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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

In Your Own Backyard

I've always enjoyed challenging myself to ‘see’ as hard as I could in my own backyard first -- before wandering out into the world to exotic places. Living in the same locale for over 45 years can sometimes bring on an air of complacency, but I have done my best to fight that in order to find images that I have worked very hard to acquire.

I was classically trained in photography, obtaining a BA in photojournalism from Syracuse University in 1971. Naturally, this meant shooting only film for over 40 years before I dived into the digital world. The rigorous discipline that film forces upon you provides a good basis when you start to move into the unfettered universe of digital access.

Aside from small changes to density, contrast, and color balance, I rarely use any of the other tools that Photoshop offers to alter the basic reality of the images that I capture. I am content most times with the simplicity of the photos and do not try to put them into what I consider to be an alternate universe / hyperreality through some of the heavy-handed techniques in the photo editing software -- what you see is what I saw in almost all of my images.

As you begin to age, your body may start to complain as you try to climb the same mountains that you did as a youth. I lived a very active life and consequently, things started to wear out prematurely. Since around 2016 I have had to cope with multiple surgeries every year, and the way I was able to handle the long recovery periods was to find something, literally in my own backyard, that I could use as subject material.

I first turned my eye toward the automated pool hose that cleaned the pool in our backyard. It had an almost ballet like rhythm, and when you couple that with the way the light changes throughout the day, and the varying atmospheric conditions that we enjoy here in the desert, you find yourself faced with a seemingly endless array of photos just ripe for the taking.

Palm Springs Life Magazine, where I used to be director of photography back in the late 70s, has published some of my photography over the years, and they were excited to see the pool hose series.

I managed to regain my strength as I fought to overcome the weakness that the prior surgeries foisted upon me. Seeing these images helped to fortify my spirit and aided me in moving forward again.

Not more than two years later I found myself back in the same situation and was confined to my home for the recovery. I started to look at two groups of palm trees visible from our backyard and the delightful way that they seemed to dance in the sky as the seasons changed.

Unless you live in the desert, it is difficult to imagine the sheer number of different backgrounds the desert floor and sky present to a photographer throughout the year. The colors you see in these images are precisely what was there -- they have not been augmented.

As 2023 began, my wife decided to plant some flowers in our front and back yards and asked me to take a close look to see if anything caught my eye. This is the first time that I swayed from my classical education and began to use some of the more esoteric tools available in the digital world.

I used the focus stacking functionality inherent in the firmware of my Nikon D850 for all of these images. They were assembled using Helicon Focus 8 as my primary tool. The unusual aspect of the location where we live is such that we only have about 10 minutes a day, sometime between 7:10 AM and 7:20 AM where the very slight breeze dies down to the point that I could actually take multiple images of the same subject.

It became very frustrating if I was in the middle of 40 or 50 or 60 images to have a slight breeze (and we're talking about under 2 miles an hour) interrupt the process of the photo. If you've ever worked with flowers, you know that they change radically from day-to-day. If I lose my window of opportunity, in over 95% of the cases I also lose the photo forever.

In order to compensate for the very slight image blur that occasionally occurred in some of the pictures of the series, I pushed the images through Topaz Sharpen AI to remove some of the blurriness. Inside of Lightroom, I may adjust the balance of shadows to highlights, but I did not pump up any of the colors you see. The flowers did all the work for me.

This is what I've been doing for the past six to seven years. While I'd love to be out there exploring the world with the rest of you, I seem to have created something special here that I am quite content with.

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