Category Archives: Life Philosophy

What’s My Favorite from 2015? | Visualizing What is Felt in the Heart

My Favorite Photograph of 2015. I was recently asked to identify and write a short blog post about what I consider my favorite image from 2015. Here’s my reply –

Spring sky over Kettering Ohio on April 26 2015 by Jim Crotty
Spring sky over Kettering Ohio on April 26 2015 by Jim Crotty

To most it may not be much – just a beautiful spring sky and new color in the trees. But to me is what this image has come to symbolize due to timing, setting and subject, but mostly timing. And not timing in the sense of capturing the light at that particular hour or season but timing in the sense of the context of my approach and what I was feeling when I released the shutter button.

It was one year ago, April 26 2015. Just one month prior to that date – March 27 – my mother had passed away at the age of 79. She had struggled with the declining health that comes with Parkinson’s Disease for nearly 20 years.

The scene of this sky and trees was directly above her hillside garden at the Kettering, Ohio home she shared with my dad since 1989.

Her garden was her soul and everything that grew in it was an extension of her heart.

You see that’s who first awakened my love for nature (and subsequently, nature and landscape photography) so very, very long ago. Well, for as long back as I can remember. It was through those distinct seasons growing up in Southwestern Ohio when I recall seeing my mom in her element. She became lost in her gardening, with two impeccable rose gardens and a backyard full of carefully arranged and cared-for annuals and perennials, interspersed and bordered by Locust, Maple and Pine. Spring through fall, mom was in her garden. The local gardening club came for tours due to her attention to detail and expert knowledge on what could grow well here and not there and what provided the best visual presentation as seasons progressed.

Mom was not a fan of winter in Ohio though, especially after Christmas. I like to think it was just too hard of a wait for her spirit and need to be among all things green and growing.

Mom passed away on a Friday just at the end of March. Spring was just barely getting a foothold. A couple weeks later, when spring went into full motion across the Ohio fields, gardens and woodlands, it was the most beautiful of Ohio springs I can remember. It was mom.

The songbirds loved her garden too, and mom loved songbirds. I remember when I was just six or seven and how mom shared her excitement with me over the pair of Cardinals (her favorite) who had built a nest in the tree just outside the laundry room window. Each day she take me to the window to check on the progress, of first eggs and then baby Cardinals, and then leaving the nest.

Before I was ten I could tell the difference between a House and Carolina Wren and could pick-out the call of Robin, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Starling, Sparrow, Finch and a variety of woodpeckers. And should an owl make an appearance – such as a giant Great Horned – well that was something to truly celebrate.

This image is much more than just sky and trees. It’s more than the technical specs of the camera and lens (if you must know it’s a Canon 1D Mark III with a Canon 17-35mm f2.8 lens). It goes deeper than its composition and color. This photograph is of love.

Photography is a visual connection to the stories that interweave our spirits and give representation to that eternal grace of soul feeling. When that visual connection is so deeply rooted in the love that binds family, then every image becomes cherished in the gallery of the heart.

Spring came beautiful in 2015 and it wasn’t long before evening fall during summer in mom’s garden was full of fireflies and the songs of cricket and Katydid.

The love we leave behind will always take root in the gardens we tend to during our brief journey together. With care we tend the soil and cultivate our heart songs, for in another spring a mother will take her young son to the window and look wide-eyed at the Cardinal’s eggs in the nest in the tree outside, and above a brilliant spring sky will swirl with clouds and Red Bud trees. And the call of a lone Mourning Dove will come on a morning breeze.

This Couple’s Shared Passion for Photography Extended Beyond the Grave

This Couple’s Shared Passion for Photography Extended Beyond the Grave.

The gift of photography is not so much in the beauty of the captured image as it is in the shared experience of living in the light of a common love for beauty; the visual expression of the spirit of life.

True and Original | The Coen Brothers and the Art of Expression

“Like something out of a Coen Brothers movie.” There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation and I suppose that’s why I find my best sources of inspiration in other mediums than still photography. I admire the work of the masters such as Adams and Weston, but I never want to imitate it. And that can be a challenge sometimes. But to be inspired by prose and poetry, music, film, design, sculpture . . . that’s where energy in the art of expression is renewed, again and again.

For example, the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. They don’t bend to popular whims nor do they film to please this particular group or that particular audience. They hold true to their own creative vision and all else falls into place. They also stay true to those components or pieces that best serve their vision, whether it be the musical genius of T. Bone Burnett or the understated performances of John Goodman.

The Coen’s nail it every time because they have the courage to be who they are and not mold themselves to the expectations of a fickle audience, and the studios come to them. Sure their best work often gets snubbed but there’s no mistaking one of their films from those of a sea of other filmmakers.

The universal connection found in the art of creative expression that is unique to each soul is life and light set to a harmonious interludes of wonder and joy. To be true, even it means long stretches of hanging out there by your lonesome, that’s the place to be. Life was never meant to be a popularity contest. The posturing and posing and pandering leaves everyone wanting. I’ve seen a lot of that in my life. There have been many times I’ve been guilty of falling into that trap as well. It served as a painful reminder of the importance of being true to self, always humble and thankful to a higher power and love without conditions or false intentions.

Life is meant to be lived in the courage of your own convictions and expressed through the work of your own hands. Talent fully utilized may on the surface be seen as selfish but when serving the higher purpose of inspiring others (and always in gratefulness) it is actually quite the opposite, and beautiful to behold.

Simply Thankful | My Best of 2013 | Part 2

Continuing on with my personal favorites from 2013 . . . Such an amazing year with so much to be thankful for, photographically and personally.

Grace Be This Day | Lanscape Photography by Jim Crotty

Broken Rock Trail Falls, Hocking Hills Ohio. April 2013. I had returned to Ohio for a short visit after moving to Texas, to Hocking Hills to teach a one-day spring workshop at The Inn at Cedar Falls and to be a judge/guest speaker at the 2013 Shoot the Hills event. It was a spectacular spring in Southeastern Ohio and the streams and waterfalls were flush with flowing water. When I am in Hocking Hills, most often to teach workshops, I try to always set aside at least one day to get out and shoot on my own. When I am teaching I am completely devoted to the task of instructing and guiding my students. This image was one of many that I captured during that day out on the trail by myself, on the Monday following the Shoot the Hills weekend. I was blessed with pristine spring conditions. The light was ethereal coming through the Hemlocks and into the gorges. It was an intimate connection to the place I know best as home when it comes to my love of nature and landscape photography. Broken Rock Trail Falls is off the beaten path and a little bit of a challenge to get to but that’s why I love this scene so much. It’s a closeness, a connection, in quiet and peace.

SummerGracesAugust27byJimCrottyFW

Late August on the Farm. Raptor Ridge, Beavercreek Township, Ohio. August 27 2013. By this time in late summer I had settled-in to my routine and the rhythm of the days on my eight acres of farmland in Greene County. Sunsets came late and were almost always colorful due to my vantage point providing access to a wide-open western horizon. I loved working with these overgrown farm fields as foreground subjects in my landscape images. In South Carolina it was almost always the dunes, ocean or marshland. Here it was fields of tall grass, hills and woodlands. Most often, following a full day of cutting the property on an old, 1970’s John Deere tractor, I would take off on the ATV with my Canon 1D Mark III strapped over my shoulder, scouting for vantage points. This one was from near where my dirt drive exits onto Trebien Road. This image holds the sweet memory of summer. There’s just something innocent and nostalgic about it with a tinge of sadness. It would about one week following this evening when I would suffer a second heart attack, in the farmhouse, this one classified as “major.” If I had not had the first heart attack and two stents, plus the nitro pills from 2010, this image very well could have been one of my last. The next day I was in the cath lab at Miami Valley Hospital for a third stent, this time a much longer and more painful procedure because the blockage on the LAD artery was very large. I am thankful for the help and support of my brothers who were there at the hospital and the love and support of my girlfriend Rebecca. I still haven’t got my head around that experience. Come to think of it, I never quite got my head around the one that happened three years prior! Each day holds so many blessings and so much for which to be thankful for. Never take them or the ones you love and hold close for granted.

August fog at sunrise on Ohio farm by Jim Crotty

Philip Emma and Chloe

On the Day of Your Departure. August morning on Raptor Ridge. August 11, 2013. In early August I introduced my new home on the farm to my younger daughter, Chloe, and my son Philip. I wasn’t sure how this place would be received but both loved it, as would my older daughter Emma when she came to visit during Christmas (the group photo below which was the ultimate Christmas gift for me). One of my best memories of the summer was the sight and sound of Chloe, age 12, flying through the fields, woods and down the dirt road on the ATV, singing and laughing the entire time. This part of the property is what I call the “hollow” which is a valley below the house surrounded my woods on the other three sides. In previous homes the homeowner’s association would have had a fit if these kind of tracks tore up the grass. This time, I AM the homeowner’s association ! For me this image tells more than one story, the first being of the joy and imagination of kids just being kids and just having fun (at the end of the tracks, between the trees, there is a great jump before going out into the open field).

The other story is more bittersweet and personal. On the morning of that Sunday, when both Chloe and Philip were scheduled to fly back to Texas and Florida respectively, a beautiful fog came in over the farm, just at sunrise. I was soon out with camera and in bare feet. capturing the light burning through the mist. The problem with having so much fun with your children when they come for short visits is the pain and quietness after they depart. I’ve been through it so much but I have to get use to it. Instead I’ve learned to let the sadness just flow and then plan for their return. I’m far from being a perfect dad and my moving around has not exactly been the most stable of patterns, but in my heart is a love for my children that is always strong, always enduring and always hopeful.

NovemberWhentheLightEchoesbyJimCrottyFW

When the Light Echoes. November sunrise over Raptor Ridge. November 15, 2013. Most nature and landscape photographers chase the brilliant colors of October when it comes to photography in autumn. I do too, but in Ohio I’ve come to appreciate the haunting light of November contrasted with the shapes and forms of bare branches. Here is the true turning of the seasons. I’m blessed to live in a house that is situated on a hilltop and a back porch and kitchen door/window that overlooks my hollow and the southeastern horizon, and beautiful Locust and huge Maple trees surrounding the home. Mornings are a special time for me. Yes, I have a typical routine of coffee and breakfast but more importantly I enjoy the value of spending those quiet hours in daily readings, prayer and thought. The sunrise each morning right outside my kitchen door here on Raptor Ridge is like a curtain opening to a grand stage of another day of unexpected blessings. On this particular morning in mid-November I was treated to something truly special. I consider this possibly my best image of 2013. The story told is one of the peaceful endurance of love and patience, and of hope.

ThroughtheOpeningbyJimCrottyFW

Moonrise and Thunderhead. Kettering, Ohio. July 14, 2013. This is one of the few Ohio summer landscape images that was not captured on my property at Raptor Ridge in Greene County. Instead this from a cornfield/roadside near Wilmington Pike in Kettering, Ohio. I had been shopping at a nearby Kroger grocery story when I noticed this big thunderhead from a storm that was off on the western horizon. All I needed was a decent foreground free of homes and power lines. This field, across from the Quail Run Kettering Tennis Center, did nicely. As the storm clouds broke the half Moon shown through with the thunderhead illuminated by the light of the setting sun below. For me this image speaks of summers in Ohio, of the music of Crickets, Katydids and distant thunder.

TheClassicbyJimCrottyFW

The Classic. Ohio landscape in black and white. Trebein Road, Xenia, Ohio. November 22, 2013. This image was the result of some planning, I admit. That’s because it was a scene I had noticed when I first moved to the area last summer. Every time I’d drive down that way on Trebein Road, on my way to State Route 35 from my house, it kept calling me to be photographed. This is very similar to a scene I know quite well in Hocking Hills, Ohio. The trees nestled between hills was hard to resist. It was just a matter of waiting for the right kind of sky to fit the subject and foreground. I love working with patterns in my landscapes, especially roads and fences. It was a rainy, cold day in November when the opportunity finally presented itself. Once in camera I knew I had captured what I had been after in my mind’s eye since late June, and the conversion to black and white communicates fall in Ohio quite well simply through the play of light and shadow.

Dandelion Silhouette by Jim Crotty

Dandelion Wine. Raptor Ridge. September 11, 2013. Perhaps a bit cliche, I know, but the Dandelion silhouette is one of my favorites from the summer. It’s the coming harvest during those days of gold when sunsets just seem to linger a bit longer and the days aren’t so quick to come to an end.

Every season holds special memories. As the years go by the memories become more cherished and as a result the experience of the gift of here and now is more valued. Through all the moving around, through all the worry and fear, hope endures in the grace of simple gratitude.

I may never become the most successful photographer in the world but the treasures I’ve been blessed with through experience, art and love are immeasurable. And there is still so very, very much more . . .

Simply Thankful | My Best of 2013 | Part 1

The best way for me to express the incredible experiences of 2013 is by sharing my personal favorite images from throughout the year. January 1 2013 began on Hilton Head Island. By the end of the month I was on my way to Texas and by the beginning of July I was back home in Ohio. I’ve taken some kindhearted ribbing from a few family members and friends regarding the craziness of my moving twice in one year, but, I still believe that it all happened for a reason and to set the stage for greater blessings down the road. Besides, at least I can say “done that, been there, I tried it out.”

One of the important lessons I learned is that the grass is not always greener on the other side and Ohio can be a pretty awesome place to live. It gets a bum rap by many who grow up here. It deserves much better. Another lesson is to carefully think through the advice of others when they give you their opinion about where and how you should live your life. Just saying. I have a tendency to be too much of a people-pleaser, much to the determent of my own health. I’m working my way out of that, one day at a time. Follow your heart and those who love and care will fall in around you.

Another lesson reinforced is the fact that the best images arise from where and when the heart is engaged. It’s not so much of chasing images in many locations but rather letting go of expectations and following the heart and the blessings that are presented, even if just outside the back door or down the road.

All in all I am very thankful to have finally landed back in the Dayton Ohio area, enjoying life and photography on my little eight acres of rural heartland. The journey has been incredible, tiring, wonderful. So many images captured that could have made my top ten list. It was hard to select the ones to post here but honestly these are the ones that carry the most personal meaning for me, whether they were popular on social media or not, it’s the personal connection and story that counts.

These images are no particular order. Here goes –

AltusOklahomabyJimCrottyFW

March 2013: Altus, Oklahoma. At the beginning of February I had moved to Frisco, Texas, just north of Dallas. It’s one of the fastest growing communities in the United States. Lots of development. Lots of young families, but very limited as far as subject matter for the type of photography that I am known for and enjoying shooting. In order to find the “good stuff” had to take trips out of the Dallas metroplex. One location that I thoroughly enjoyed were the small towns and scenic hills in and around the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. This scene immediately caught my eye, along the streets in Altus, Oklahoma. It presented a contrast and composition I could not resist. I’m a sucker for weathered, old and vintage. These scenes are full of character.

SticktotheOldRoadsbyJimCrottyFW

Keep to the Old Roads. Frisco, Texas. For me at least the most fulfilling photographic experiences are those that I share with my children. Even when they are sitting in the car complaining “oh geez dad not again, really?” I know that what I am sharing with them is having a positive impact. This was a late afternoon in early April along of the few remaining rural roads on the outskirts of Frisco, Texas. My daughter Chloe was with me. She accompanied me on an outdoor portrait session for a large family near their home in Frisco. Afterwards, as we were driving back home, I noticed the sky breaking up and the sun streaming through. I just needed the right foreground to capture it so I headed over to this farm road which was near a friend’s house. This image speaks of the change of seasons on the open prairies of North Central Texas and more importantly a memory shared with my daughter Chloe.

July evening on the farm in Beavercreek Township Ohio by Jim Crotty

Sunset on the Farm. July 2013. Beavercreek Township, Ohio. Home again. I had always wanted to live on farmland with easy access to nature all around me. I finally found it with the purchase of an eight-acre historical farmhouse in Beavercreek Township, Ohio, east of Dayton. I moved in late June 2013. It has been quite an adjustment but the scenes at sunrise and sunset are an incredible blessing. So much just right here around my house. But what came with the purchase as well is the work required to maintain property this size. It can be hard, but fun and fulfilling too. I never thought I’d enjoy an old John Deere tractor so much. This was just after sunset. I had finished cutting for the day, put the tractor back in the garage and was walking back to the house when the sky lit-up with a light that speaks of summers in rural Ohio. There is peace here and I am thankful.

Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here by Jim Crotty

Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here. Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills Ohio. August 2013. Hocking Hills is a very special place. One of the best memories of last summer of going there for a short visit with my daughter Chloe and son Philip. This was Philip’s first visit to Hocking Hills. I had not planned to do any photography of my own other than images of Chloe and Philip, hiking and rappelling, so this landscape image down in the Old Man’s gorge was unplanned. This what makes this image one of my best of the year. It was the experience that it represents that makes it stand-out. Plus there was just something about the light coming down through there on that August afternoon. Peace pours in and gratitude is expressed best in those places and experiences that are shared with loved ones.

(to be continued . . .)

The Photographer’s Journey | Deeper and Higher

There’s an article that popped-up on my web browsing radar this morning (I gave up on TV news long ago) that tells the sad story of Canon Inc. cutting their annual profit forecast due to declining sales in the face of the rise popularity and capabilities of “smartphone” cameras. From the perspective of a professional photographer this would at first appear to be sad news with the assumption that everyone with a camera phone now can do just about everything a pro could do with a DSLR and several lenses.

True there’s some impressive imagery coming from shooters just using an iPhone. The new apps are amazing. Personally I’ve been having a ball with my iPhone 4S, Snapseed and Instagram . . . but . . . my iPhone won’t be replacing my DSLRs with those nice lenses. And it’s not a matter of greater technical capabilities of the equipment. It’s more of a case of making the most of the tools that are at my disposal.

The paintbrush and canvas don’t define the artist. The pen and computer do not represent the soul of the writer. What is more important is what is achieved with the tools available in representing in visual work how and why the photographer interacts with life and light around him or her and more significantly, if that work touches and moves the viewer – even if just one person – in a way that is affirmation in the positive and heartfelt.

It’s the connection that matters and from my experience it must be a connection that is honest, respectful and reflective of a gracious nature. Can that happen with a pic from an iPhone ? Sure can. Not often, but it does happen. One of the images posted with this entry – below – was snapped with my iPhone. Is it an award-winner ? Maybe.

Camera manufacturers adapt to the changing market. New, easier to use cameras come out to meet market demand. “Smartphones” get smarter. People shoot away. It’s all good. It’s all fun and once in a while very creative and inspiring. The one consistent will always be the grace and beauty found in the balance of light and subject and that hard-to-explain reason why we are all pulled toward artistic expression through the visual interpretation of our life experiences.

Sometimes I fight the urge to get a bit perturbed at the fact that the one thing I was (and hopefully still am) good at – photography – has now become so mass produced, mass marketed and mass consumed that I worry that I will be lost in the crowd, insignificant and meaningless. But in spite of all the noise and mass image snapping out there, the sense of accomplishment still remains when I touch and move just one viewer in a positive way.

It’s not about the gear. It’s not about the apps. And honestly it’s not about me. It’s about what I can accomplish by allowing my time, talents and tools to be used as vessels for reaffirming the blessings all around us and encouraging others to do the same. It’s about gaining the greater wealth when letting flow and letting go and to connect deeper and higher, in the sacred honesty of love, light and life.

The nice equipment and accolades are temporary. The connection is forever.

NovemberWhentheLightEchoesbyJimCrottyFW Photo Oct 08, 7 35 26 PM ThreeMapleLeavesEarlyOctoberbyJimCrottyFW November Morning by Jim Crotty ToSetAglowbyJimCrottyFW