Shenandoah Spring, On Film

Portra 160, Canon Elan 7 (35mm)

Portra 160, Canon Elan 7 (35mm)

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Our set of rooms at Skyland and the view from our room.  (Portra 160, 35mm)

Our set of rooms at Skyland and the view from our room. (Portra 160, 35mm)

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, 35mm

Portra 160, P645n (medium format)

Portra 160, P645n (medium format)

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

Portra 160, medium format

All I wanted for my birthday present this year was to go to the mountains. In true grass-is-always greener form, I grew up longing for the beach and counting days each year for our summer beach vacation. Now that I live near the ocean where the land is a super flat 9 feet above sea level, it seems all I dream of are rolling hills and the endless vistas of far-away peaks. All (!) I asked was that we go to mountains, and that I not be in charge of any of it. 

So one weekend in May, we picked Cal up early from school, put him behind the wheel and headed west toward the Shenandoah National Park. Partly for our own pleasure, and partly to give Cal some stick time, entered the park at the southernmost tip of Skyline Drive. The lodge we were staying at, Skyland, was roughly at the center of the park, and at 35 MPH, we were told it would take us roughly two hours to reach the lodge.

We took our time. With 75 overlooks along the drive, even I didn't need to stop at each one, but it was hard to pass them up. Neel and Cal, who regularly humor me (and my cameras) knew that this was part of the goal for the trip and they were even more accommodating than usual.

Skyland Resort, where we stayed, was perfect. Things aren't often perfect, but Skyland was. While Neel checked us in, Cal and I sat in rockers in the main lodge and looked out over the valley to the west.  We also checked the animal sighting log book which included lots of deer, chipmunks, a few bear and even a mountain lion! (!!) Our room was a short drive deeper into the valley, but still walking distance to the dining hall, which featured Virginia beers and wines and amazing views across the valley. Our room key even had a tiny flashlight in case our dinner lasted until after dark. (Breakfast was pretty tasty too, by the way.)

Saturday we spent driving. I spent it shooting. We took a hike to the falls that are pictured in my last post (maybe not our best move just a few days out from the flu) and drove the length of the park. We'd been hoping for a repeat of gorgeous stars we'd seen the night before, but we were graced with a stellar thunder storm instead. Fair trade. After the storm, having heard that we'd see bears at twilight, we headed out. Cal drove while Neel and I promised to keep our eyes peeled. Of course Cal spotted the bear. A cub, darting back into the woods. Score!

Next morning, on our way down the mountain, Neel pointed to a sign shaped like a bear on one of the low rock walls that are common along the side of the road. And then the sign hopped of the wall and ambled across the road in front of us. So, two bears. Super exciting.

I hated to have it end. I can feel my heart tug toward those peaks and valleys, and I don't want to have to resist. I'm lucky to live in a place where resisting isn't completely necessary. Blink, and I'm at the ocean. Turn around, and I'm standing on the mountain top. Thank you, Virginia.

Film Notes: Part of the whole exercise for me was simply to enjoy photographing this beautiful space, and to that end, I took three cameras. My 35mm Canon Elan, my Mamiya C330 (whose shots you can see here at Clickin' It Old School) and my Pentax 645n. The Pentax and the Mamiya are both medium format cameras, which have larger negatives than the 35mm. It's really interesting to me (yawn, to the rest of you) to see the difference between the photos from the 35mm and the medium format cameras in this post. Same film, same location, often roughly same time of day. For lots of reasons, I love each of those cameras, but there's no denying that there's a depth to those medium format images that the 35mm images just don't have. Food for thought.

We're headed out on another trip tonight. The dogs are skulking about suspiciously, knowing that when the suitcases come out, the pet sitters come in. And no matter how beloved our pet sitters, our dogs are still suspicious. With a hound and a corgi in the house, "worried" is the default. I know I haven't tended this space well of late, but I'm hoping that with a few weeks off, I'll come back renewed and inspired. In the meantime, I'll be hanging out on Instagram as we travel. Hope to see you there.

i can see clearly now?

Charleston, December 2014 Fuji Superia shot on a Pentax K1000

Charleston, December 2014
Fuji Superia shot on a Pentax K1000

I can't take a break without thinking of that Friends episode where Ross and Rachel were "on a break." I may have been on a blog break, but I wasn't really on a break. No rest for the weird, my girlfriend Sarah and I used to say. I could use another, I think. I'm not sure my outlook shifted all that much. Let's be honest.

The first class in my Intro to Digital Photography course is really overwhelming. I can see the fear and frustration in the eyes of my students, and I remember exactly how I felt that first day. You really think, "What the hell made me think this was a good idea any way?" For some of us, it's worth muscling through, and for others, we sit out the class, glean what we can and that's that. It's all good.

One of the things we learn off the bat is the exposure triangle (and I remember thinking, MATH? NUMBERS? Nobody said!), and I try to explain the concept of digital noise to my students. You get digital noise in an image when you've increased your ISO (akin to the old film speeds) too high. ISO increases the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. Sensor too sensitive? Too much noise.

Ah. Another metaphor for life. For me, there's been too much digital noise lately. I've been feeling bombarded by input, much of it not of my choosing. So I felt restless and cranky and vulnerable in a way that doesn't feel good. I'm a fan of vulnerable when it leaves you open to new ideas and people and experiences. I don't like it as much when it leaves you feeling tender and uncertain and disconnected.

So I pretty much shut things down (except for National Signing Day when I was glued to Twitter to see how the college football team we follow fared), and it was really good. I liked it. I'll likely do it more often. But I missed you guys too. And blogging. I missed that. I have such, such ambivalence about blogging and where it fits with my life right now, but honestly? Where would I be without you? I missed our connections. So I guess it all comes back to balance, right? My own little exposure triangle. How much of myself to expose? How sensitive to make that sensor so I don't get too much digital noise.

There's a beagle on my lap and a fire in the fireplace, so bottom line? It's all good.