Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Reflections on life, life’s lessons, parenting and just being a 40-something in Dayton, Ohio

Seek the Authentic – Be Authentic

Seek authenticity, marvel in its presence but resist the urge to simply imitate. What is truly authentic should only inspire you to find what is already authentic in you. Doing so has become increasingly challenging in the popular culture of today where the emphasis is on appearance and immediate visual stimulation. Popular culture devours the authentic with an insatiable appetite and then sits in the corner, sad and empty-hearted. Just look what has happened to the most well known art and music “festivals.” There’s the perfect example. Imitation is a disguise for those who can’t – or have failed to – locate their own voice and it doesn’t help that we have entire industries that cater to imitation. Inspiration is the far better journey. Defy popularism. Be true, be inspired and become a source of inspiration versus imitation. That’s where you will find the good and lasting stuff.

Sunset sky over Albuquerque New Mexico on August 7 2014 by Jim Crotty
Scenes, landscape and skyscape on the journey between Taos and Santa Fe New Mexico by Jim Crotty
Sunset sky near Los Alamos New Mexico on March 6 2012 by Jim Crotty
Scenes, landscape and skyscape on the journey between Taos and Santa Fe New Mexico by Jim Crotty
Weathered texture of abandoned homestead in the Cabezon Peak Wilderness Area of New Mexico by Jim Crotty
An August day out on the Diamond Tail Ranch near Albuquerque New Mexico with Roch Hart of New Mexico Jeep Tours

Change | Powerful and Persistent

Nature is a persistent and patient teacher with the life lesson of change. Having been involved with nature photography for over 40 years has allowed me to observe the power and importance of this lesson. The one thing that doesn’t change has been change itself. It is consistent.

People naturally fight change. They hate it. Honestly I do to. The very thought of ever moving again brings on a sense of dark doom. Change is so disruptive to what most perceive as safety and security. It goes against this inherent human fallacy known as control. But then nature comes along with her lessons, sometimes subtle; sometimes quite harsh. Late summer and into early autumn seems to be the time when mother nature too likes to put school back into session, with vigor and suddenness, particularly for those living in the coastal states.

Ohio’s lessons on change this time of year tend to be far more subtle but there they are, nonetheless. Summer ends, school begins, cool evenings give way to fields and meadows covered in webs and dew. The balance between day and night returns, and life goes on.

The opposite of fighting change within our own lives is to fully embrace it, with courage and faith. To emulate nature not in the struggle but in the quiet acceptance of what is meant to be will be. Ego insists on the struggle and attempts vainly at controlling the inevitable. Nature flows with it. She goes with the confidence of what changes never truly goes away but is returned again and again in new seasons and forms.

But with our modern lives embracing change is easier said than done. Ego and security are often buried generations deep with the help of inherited fears. This dire need for the “bricks and mortar” and monuments to persona do little to assuage wounds never properly healed. The falseness of our beliefs in ourselves and controlling everything prove to be powerful barriers for free spirits to overcome.

Nature continues to teach otherwise. I think it’s why I could never really leave her classroom. My camera has become my pencil and the photographs my growing stack of doodled and dogeared notebooks.

Change in the seasons and in life flow with an energy that when it comes down to it, I never see as negative. It’s continuous and so are the lessons. With energy so immense and eternal how could anything – or anyone – truly “end.”

In our lives we are given this gift of continuous love that we would rather shove into the corner in favor of what’s immediate and more serving of our needs for control and security. It isn’t until the hard lessons are put upon us whereby we return to the treasure behind our here and now. This gift of continuous love can be found and observed in both nature and in each of us. Change is the energy for it to fly in orbits that will never end but only become better and brighter through time and generations.

Early September evening in the meadow at Bill Yeck Park in Centerville Ohio by Jim Crotty

The rising of the full Corn Moon on evening of September 5 2017 from Bill Yeck Park in Centerville Ohio by Jim Crotty

Balance and Priorities and Lost Wisdom Teeth

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Last Friday I accompanied my 15 year old daughter as she went to the oral surgeon to have her four wisdom teeth removed. I am very fortunate to have the flexibility and freedom to be able to be there for her. It all went well with even a comical video or two of the after effects of the analgesia. I was happy to be there for her. Chloe is my youngest and lives with me here in Ohio. Her older sister Emma is 17 and will be graduating this year from high school in Texas where she lives with her mom. My son Philip, age 30, is making his own way and living his dream near the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Make a difference where it counts, and lasts. The achievements that will always stand the test of time will be those that positively impacted another person’s life. That’s job #1 in being parent and I fear that in all the political noise we’ve surrounded ourselves with has taken some the focus away from why we’re here and what we’re doing in the first place. And it’s just not the political noise. It’s the noise of our own insecurities and fears often amplified due to the inevitable and constant comparisons being made on social media.

As an independent artist and photographer I’m often challenged to constantly bring in new work in a smaller market where I’m well-established, and with growing competition from influx of new photographers and cell phone cameras. I put pressure on myself to introduce to the fine art print market striking, new imagery representing new locations.

It’s always there on social media, is it not? The hipster photographer traveling the back roads of the American West in his custom SUV or retro Woodie Wagon with a Husky in tow and every week a breathtaking sunrise along the coast or in some grand vista of a National Park.

How many photographers can actually make a living from such a “dream job?” Very, very few. Seriously, if any at all. What still surprises me is the number of people I come in contact with who think that’s me. It is not. In fact I haven’t traveled outside of Ohio since I went to visit my daughter in Dallas last October.

All those images I post everyday to my company Facebook page? Old stuff. Lots of it. Again and again. And you know what? That’s O.K. Just last week I posted a canyon landscape that I captured when I lived in Utah in 1999. Six months from now I will probably post it again.

There are some important points I’m making here. One, selling art is not selling entertainment, and unfortunately that’s what the bent has become for the vast majority of artists pushing themselves on social media these days. To entertain and “engage” by feeding this huge, nebulous audience of followers “new stuff” that shows just how exciting the life is being pursued by the most popular adventuresome hipster artist. I think it’s a shame that this approach is being perpetuated amongst art schools and colleges and in a way falsely convincing students that they will actually be able to make a living traveling, blogging and selfie-stick their way through life. They won’t.

The other point to be made is that when we finally learn to accept the blessings and opportunities that are right outside our front doors we find that often it’s through such local endeavors, no matter how “boring” it may appear on social media, where we find our creative voices and more importantly, the type of face-to-face, personal connections that in the long run will be far more profitable and fulfilling. For me one area of unexpected fulfillment has been expanding my photography practice to the field of teaching photography, through field workshops. To awaken the joy of artistic expression in a new photographer with a camera and with the right guidance is worth any National Geographic expedition to the most exotic locations.

The problem we are all facing today is this constant negative energy of adversarial relationships that arise from so many comfort zones and assumptions, especially between generations. Heck I’m already doing it with the use of the term “hipster.”

We need to return to common ground of learning, growth and collaboration. To remain divisive is to continue to keep generations isolated. That’s not good for anyone.

My other point is the most important. Don’t screw-up priorities. It’s easy to do, especially when you work in a field where there’s quite a few unrealistic expectations. That gets frustrating and it simply is not worth it to try to please all people all the time. Look to where and how your work has made a positive impact, beyond the bottom line and short term profit. Having worked as a photographer since 2003, in a number of different locations and for a wide variety of clients and students, I’ve lost count the times I’ve been told what a difference my photographs have made, how I’ve inspired someone to reach out and grow or how simply sharing an old favorite landscape image with some words of support made someone’s day.

And this gets back to the unexpected joys of parenthood. When my daughter selects one of my images from my web site for a project for her sophomore art class and for me to be there when they perform, maybe not all the time because of how things have worked out with distances, but to be there when it matters and to matter to them when it counts, and sometimes you get a goofy post-wisdom teeth video to share to boot.

I’ve put a lot of expectation for perfection upon myself. Artists tend to do that. But at 52 years of age all I can hope for now is just to make a positive difference each day, with my kids and with anyone I’m blessed to come in contact with.

Plant the seeds that no else sees, and anchor your confidence in the joy of the fruit to be harvested long after you’re gone. It will all be worth it.

Enter November | Regaining Your Soul in the Change

The quiet of November. The cold of night slowly releasing to the remaining warmth of the day. Morning mist filling the valleys. Frost-covered leaves and bare branches silhouetting the oranges and purples of early sunsets. There’s a calmness to November; an ease of being, a peaceful disposition before the arrival of winter.

November has always been a welcome respite; that quiet and beautiful month of transition. It is an opportunity to return to my photographic roots among the towering Hemlocks of Hocking Hills and along prairie trails in twilight.

There’s a soft and slightly melancholy feel to the early nightfalls and horizons set to hues between orange and pink and migrating flocks overhead. I welcome the change and I’ve learned not to dread the arrival winter for it is in all the seasons and the in-between months when we are reminded that life is in a constant state of change. The soul was never designed to be a stationary object but flows with tides and the waxing and waning of the Moon.

Change is to be embraced. It’s good. It’s necessary. It’s how we grow. What remains consistent is the energy of love and grace that stays with all the winds of change. Let us all be fully and completely present in all that change brings us and during the calm beauty of November to stop and be grateful for all we’ve be blessed with in our lives.

The Super Moon of November 14 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 14 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Dusk in November from Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Dusk in November from Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 13 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 13 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Late fall evening in Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve Ohio by Jim Crotty
Late fall evening in Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve Ohio by Jim Crotty
Early November sunset along the Bridle Trail in Hocking Hills State Park Ohio by Jim Crotty
Early November sunset along the Bridle Trail in Hocking Hills State Park Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty

Transcend | Dare to Believe

Only by peace can the human heart gain sovereignty over the darkness of fear and the desires of the ego. The world grasps and holds at what is only temporal, as if life is a mere game of competitive oneupmanship. The winners. The losers. The accounting and counting of what eventually amounts to nothingness. But the truth of the soul is a love that transcends this world, where the only measure is the heart’s capacity for the sheer honesty of its beauty and being and destiny. We are not sent to our fates by a cold and uncaring God. It is rather by our own choosing do we recede into darkness or proceed into light. Only by peace can the heart lead the way forward. The conscious decision to follow that path is a holy power, a divine gift. In the years that fall behind us may we all gain the awareness that is peace and acceptance and join our hearts in the grandeur that is love everlasting.

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Ethics and Value in Nature Photography

Early morning in May 2010 at Ash Cave in Hocking Hills Ohio by Jim Crotty

 

“I wanted to find out from you a few things. What kinds of situations have you run across that brings this to mind? Have you conducted photography lessons and made sure the students are aware of possible ethics? What are your thoughts?”

Well once I get started on such a great subject I can’t just simply provide a couple of brief example and answers. This is one topic which I feel the urge to elaborate. One, because it’s so timely, and two, because photography has been my passion for quite some time now, long enough to notice and experience trends, developments and impact the medium has had on society.

Ethical conduct in nature photography should be a priority. I’d venture to say so much so that one should establish personal, ethical guidelines long before advancing to the latest and greatest DSLR camera, those big lenses and all those ninja-like software editing techniques. Ethical conduct in any art medium and line of work first must have a foundation of kindness, fairness and respect for the sanctity of subject and environment. Yes, that’s something that’s honed upon and learned over years of experience but there’s the simple fact that part of such a foundation is rooted in personality and upbringing.

The vast majority of people are decent human beings who make an occasional mistake of bad judgment, true, but there is that small minority who will go after what they want no matter what the possibility of negative impact it will have upon others, other life we share this planet with and the environment. They’re capable of justifying anything and everything they do. Nothing I can write and share will encourage a change in their behavior.

This response and article is not for them or about them. My thoughts are directed toward the large majority who already have a sound moral compass and just need a few reminders of what not to do when in the field, involved and pursuing that wonderfully rewarding medium of expression known as nature and landscape photography.

The allure of capturing that one image that garners the most “likes,” lead to that book cover and result in that 1st place award at the camera club can be intoxicating, can’t it? It always has been but what has truly amped-up the enticement of this kind of competitive notoriety is the explosive growth and impact of online social media. It’s caused nearly all photographers to drift into the realm of the quick fix of online fame. It’s worth mentioning here because I think it does have a great deal to do with the importance of ethical conduct in this particular artistic medium. It’s served as “added fuel,” so to say, to forces at work that can push good, decent people over that borderline and away from what is right toward not-so-good behavior. Our collective ethical conduct has been watered-down by the gods of the internet and everyone aiming to be that rock star photographer.

By my very nature and the nature of my work I am an observer; a student of cause and effect within the environment. With my work it has to do with light, subject and setting. I tend to apply this same studious approach toward people. I look for the root cause. I believe strongly that the insta-fame of social media is what is driving a lot of questionable behavior of nature photographers these days. Herein lies the source of my examples. And I will add this – I am not been immune to it, that pull and temptation.

The situations that come to mind most often pertain to wildlife subjects but I’ve observed it in landscape photography as well. I’ve seen Black Bear cubs harassed up trees in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and raptors baited with store-bought mice. I’ve seen crowds of photographers fighting and clamoring for the same scenic vantage point. If seen photographers put themselves and others in danger in stopping along roadsides with traffic flying by, inches away (ok I’m kind of guilty of that one). Gardens have been trampled over, subjects posed on active railroad tracks and garbage and domestic animals brought out on trails where both are clearly prohibited. I’ve also seen bird nesting sites destroyed and alligators approached with nothing more than camera phones. In general, just a lot that leaves me walking away and shaking my head.

It would be easy to list simple tips on what not to do when actively engaged in nature and landscape image-making. There are the obvious – don’t unroot plants, don’t harass animals to the point of stress or abandoning territory, don’t trample through protected areas, etc. I think the better way to offer helpful suggestions is simply adapting an “approach of honor and respect,” which must first be grounded in solid, positive self-image, and then applying that approach into what I consider the five key areas of consideration within the medium and pursuit of nature photography – subject, setting/location, audience/viewer, fellow photographers and finally, the resulting photograph.

1) Subject: I briefly touched on this earlier but it is important to go into more detail here. Honoring the subject, with respect and appreciation, is absolutely essential. Whether animal, plant or landscape. The sanctity of the living space and life of the subject should always be maintained and not sacrificed in the name of the “good shot.” Besides when an animal is scared and stressed it will show in the resulting image. Here’s the true value of a good telephoto lens when it comes to wildlife photography, other than the obvious amazing optics. For birds and other wildlife I recommend at least a 300mm telephoto lens. The zoom lenses that come with DSLR cameras offer some telephoto capabilities – usually up to 200 or 250mm – but it really is not enough to fill the frame with your subject while maintaining a safe distance, unless with a very tame animal. Be a brief visitor and not an intruder. Go quietly and gently toward subject. Understand its behavior. Invest the time needed to observe before photographing.

2) Setting/Location: The natural setting could be just down the road at a nearby metro park or somewhere in the vast beauty of a National Park. Regardless here too I recommend slowing down and spending time to be quiet and observant rather than rushing onto a location, shooting away and moving on to the next spot. The rush will show in your images. I always find it more productive to spend time within a particular area, allowing the images to come to you, versus chasing one often photographed scene after another. There is so much more to be explored when being patient with a scene and allowing the light to change and unfold before you. Time and time again I’v witnessed groups of photographers constraining themselves with time and schedule limitations, rushing their image making and then returning with average photographs at best. Respect the process and the location well enough to let it bring the photograph to you. Established trails (and operating hours) are there to protect flora and prevent ground damage. Be careful with tripods because often legs are spread out to where they could possibly harm other plant life.

3) Audience/Viewer: Ansel Adams once said “there are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” And he was referring to landscape photographs in response to a critic who complained about the absence of human subjects in his images! By way of the photographer approaching his or her subject with honor and respect the image also communicates honor and respect for the viewer. There is a dynamic of visual storytelling taking place that should not be taken for granted or glossed over. That dynamic should be positive-amplifying. If you should have the opportunity to listen to any one of the top pro nature photographers in the industry, such as Art Wolfe, you will leave with strong sense of his appreciation for both his subjects and you, a member of his audience. The best artists know to honor this dynamic – this “conversation” – between artist, subject and audience.

4) Fellow Photographers: Now this gets a bit more nitty gritty because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last 15 or so years with the advent of digital image making and DSLR cameras. Nature and wildlife photographers are poaching the heck out of each other and are becoming entirely too focused (no pun intended :)) on outdoing each other, to the point of feigning online friendship for the sole purpose of gleaning information on locations, techniques, inside tips, etc. Yes, it’s good to be friendly and helpful but when one is continuously “pumped for info” it becomes easy to see the difference between honest connection and community and just being used for information, and then seeing one of your images duplicated. It might just be me but it just brings a negative energy into the medium that takes away from what makes an excellent landscape image so special in the first place. It detracts from the intimacy. Respect the work of your fellow photographers. Respect each other when photographing together or at the same location. Develop your own eye and approach and have enough confidence in your unique way of image making that you don’t feel the need to constantly imitate others. Yes, it’s good to learn and be inspired, but then apply it to your own unique vision.

5) The Photograph – Honor it. Always. Artists always have a tendency toward devaluation and trust me, there are many people who know how to profit from that type of self-devaluation. I know. All too well. The photograph is the culmination of our work and if you’ve been at it as long as I have you have less and less tolerance for those who want to assign value based on their own intentions toward profit down the road. How does this apply to nature and landscape photography and ethical conduct? Easy. Honor and respecting the final image will always increase its value because by doing so you communicate honor and respect for yourself and your subject. People react to that kind of energy. By appropriately valuing that photograph of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in beautiful morning light you are also maintaining respect for that species and its environment. Always carefully manage your copyrights and usage of your images.

Anyone involved in the artistic endeavor of nature and wildlife photograph should understand his or her role as a steward in the protection of the subject, the medium and the relationship between artist and audience. Honoring and respecting the sacredness of stewardship in the art and craft of photography will help ensure the variety and vitality of beautiful and inspiring subjects for generations to come and the amazing stories to be shared long after all the “likes” are done and the awards forgotten.

As we approach and capture the essence of our subjects – with honor and grace – so we accept and respect the honor and grace in each of us. Let no one detract.