

I think the following photograph is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe I love it because of the subtle tones, its gentleness at this time of pandemic and war. The gentle blur, the bokeh, allows our brain to comprehend the complexity of the clusters of small milkweed flowers while having our eyes drawn to the butterfly and the complexity of the individual blossoms. And of course the total blur of the background and its color creates a perfect ground for the flower.

My objective for the next photo was to blur the gentle movement of the ocean moving towards the shore. The gulf water is much warmer than the water of the Great Lakes. I am always surprised when I take my shoes off and wade in the surf. The blur of the photo, created with a very slow shutter speed, reminds me of the gentleness and warmth of the hour.

Sometimes bokeh blur happens by the simple luck of the shutter click. I’m not going to try to convince you that I planned how to catch that gentle blur of the butterfly’s wing.