observed by Diane » photo journal for those who enjoy vignettes of an ordinary life

  • Welcome to my photo journal

    Living on Vancouver Island in B.C. Canada Diane loves the scent of forests and rain, the rhythms of the sea, and holds discoveries and stories in high regard.

    Where mornings begin with a drum roll! --Diane M Schuller

    Updated on random Mondays ... simply an online journal of an ordinary life. Come on in to enjoy a breath of West Coast air.

    Negative Space

    Negative space, when referring to art and photography, is generally defined as, “the space around the subject of an image.” That means the ’empty’ space around your main subject. It’s a shame it’s referred to as “negative” since it is a very important component of the whole image. The negative space actually enhances or makes the image successful.


    Those of you who have read my most recent posts, are aware that I’ve taken a solid step back from too much time on the Internet while stepping back into spending time with real life. It has been like that spruce cone in this image, being allowed to ‘be’ in the real world allowing my best parts to emerge by the negative space surrounding me (which enhances its main subject: me). I’m not referring to the physical me, but the inner me.

    Since my mother died nearly two years ago, I plummeted into a deep depression and had to work extremely hard trying to scratch my way back to some new normal. I’m still working at it though I’ve finally emerged from the depths and am settled on the cool snow, waiting for the sun to melt the rest of the chill away. During this time, because I live in such a remote place and have so little contact with others (often going weeks — yes weeks — without seeing another human being other than my husband), that struggle came with other side effects. I lost the desire to write and began to seek creativity in new or renewed ways. I also turned to the Internet community to replace the missing human component in my life. But I realized, it was the human face-to-face contact and energy of real-life I was really needing to help me move along on this journey.

    Picking up photography, after years of denying myself that pleasure, has helped me see my tiny secluded world with a kaleidoscopic view. I sought out the positive space (that’s what the focal point or main subject is referred to in art and photography). All too often the negative space surrounding me was cluttered. In clearing out the clutter, I discovered one great solution to finding the right kind of negative space: Shutter Sisters (an inspiring community of creative women photographers). The negative space of using Shutter Sisters as my inspiration and my connection to the real world (since I live such a secluded life), like a good photograph, has been an important component in discovering my own positive space.

    Although I seldom spend time with humans (though I would dearly love to do so), like an emerging photographer working with limited tools & landscape, I’ve truly worked hard to move forward, develop, and be creative. I’ve taken photos of ornaments, forks, glasses, plates, snow and more snow, horses, dogs, birds, twigs, bark, fences, barbed wire, toes, flowers, dandelions, food, corners of my home, and so on. I’ve created where I sit, where I am stuck, yet have seen so much through my lens, developing and growing as I went along.

    Yes I do hate where I live and how I live but the only way to change either of those would be to leave my husband and I have absolutely no intention of ever doing that. So instead, I endure and seek out the kind of negative space (that enhancing kind of space) that is available to me.

    If you’re feeling stuck, lacking creativity or inspiration, dig deeper. Perhaps you need to move away from the computer and the Internet or perhaps you need to find one or two very selective spots on the Internet (as I have done with Shutter Sisters). Seeking out the right kind of negative space to enhance us (the main subject) is up to us as individuals. Where we focus is just as important as it is in photography. Finding and using the right kind of negative space to surround us also is as important as it is in photography.

    “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we took so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened up for us.” ~ Helen Keller

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    The Right Kind of Blur

    Blur can be a good thing in photographs. There is a kind of blur that is very desirable and then there is just plain poor focusing, which is undesirable blur (well, most of the time). The thing about rules in photography (or anything really) is that knowing the rules gives us a foundation but once practiced and understood, they can be broken. This all sounds incredibly ambiguous so let me explain myself.

    The goal when taking photographs is to ensure the primary subject is in focus – true. But then if we’re taking a portrait for instance, there is an advantage to having the background or negative space blurred or at least slightly blurred. This produces the effect of decluttering the background in a soft manner to bring even more focus on the primary subject. This is primarily accomplished by opening up our aperture. Pretty blur.

    Another name or type of blur is called bokeh. The word has Japanese origins and generally means blurry as it refers to the out-of-focus portion of the image providing aesthetic appeal. There are even different forms (or shapes) of bokeh. Some forms of bokeh are smooth and silky, some are round little “bokeh balls” (when the aperture is wide open) or some are hexagonal when the aperture is stopped down a bit, for instance. Nice blur.

    Another form of blur occurs in images to demonstrate motion or movement in contrast to the area in focus. You see this in images of people, animals, water, or vehicles in motion for instance. This type of blur is created either by using a slow shutter speed or by panning the subject to create blur in the background. Good blur.

    And then there are shots created with a lens called the Lens Baby. Right now the Lens Baby has become a real fad so is widely used to create serious blur. The problem with Lens Baby is that most new users tend to really overdo the blur. I love well used blur demonstrating a shallow depth of field as well as finely executed bokeh (both created with any ordinary lens) but I really dislike most blur done with a Lens Baby. The reason I am not fond of those images is primarily because it’s too extreme and the image no longer focuses on the primary subject. There are some professional photographers who use them for portrait photography and in those hands, in a well executed manner, the resulting images are dreamy. Dreamy blur (only in the right hands).

    More blur doesn’t mean a better image. What is important is finding the best blur to balance the subject. The right kind of blur.

    Here’s a nice blog post discussing Depth of Field and Bokeh if you’d like to read more about bokeh and how to achieve it. It’s worth the practice!

    Of all the photography books I have, my favourite, Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition)has some excellent how-to information about this topic including excellent examples showing the differences. If you already have the book, check out the examples (plus the settings to achieve each one) on pages 28 & 29, 32 & 33, and 36-39 (and several more as you work through the book).

    The Digital Photography Bookby Scott Kelby is another great book for those wanting to get the most out of your digital SLR.

    {NOTE: All of these terms are in a highly condensed form for brevity in this post.}

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    Cast Your Own Shadow

    In a recent conversation, the topic of photographic style came up. More importantly than style however, in my opinion, is following our own path, casting our own shadow, by knowing ourselves & our strengths.

    “Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” Aesop

    “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.” ~Author Unknown

    When it comes to style, whether in my writing or in my photography, I’ve grown into my own style. It came from plenty of practice and experimentation. I also consider it an ongoing learning & development process. With my writing I was never tempted to emulate or try on someone else’s style. With photography there has been that temptation from time to time. It is helpful to have an artist we are inspired by or admire their unique style as we seek our distinctive path. When finding our own style, whether it’s writing, photography, gardening, designing, or anything we grow into and develop, it’s essential we are true to ourselves. Otherwise, we are simply cloning someone else’s style and using it as ours. Much better that we are unique and let it show.


    With my photography, although my subjects are as eclectic and varied as the hair of a calico cat, my style has a central focus (pun may or may not be intended!). My primary style is for crisp photographs with a light hand when it comes to post processing. (That being said, I am thoroughly enjoying stepping out of that comfort zone by teaching myself various new techniques including a number of post processing applications.)

    Other photographers may go for the extremes such as the HDR extremists (the extreme sports version of post-processing) or the real current trend to blur everything (LensBaby addicts) or mask every image with textures. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of those, but that’s not my personal style. I admire those who can create magical atmosphere to their images by adding textures or by adding just the right amount of blur with their LensBaby. In photography, post processing and certain lenses are tools but tools should not be relied upon to be the main event. My view is that tools should be part of the process to enhance or when necessary for a desired effect. Even if building a house or repairing a car, the exact same tools are not used for every purpose all of the time after all. (Would you use your secaturs to aerate your soil, weed out dandelions, and stir the compost tea?). Different tools for different purposes.

    I love to experiment and to learn new things. It’s gratifying to experiment with differences in depth of field; conversion to black & white or sepia; shooting into the light to create flare; in creating focus with bokeh; practicing with negative space; learning to do selective desaturation; and other exciting visual treats. I’m also really enjoying learning more in the ‘digital darkroom’ doing post processing. I can see where the digital darkroom can become almost addictive. Lots of tools for experimentation.

    All people following their creative pursuits find their personal style by using a variety of tools, experimenting, and playing whether they’re crafters, gardeners, writers, photographers, or artists.

    What matters is not that you follow someone else’s style or what is popular, but rather to forge ahead of the crowd with playful experimentation to find and develop your unique personal style. Be bold, be brave, and be confident.

    “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell


    Tell me, or show me (leave a link), how you cast your own shadow!


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    There is music

    There’s music in the sighing of a reed;
    There’s music in the gushing of a rill;
    There’s music in all things, if men had ears:
    Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.
    ~Lord Byron


    And the night shall be filled with music,
    And the cares that infest the day
    Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
    And as silently steal away.
    ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Day Is Done

    harp player

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