January 27, 2018

Overcast, 45 Degrees, Breezy

The weather is central to these walks, so I decided that I will indicate the weather at the beginning of each day’s writing. It is the end of January and yet we have already had quite a bit of warm weather. We had a huge thaw in the middle of the month, with temperatures into the 50s, but we have been having a series of mild days in the upper thirties and forties that feel more like spring than winter. We are months away from true spring but it’s in the air already. I can’t help but think that global warming has something to do with this. It just seems way out of place.

_S8A4549.jpgMild and sunny even in January

One thing about walking every single day, rain or shine, is that you are intimate with the change of seasons and with the change from one year to the next. When you are out in it every single day, you are well aware that last winter was a harsh one or the one before was mild. You feel the tiny incremental changes as the seasons pass. This past fall was a long gradual one. I could feel week by week the slow change from short sleeves to long sleeves to the first morning I needed a jacket to the day I put on the down jacket and then finally the hat and scarf and gloves. It was mild and lovely this fall until we suddenly got a brutal snap of arcitic cold. We got our first real snow followed by a couple of weeks of zero or near zero temperatures with wind chills well below. That was hard to take, I’ll admit. But quickly you adapt and start to take days just a few degrees warmer or with some sunshine as blessings, even if it’s still below ten degrees.

After the cold snap it warmed up and now it feels like spring is coming at the end of January. Michiganders complain about the length and severity of our winters but if you truly go out and experience them in person rather than holing up in your house or heated car, you learn that though the entire season is long, the true hard winter is really very short. November gets gray and wet. December is colder but still not harsh. January is the true hard winter with the bitter cold. By February, things are warming already, and March, though really disappointing and frustrating sometimes, is warmer yet. And then you’re into April when the grass begins to green and the early flowers are out. And finally May arrives when leaves come out and things are in bloom. So, it is a long time from the fall of leaves in October and November until true spring in May, but it is a progression just as is the fall.

Being out in the weather every single day, you learn that there is virtually no such thing as a bad day to be outside. Okay, I don’t like walking in the rain or in deep snow or on windy days when the temperature is cold, but those days are surprisingly few in the course of a year. I bet I don’t carry an umbrella half a dozen times in a year. The deep snow is tough mostly because it’s just plain strenuous. It’s pretty, but wading through six or more inches of snow makes walking a real workout. I walk mostly off of sidewalks or streets where snow gets cleared, so I pack down a trail only by walking them repeatedly.

Once heavy snow falls I don’t usually go to the woods because it’s just too strenuous. This year, I will try to make the walk for the sake of this project. The total walk I do each morning is nearly two miles. Not a big deal when the ground is clear, though it’s a workout with the changes in elevation. But add deep snow, and we’ve had snow up to a couple of feet deep in the last few years, and it’s a real workout. I’ve done it as recently as two years ago, but not lately. It’s just too hard. I am, after all, 62 years old now. No longer the powerful young buck I was in my youth. I won’t dwell on that now, but maybe I will return to it when the snow flies again.

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But enough about the weather for now. I see that I ended yesterday’s writing with the claim that I would take the camera and begin taking pictures today. Well I didn’t. Not a promising start, I know, but I will do it. There is no small amount of inertia to taking out the camera and getting all the associated gear together and functioning after months or years of inactivity. Modern digital cameras all run on batteries, so I need to find them and charge them up. I’ve also been thinking about what gear to carry and how to do it while still walking Jimmy.

The camera I use is a large DSLR, a Canon 5Ds I think. I’ll have to look it up. DSLR is an acronym for Digital Single Lens Reflex. In a DSLR, you look in a viewfinder that uses a mirror to look out through the lens of the camera. This has consequences for the way things look in the viewfinder and I really like the view through a DSLR. My Canon is a very high quality camera that takes incredibly sharp, high resolution images. Probably not something I need for this project, but there’s no harm in having more resolution than I need. If pictures turns out to be more than I expect then I will have the detail to print big if I want. Although the camera is relatively big and heavy, it is incredibly satisfying to use. The viewfinder is bright and clear, the controls are a pleasure to use, and it makes a wonderful sound when you fire the shutter. It just reeks of quality. Good tools play a part in the satisfaction of any pastime. At least they do for me.

The down side to the Canon of course is bulk and weight. And because it takes such high resolution images it records even the slightest movement of the photographer, blurring the image. For that reason, I usually use it on a tripod. Not only that, but it requires a really substantial tripod, not some lightweight thing that is easy to carry. So, if I take the appropriate tripod I end up having to carry the camera and tripod over my shoulder. Not only is this uncomfortable, it calls a lot of attention to me as I walk. I don’t really care for this. I would prefer to be anonymous. I could carry the camera around my neck and the tripod folded up in my hand. This is a little better, though still quite noticeable. It will also make handling Jimmy on his leash awkward.

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The trend for some years now has been toward smaller cameras that have become capable of taking increasingly good photographs and have a variety of lenses available for them. The camera magazines have raved about these cameras for years. I bought one some years ago but I have never found it satisfying to work with despite its small size.

The camera, a Sony, takes good pictures but it has an electronic viewfinder that I just don’t like. When I say electronic viewfinder, what I mean is that when you look through viewfinder, you’re actually looking at a little digital screen rather than just looking through the lens at the real world. No matter how good these screens get, and this camera is supposed to have a good one, they look nothing like the real world. This one seems way too contrasty and makes it impossible for me to really feel what I’m looking at. I can use my experience to judge a composition, but I can’t really see what I’m going to get. I rely on the view through the viewfinder to show me how the photograph will look. It’s the view through the viewfinder that gets me excited about an image and about taking photographs.

The view through a DSLR viewfinder is very different from looking at the world through your naked eye. The framing of the view in a rectangle shows you how the finished image will look and there is something about the darkness that surrounds the image that dramatizes the image as well. Often, a view that looks promising to the naked eye looks wonderful through the viewfinder of a good DSLR. Sometimes something relatively ordinary becomes exceptional when framed in the viewfinder.

So, though I spent good money on this smaller camera and its lenses, I just can’t get excited about using it. I use it when I don’t care a lot about the pictures I am taking or when its small size is essential. It actually takes pretty nice pictures. Even at half the resolution of the Canon, it takes sharp, beautiful shots. It’s just that the experience of using it is not as pleasing.

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I may have to experiment with both cameras as the Sony is small enough to carry without much notice and I can probably get away without using a tripod if I watch my shutter speeds and brace the camera carefully. When using the Canon, it just seems wrong to work without the tripod since I know the images will be degraded without it. Maybe, if I keep the shutter speeds up and brace very carefully I can use the Canon without the tripod. That’s worth a try. I keep trying to satisfy myself with the Sony because it is so small and convenient, but in the end, I usually return to the bulky Canon DSLR.

Using a camera in a professional manner is much more complicated than using a point and shoot camera with no manual control. Knowing how to control exposure, depth of field, shutter speed and focal point make all the difference in a photograph. With a point and shoot, you either have no control over any of these things or if you do have control, most people don’t use it because either they don’t understand what to do or it takes too much time to adjust all of these settings. It doesn’t take too long once you get the feel for what to do, but most people never make the effort to learn. Once you know your camera, you can get what you want quickly. All of the controls are at your fingertips and can be adjusted as you look through the viewfinder.

In any case, I have experienced some inertia in dealing with these things and changing the routine of my walk to include carrying and using the camera. It will change things because now I will be looking for photographs and having to stop periodically to take the pictures. Jamie will have to get used to me stopping too. I usually move pretty quickly on these walks and he trails along behind sniffing and peeing and tracking the various wildlife that live in these woods.

So I am promising myself today to dig into the camera cabinet and find the camera and strap and batteries and charger so I can take the DSLR with me tomorrow. We’ll see if I get it done.

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