“Spacecraft and telescopes are not built by people interested in what’s going on at home. Rockets fly in one direction: up. Telescopes point in one direction: out. Of all the cosmic bodies studied in the long history of astronomy and space travel, the one that got the least attention was the one that ought to matter most to us—Earth.
That changed when NASA created the Landsat program, a series of satellites that would perpetually orbit our planet, looking not out but down. Surveillance spacecraft had done that before, of course, but they paid attention only to military or tactical sites. Landsat was a notable exception, built not for spycraft but for public monitoring of how the human species was altering the surface of the planet. Two generations, eight satellites and millions of pictures later, the space agency, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has accumulated a stunning catalog of images that, when riffled through and stitched together, create a high-definition slide show of our rapidly changing Earth. TIME is proud to host the public unveiling of these images from orbit, which for the first time date all the way back to 1984.
It took the folks at Google to upgrade these choppy visual sequences from crude flip-book quality to true video footage. With the help of massive amounts of computer muscle, they have scrubbed away cloud cover, filled in missing pixels, digitally stitched puzzle-piece pictures together, until the growing, thriving, sometimes dying planet is revealed in all its dynamic churn. The images are striking not just because of their vast sweep of geography and time but also because of their staggering detail. Consider: a standard TV image uses about one-third of a million pixels per frame, while a high-definition image uses 2 million. The Landsat images, by contrast, weigh in at 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic.
These Timelapse pictures tell the pretty and not-so-pretty story of a finite planet and how its residents are treating it — razing even as we build, destroying even as we preserve. It takes a certain amount of courage to look at the videos, but once you start, it’s impossible to look away.”
I missed the shot(s) the first time. When I got back from Death Valley a friend said, “Zabriskie Point? Again? Well, I’ll bet you could photograph it in a way that hasn’t been done before.” I knew what she meant, but her comment actually clarified another idea for me.
I had been deeply impressed by the way the light changed mercurially over time, continually transforming the landscape, from pre-dawn through early morning. It first lit the blue gray sky with pale pinks, then turned the far mountains from a cold brown to a hot coral, crept slowly across the valley floor to set Manley Beacon on fire (the crescendo in a magnificent symphony of light that most photographers favor), and continued to create moving pools of light in the foreground during a process that lasts for more than an hour. It is a wonder to behold and to fully appreciate it one needs to be still and vigilant for some time. Its full impact cannot be found in a single moment, I found it in many.
The solution? Make multiple exposures of the same composition throughout changing passages of light and then blend them together to create the impression of an extended moment in time.
I had made exposures of sunrise at Zabriskie Point, but I hadn’t made the ones I needed now. I had to go back. It took a year and a half. Knowing that so many unexpected things often happen, I prefer to make flexible plans, so I wondered if would return for an idea that ultimately wouldn’t work. I envisioned glorious light in every layer of the landscape. As I began making the exposures, I realized there was a flaw in my plan. If I selected the ‘best’ light in every area of the picture, all areas would demand equal attention. There would be no contrast. The final image needed shadow just as much as it needed light. I persisted, making exposures, without moving the camera, for more than an hour, of every significant change in light – and shadow. My original plan was useful but it needed to be modified as it was executed based on specific conditions, new information, and insight. To succeed, I had to listen not just what was in my head but also to the place and the process.
Later, as I looked at my transparencies the final solution presented itself. This new solution even highlighted my feelings about the place more strongly than my original idea. The result, different from my initial conception, but consistent with my intention, achieves a dramatic lighting effect never before seen at one time. Yet, throughout time, a similar sequence of experiences has been witnessed countless times by so many.
The light on the foreground is unaltered, or to be more accurate I should say is faithful to the transparencies that recorded it. The separate portions have not been modified substantially nor were they modified unequally – there has been no dodging and burning. Instead, the light has been reorchestrated with time, faithfully representing the existing light(s) but changing what can be seen in a single moment.
Nothing in the foreground, midground, or background has been added or removed. The sky, however, is an addition from another location. I found the smaller sliver of sky contained in the original exposures made the composition cramped. It lacked the vast sense of space found in the desert. The sky had in fact been the first indicator of the presence of the coming light, making a thousand transformations before its arrival. But the sky that morning was not particularly noteworthy. I could have spent a lifetime waiting for the perfect sky. I chose instead to incorporate another sky from another location that supported both the composition and the light. This sky I altered dramatically, both in tone and color. I did so to expressively complement the drama of the light below, to support it and not detract from it. While the lower half of the image is a matter of resynchronization, the upper half is a matter of recontextualization.
Neither method (resynchronization or recontextualization) yields a classically objective document. But the results of their application may yield artifacts that are truer to our experience of events than traditional photographic practices. If applied in specific ways, they can represent certain aspects of events more faithfully, such as the passage of time.
Making this image changed the way I think about and experience the essential elements of photography – light and time.
How many ways can thinking more predictively about change aid your creativity?
How many new ways can you think about fundamentals of your medium?
How can planning increase your creative success?
What can you do to encourage your plans to evolve?
You can find time for meditation without changing your schedule. Simply perform your daily activities with your full attention. While you’re doing them, do and think nothing else. (This is much easier said than done. It takes practice!) This is meditation in action!
How much time can you find for this kind of meditation?
Find out by listing the time you spend doing the following activities daily.
____ eating alone
____ walking to a place or activity
____ traveling to and from work
____ Multiply this by 5 to find the number of minutes weekly.
This figure is with weekends off. More time can be found on weekends.
____ Multiply this figure by 50 to find the number of minutes annually.
This figure is with vacations off. More time can be found on vacations.
In addition, there are some times that are easier than others to find moments for meditation.
Add these to your totals to find out how much of a difference they can make.
____ Waking up
____ Going to sleep
____ Waiting (for someone or something) This last one is extraordinary!
What other times can you think to find for meditation?
Even if you choose to meditate in less than half of these cases – that’s a lot of time!
Think of these types of meditation not as a substitute for longer more formal types of meditation but as ways to extend and augment them.
The question “How long should I meditate?” is a question I urge you only to resolve for a given moment and never finally. The question will serve you much better, better than any single answer, if you consider it and reconsider it, over time.
Most questions that start with the word should limit rather than open options, unnecessarily. In point of fact, this question can be misleading, suggesting that there is an ideal duration for meditation, when if fact developing a sensitivity to what different durations contribute to a continuing practice of meditation is much more useful.
Much has been made of longer forms of meditation while only a little has been made of their shorter counterparts. Longer isn’t better than shorter. They’re just different. Both have a role to play in your life. What that role is, is not something to be prescribed by another, rather it is for you to discover.
The question, “How are longer and shorter forms of meditation different?” is a much more useful starting point.
Shorter forms of meditation are more easily practiced regularly and frequently. Practicing this way consistently can more quickly and deeply establish new patterns of attention and awareness. Many people find the downside of shorter meditation intervals is that it may take more time for the mind to settle down and achieve significant depth in an experience. Keep at it. All you need is practice. When the mind knows that it has only a certain amount of time to accomplish something avoidance, procrastination and distraction are often reduced. You can train your mind to change states much more quickly than you might have expected.
Sometimes necessary for more complex forms of meditation, longer intervals of meditation allow for more repetition of a single practice or comparison between different practices in a single session, enabling more direct comparison and contrast as well as immediate refinement with each new cycle. This may lead to a greater depth of experience. It can also lead to different states of awareness, neither better nor worse, but certainly different. I encourage you to experience many states of awareness so that you can make future choices knowledgeably.
You may find that meditating for certain durations of time comes easier for you than others. This is a useful observation. Follow it with another. Ask yourself, “Why?” If it’s working, go with it. At the same time, I’d encourage you to experiment with other durations that may not come as easily. If you do, you’ll make many other useful observations. And, with practice, you’ll develop a more versatile skill set that will offer you many more opportunities to choose from.
This is key. After you finish meditating, follow up with yourself and make some observations about your experiences. Keeping a journal of your experience often facilitates greater clarity about past experiences and future decisions.
Don’t take my word for it … or anyone else’s – and I mean anyone. Confirm observations made by others with your own.
How does your experience of meditation change with changes in its duration? As you become more fully aware of the differences time brings to meditation, you can choose to meditate for an interval that seems right for the moment. After all, it’s your moment.
Every voyage I’ve made to Antarctica has revealed new dimensions in the subject – weather, light, seasonal changes, annual variations, and my growing understanding of the region have all contributed to this.
With so many wonderful places to go, why would you return to the same location more than once?
Let me count the ways.
1 You’ll see more of and learn more about a place.
Increase your understanding of the places you photograph and your photographs will become more interesting.
2 You’ll have an opportunity to get the images you missed.
Try making a short list of the shots you missed when you shoot. Even if you never return this activity will prompt you to be clearer about why you missed the shots and you can take steps towards remedying this in the future. If you do return, you’ll have the beginnings of a working plan that will greatly increase your productivity and success rate.
3 You’ll have an opportunity to refine the images you made.
You may have made images that barely made the cut but would shine if they were reframed or made with different equipment or in different conditions. For this reason I recommend you review not only the images that worked on your previous trip(s) but also the ones that didn’t asking yourself why they didn’t and what you could do differently.
4 You’ll see new things as your vision matures.
Having first found the images that come to you more naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.
5 You’ll see changes in the place.
Time reveals. Weather, time of day, seasons, and the accumulation of years change a place. They change us too. These changes can become a wellspring for many images.
6 You’ll learn more about yourself.
While it’s true that you can learn more about yourself when you experience new things, it’s equally true that you’ll learn more about yourself when you re-experience them. You’ll find that your relationship with a location will change over time, as you experience more and mature. You’ll see not only how a place has changed but also how you’ve changed – and how the place has contributed to your growth. These types of insights are harder to achieve in new locations. Because the perspective with which you look at thing is different, the types of things you learn are different.
7 You’ll get to spend more time in your favorite places.
Just as you can’t go everywhere, you can’t return to every place. Return to the places that call you. Passion kindles the fires within, which will be visible in your images. Passion energizes and recharges us. A large part of the reason we do the things we do is because we enjoy them.
Unfamiliar locations challenge you to see new things in new ways, familiar locations challenge you to see the same things in new ways.
Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways, in fact the times when we are grappling with so many new variables are often the times when we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again we are forced to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.
Even with a lifetime of adventuring, you can’t see it all. Your question is do you want to see a lot or do you want to see deeply? You’ll want to strike a balance between the two, surveying the many opportunities before you and choosing to return to one or a few of the places that call you the most. Exactly what balance you strike at any given moment is up to you.
August 22, 2010 | Leave a Comment
“Clay Shirky looks at ‘cognitive surplus’ — the shared, online work we do with our spare brain cycles. While we’re busy editing Wikipedia, posting to Ushahidi (and yes, making LOLcats), we’re building a better, more cooperative world.”
He points out, “The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.”
What will you do today, this week, this month, this year, next year?
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