“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

DSCN3191.jpg

I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

DSCN0222 Kate watches the sunset to our stern 2.jpg

When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

Untitled-1

There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

IMG_8265 Indian Guide in her _80s_ Adams Peak_ Sri Lanka

Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

IMG_8874

IMG_0913

IMG_1098

Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

IMG_9465 Palace complex built into rock

DSCN5294

Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

Advertisements

The first time I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker, a big dashing bird with a flaming crest, he was rooting in the lawn near the lake at Northern Bliss. “Look at that!” I yelled to Gunter. “It’s almost as large as a bantam rooster.” Soon another joined the first. We remained hidden behind the sun room window, mesmerized, afraid to move. And of course, we had no camera nearby. Later we consulted our bird books. We had seen a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers! We bought suet and continued to replenish the feeder whenever we would stay at Northern Bliss. Sometimes the birds would come and other times they would stay away for weeks or months at a time. We could never “guarantee” that our guests would see these shy, elusive birds.

This year, our luck improved. My son made us a suet feeder designed for woodpeckers. We placed it away from the other feeders, underneath the branch of an ornamental berry tree. That site just happens to be below our second floor bedroom window, and now we keep cameras at the ready. We have been rewarded with a “sighting” about every 2-3 days. Two weeks ago, our guests, avid birders, spotted the threesome (yes, now they have offspring) at that feeder many times. And one day last week, I waited patiently at the window for opportunity to photograph all three. I snapped about a dozen photos to get these, my favorite shots.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

After reading more about the habitat of these woodpeckers, I realize how special we are to have them here. One family’s home territory can occupy 150-200 acres!  A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and will only tolerate new arrivals during the winter.

This woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. In the north, it’s the size of a crow; in the south, slightly smaller. You can’t miss its black back with bold white stripes down the neck, a vivid contrast to its flaming-red crest.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

Woodpeckers nest in dead or soft coniferous or deciduous trees. They prefer old forest growth, but there’s not much left, so they have migrated closer to human activities. Even so, I’ve noticed that ours do not make an appearance on busy weekends with lots of lake traffic.

One day, I followed the wuk, wuk, wuk warnings they made as they marked their territory. A Pileated Woodpecker call sounds like this:

.

When I reached their home in a humongous dead tree right over our lot line near my “natural garden,” I could hear the drumming. Listen to it here on Pileated Woodpecker Central.

Now that I know where they live, I’m planning a “stake out.” I’ll set up my camera on a tripod for some awesome photos of them entering their home. When they are not dining at our suet table, Pileated Woodpeckers whack at dead trees and fallen logs—or even wooden telephone poles—in search of their main prey, carpenter ants. This drumming leaves unique rectangular holes in the wood that offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens. I love having them here!

Many New Year’s resolutions don’t pan out because you simply are not passionate about them.  Yet many of the passions you may have remain unfulfilled because you did not set them as a firm priority in your life.

I have one primary passion this year of 2011: sharing my travels through writing and photography.  My specific goal is to complete Book 2 of the trilogy “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” This book will be called SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  I look forward to writing it; in fact, I already drafted the first five chapters in 2010, before my focus became to get the first book, MAIDEN VOYAGE, published and available on www.Amazon.com

One might think that merely pursuing one’s passion is easy.  I like to write.  I like to adjust my travel photos in PhotoShop.  I love participating in the design-and-layout process involved in producing my coffee table books. But I learned one lesson well from sailing around the world: turning dreams into reality requires more than passion. So many other things in life tend to interfere.  Achieving a goal requires passion plus purpose.

So my purpose this year is to spend a minimum of two hours every day of creative writing.   My friend, the late “Captain Jack,” to whom my first book is dedicated, kept reminding me that 2 hours per day x 365 = 730 hours.  If a writer can write 1 page in each two-hour session, a reasonable expectation, he or she would have the draft of a 365-page book completed by the end of the year!

Posted on the door to my “writing den,” (I refuse to have an “office” since I retired from business), is the following poem by Horace Mann:

Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset,

two golden hours,

each set with sixty diamond minutes.

No reward is offered,

for they are gone forever.