Bearers Of Light


Late evening. Men hauling pipe on a busy New York street. I see shadows, light, pedestrians and aging cement. More deeply, I see manual workers playing their part to deliver materials to others who will use them to fix a problem, maintain a system or realize a dream. Although I can’t tell much about these individuals beyond their forms and a hint of clothing, they speak to me of the masses of people who provide the goods and services that keep the society running—the everyday people whose hauling, building, cleaning, repairing, collecting, moving and monitoring activities are essential yet not glamorous.

I’m reminded of a luncheon I attended at the headquarters of a multinational corporation. Waiting in the lobby for my host, I read their impressive statement of mission and values. I was introduced to the CEO and other officers. Professional dress at every level. Personable and professional interactions. Luxurious facilities. The details of the meeting are lost to me now—except for one that I will never forget.

After lunch, my host, a relatively new department manager, led me to a place where we dropped off our food trays. Behind the open window, an older woman wearing a hairnet and apron busily took the trays as we slid them to her so she could move them onto a conveyor belt headed for people who separated the items on their way to the dishwasher. My host and I were talking but she stopped. “Excuse me, David,” she said. She turned and set her tray down, but held onto it so the woman couldn’t take it. “Hello!” she said, looking her in the eye. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do here.” She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. A line was forming behind me. Moving on, I asked my host if she knew this woman. She didn’t. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge people for what they do,” she said. I asked if everyone there did that and she answered, “Probably not. But I have to.”

Indeed. Acknowledgement. She probably made that woman’s day. Certainly, she made my day. And the best part, it left such an impression that I have ever since wanted to emulate her simple words of kindness. And so this image calls me to acknowledge and appreciate the hard working and largely unnoticed individuals—particularly those I encounter—who keep everything running. They constitute the foundation of the social pyramid. And without them, it could not stand.

We’re a country that acknowledges only those who stand on the victory podium, but some of my heros come in last.

Bud Greenspan

About This Image

Title: Bearers Of Light

File #: 600-A4

Walking down the street with a friend, we came upon these men rolling a cart of metal pipes. The highlights caught my eye, so I excused myself and walked behind the cart, stopping the lens down to allow for the bright highlights—and thereby increasing the depth of field. I critically focused on the pipe in the foreground and kept pace with the cart to maintain the proper distance, all the while angling the camera so the highlights would fall in the middle of the cart.

The negative has much more detail in the shadows, but I chose to render them dark so the image is less about identifying faces and more of a universal statement celebrating all who attend to and bear the non-glamorous burdens of society.


I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Lincoln Memorial


This image brings to mind history, not as a subject to be studied but as a lived experience. The posture of the woman seems to say she is exhilarated, feeling the power of the place in that moment. As well, her juxtaposition with the columns and the sculpture provides a symbol of humanity standing on the threshold, looking to the future from a background of struggle and achievement—triumph over adversity and a shift in social consciousness.

The way I was taught, history amounted to a series of wars and power struggles, accounts of people who led notorious lives in the context of making or engaging in tragedies and atrocities, always from the perspective of Western civilization. Nothing before it. And barely acknowledging that cultures in Africa, Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, China and the rest of Asia even existed. Japan was an exception because of World War II.

Much later, graduate courses in anthropology introduced me to Native American Studies, Primitive Religion, ethnology and the tools of archaeology, paleontology and art history. Wars and conflicts were part of it, but there was so much more! Exposure to the values, customs and belief systems of a much expanded list of cultures opened my eyes to the validity of and underlying reasons for differences in perceived realities and how people responded to them. I discovered that, irrespective of time, place, religious beliefs or social conditions, even genetics, we human beings have more in common than we do in difference. And that we have been motivated by the same quests since the discovery of fire—survival, health and happiness, comfort, affection and affiliation, creative expression and the making of meaning to name some of the more obvious.

From this broader perspective, history is less about “Who did what to whom, when, why and how,” and much more about identity and perception. Who were these people? What was their primary motivation? What did they aspire to? How did they use their capabilities and technologies, to what end, and what was the outcome? In our time, the mass media provides ample demonstrations of humanity struggling to coordinate, to resolve and integrate differences in perception. How do we view God, the cosmos, the world and our place in it? And what is our proper relation to those who do not share our perception? In answering these questions through action rather than words, a culture constructs their identity. While our souls may be perfect in being, we are as yet imperfect in becoming. So how do we, given what we say of ourselves and how we see the world, manage our individual and collective responses to change? I like to think it’s by attending to our own “house” rather than tearing down anyone else’s.

The image above leads me to consider the office of President of the United States, which, in large part is about defining who we are as a people—what we believe, value, and our view of the world—in order to play our role on the world stage and respond to change appropriately, that is, to secure the health and well-being of the nation and world, including the Earth. The primary guideline, of course, is the United States Constitution and its amendments in support of “We the people.” Beyond but including Abraham Lincoln’s many accomplishments, his vision and integrity, I appreciate with gratitude the shift that he affected in the way we perceived ourselves—a nation united, a people undivided, “With liberty and justice for all.” From the perspective of human evolution, it was a contribution of the highest order, an increase in consciousness as the world became more complex.

For me, the Lincoln Memorial is not just a reminder of the man and his legacy. It’s one among many monuments around the world that celebrate the struggle and quest to discover what it means to be more fully human. On the surface it may appear that History is about struggle and power. It’s actually about human identity and perception, their triumphs and failures as the species evolves.

In our time, what is at issue is the very nature of humankind, the image we have of our limits and possibilities. History is not yet done with its exploration… of what it means to be human. 

C.Wright Mills

About This Image

Title: Lincoln Memorial

File #: 057-C3

After a long day of deliberation, a group of friends and I were high with excitement about a project we were working on. Someone suggested we visit “Mr. Lincoln.” So around midnight, we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I’m tempted to say that someone inside was “playing” his flute, but that’s not accurate. He was sounding it, sending pulses of tone like puffs of smoke into the chamber, letting them diminish into silence before making another sound. Note after note, and an occasional flourish or trill, filled the chamber with reverberating sound. It sent chills up my spine like never before. The prickling  became so intense I clasped my hands over the top of my head to contain it. Besides the flute-layer and a guard, we were the only ones there. Six of us stood in silence for about a half hour, just listening, wandering and watching—like the woman in this photograph. At times, the sounds were so exhilarating they seemed to lift me off the floor.

We spoke with the flutist afterward and I arranged to return the next night with a video camera to interview him and record his magnificent, reverberating sounds. He wasn’t there. Unlike the guard who’d ignored us the previous night, the guard that night said the park service didn’t allow musical instruments inside the chamber. So while I didn’t do any taping, I made photographs with a 35mm camera. Fortunately, I had a telephoto lens with me. I had a heavy tripod for the video camera, but the bolt was too big for the still camera, so I just set the camera on top of the tripod head to steady it. The long exposure made the image a little soft but I was able to sharpen it a bit in Photoshop.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




In considering this image for contemplation, the theme that first came to mind was “immensity.” However, in keeping with my propensity to trace subject matter back to its origins, I observed that every human being and before that, critters with eyes who ever lived, has seen skies like this. Curious to know when an atmosphere developed on the early Earth, I turned to my science database and found that it occurred about three billion years ago. While there, I came across a statement by cosmologist Brian Swimme that made me decide instead to reflect on the theme of  “emergence.” He wrote—

The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events.

It’s an ongoing creative event.

The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence. 

                                                                                                                                          Brian Swimme

As a consequence of this perspective, he said the challenge for each of us is to find our personal story within the great “epic of being—the universe story.” This struck a cord because one of the dominant reminders of the past year has been the realization that our personal realities are a construct, that we are the authors of our experience, particularly in how we respond to what’s happening around us, and also in the choices we make in terms of exposure to the realities of others. The first couple of months in the new year are an especially appropriate time to reconstruct and recognize what’s authentic and core to our being, and then to re-write the story that emerges from it.

Within the image of the clouds, on the left-hand side, a tiny jet-trail brings to mind an image of the Earth and its biosphere as an incubator wherein each life that emerges creates and contributes an individual story to the greater stories of community, nation, species, planet, and universe. I highly recommend  The Universe Story, which Brian Swimme coauthored with one of the great ecological minds of our time, Fr. Thomas Berry.

If the individual stories of human beings going back 40,000 years ago were represented by blips of light, and the intensity of each was determined by its contribution to the whole, an animated video of this process would begin with dim flickers in Africa that accelerate, spread, and burst into a globe of bright, pulsating light. From an evolutionary perspective, the individual human lifespan is so short as to appear insignificant. But from a personal perspective it’s quite the opposite. That every individual is unique and precious, urges me to consider the significance of story and storytelling. In truth, we live and breathe in an atmosphere of stories. And each, like the dust and water particles that form clouds, contributes to the quality and movement of that atmosphere. Sometimes it’s calm, other times turbulent. Always, it’s vibrant and alive.

In whole-systems science and positive-change theory, innovators are sometimes referred to as “emergents.” These individuals literally emerge from within the status quo but are not satisfied with it. Having experienced the dysfunction of no longer workable ideas, emergents dream of better ways to live and work. And as soon as possible they adopt them. They write a new story for themselves because they want their presence and actions to matter beyond a paycheck, status, or notoriety. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individuals” who settled the American West. Among them today are innovators, and social engineers—agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they’re working on alternatives to carbon-based fuels, sustainable ecology, responsible forest management, animal and watershed conservation, health promotion, nutrition, applications of nanotechnology, energy-efficient transportation, and the exploration and commercialization of space. These and others like them are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally-consciousness, motivational speakers, and teachers who champion improvements in every field. They are easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk. Integrity trumps financial gain.

Less dramatic but equally deserving of the label emergent, are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter, and kinder with consideration for all. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial the work may seem to others. They have opted out of the popular culture, preferring the more quiet and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment, and service.

Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. For this reason alone, they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all of us, including the mass media. Many are subscribers to this blog.

Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.

Jean Houston

About This Image

Title: Cloud Mass

File #: CDC5012

Location: Blunt, South Dakota

I’d been photographing an ocean of corn fields all day. Walking back to the car I looked up and took this shot of the clouds. Only weeks later, when I zoomed in on the image to eliminate some dust spots on the lens, did I notice the little jet trail. This is an instance where the image wasn’t what I would consider a “stand out,” but as I was reviewing my files, looking for something suitable for contemplation, it caught my eye.

It’s becoming clear to me that to be evocative, an image doesn’t always need to be a photographic Wow! What makes it so, has more to do with where the subject and presentation take me when I give it some serious attention.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Geese In Flight


As these geese take flight, returning to the places they were born to find food and mates, my thoughts turn to the place we call “home.” For some, it’s where we were born, the house we lived in the longest or where we live now. If “Home is where the heart is,” it could simply consist of thoughts or memories of people living together. What is it that makes a home? Is it the place? The house? The people who live there? All these things? Something else? Something more?

I notice that as our location changes we make new homes. And I wonder about those who have several houses. Are they all considered home? Or is there one place that has priority? And do different members of the family consider the same place home? Sometimes I hear people talk about “Home-home” and “Home away from home.” So what constitutes home? Is it where the heart is? I think for most of us, it’s the household where we felt or now feel most connected and comfortable, the place where we can most be ourselves and live authentically.

The image of these geese, particularly their reflections on the water, causes me to reflect on what it means to “return home.” Many of us go home for the holidays, perhaps to reconnect with our roots, relatives, and friends. Whether or not this involves travel, we return to the places where we found or currently find comfort, hopefully, acceptance and the opportunity to be ourselves with other people.

I also recognize that there’s an inner home, the place where the deepest truth of myself is known. Returning there, reconnecting with my true Self, I am inspired to live as I ought, not just as I want. Yasuhiko Kimura, a mystic and author who integrates spiritual philosophy and science, defines authenticity as “The clarity of being in which there is no self-deceit.” Putting this into practice, living authentically is the expression of thought, word, and deed with integrity to purpose rather than social norms, circumstances, or the expectations of others.

Going home in this sense is reconnecting and recommitting to a life of focused purpose. One of the ways I do this is by getting out and reading through my Meditation Workbook—abinder containing my own and other’s inspirational thoughts, poems, prayers, meditations, contemplations, essays, and information—writings that have been important to me. As with photographs, these items reflect back to me certain qualities of identity and aspiration. By reconnecting with my  “family” of beliefs and values in those pages, I can better act deliberately in ways that reinforce them—always with an open mind and a willingness to modify them as consciousness evolves. As a source of inspiration, these materials always re-energizes me and call me to center.

What a blessing it is to have comfortable and enriching homes, both in the world and in consciousness. The temptation is to think that these are due to circumstances. But just as a house is not automatically a home, both domains require continuous work—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Like migrating geese, to get there we have to go there.

The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.

Rhoda and Homer Slabaugh (Amish)

About This Image

Title: Geese In Flight

File #: DC360

Location: Logan, OH

I got up around 4:00 a.m. so I leave the motel and could reach Lake Logan by sunrise. This photograph was made around the same time as the masthead for this blog. Walking the shoreline, a flock of geese flew over the water. Quickly, I raised the camera and clicked off about five shots. Because I was using a zoom lens that had been set on “wide-angle,” by the time I zoomed-in and focused, the moment had gone. Previewing the shots showed they were all out of focus and the birds were blurred.

Figuring (hoping) that another flock might come, I zoomed the lens to “telephoto,” set a faster shutter speed, and focused on the water—about where the geese had been. I didn’t have to wait long before another flock of birds came along. As the saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” And camera.

I invite you to visit my portfolio of images: David L. Smith Photography


Train Trestle Symmetry


According to Nobel laureate Phil Anderson, “It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.” The word “symmetry” comes from the Greek, synnetria, meaning “Agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement.”

I’ve chosen this theme for contemplation because, somewhere along the line, having gotten into the habit of noticing symmetries and associating them with the aesthetic sensibilities of harmony, proportion, and balance, they have become touchstones in my everyday thinking and doing. Symmetry sightings have been increasing over the past several days, so I thought I would put in writing—and share—some of my experiences relating to them.

Whenever I’m made aware of something symmetrical, whether in a garden or grocery store, on a digital clock or distant highway, I experience a little Aha!, a twinge of harmony. I’ve come to think of it as a sort of attunement to the fundamental patterning of the universe. The experience seems to say to me, “What you’re thinking or doing in this moment is in harmony with your purpose. And all is well.” I reached this conclusion because, over the course of many years, the feeling that “all is well” occurred consistently in association with sightings of symmetry. These subtle experiences are rarely talked about, yet they distinguish us in part from other members of the animal kingdom.

This is not to say that symmetry is the only or even primary arrangement of the universe. It’s not. Asymmetry, for instance in many trees and the solar system, is the other side of the coin—and just as significant.

To show the pervasiveness of symmetry and to help you know where to look, I offer the following domains.

Accounting: (Balance sheets)

Aesthetics: (Symmetry in faces has been shown to be physically attractive)

Architecture: (Every civilization. Cathedrals, temples, mosques, pyramids, White House)

Art: (Pottery, jewelry, quilts, sand-paintings, carpets, furniture, masks)

Biology: (The DNA spiral. Bilateral animals: humans, plants, starfish, sea urchins)

Chemistry: (Symmetry underlies all specific interactions between molecules in nature)

Communities: (Certain suburbs, streets, city grids)

Consciousness: (Yin/Yang. Logic: If Paul is as tall as Karen, Karen is as tall as Paul)

Food: (Fruits and vegetables cut in half are all symmetrical)

Games: (Chess, Chinese Checkers, Playing Cards, Hop-Scotch, Jump-Rope)

Geometry: (Drawings and transformations, scaling, reflection, rotation)

Language: (The words—“Mom” “Dad” “Pop” “Nun”)

Mathematics: (Algebraic equations. Even and odd functions in calculus)

Music: (Canons, permutations, invariance, pitch, scales)

Nature: (Rainbows, raindrops, leaves, sand dunes. beehives, bird, birds, insects, reptiles)

Physics: (The symmetries of the laws of physics determine the properties of particles)

Roads: (Right & left lanes, cloverleafs, tunnels, overpasses)

Social Interaction: (Reciprocity, empathy, dialog, respect, justice, revenge)

Spatial relationships: (Vertical or horizontal. The photograph of the above train tressel)

Time: (Expressed in numbers: 9:09am , 10:10pm, 6:36pm, 1:41am, 3:33pm)

Transportation: (Cars, trucks, trains, airplanes)


It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.

Henri Poincare

About This Image

Title: Train Tressel

File #: 081-A3

Location: 3rd Street, Cincinnati, OH

Whenever I examine a contact sheet made from negatives and come across an image that has strong lines of light, I explore the possibility of making a symmetrical image. The original negative of this photograph, obviously made by available light at night, only contains half the image that you see. Cover the right half of the photograph and that’s what the original, un-manipulated photograph looked like.

To make this new image, I exposed the same negative to one piece of paper twice. The first exposure had the tressel on the left. With this piece of paper tucked away in a lightproof box, I removed the negative from the enlarger carrier and turned it over. Then I drew the brightest lines of the tressel onto a piece of scrap paper in the easel. With this, I could align the image so together, the lines would be symmetrical. Getting the alignment and exposures correct required several trials, but finally, it turned out the way I wanted.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Fence Shadows On Snow


Precious silence often accompanies a fresh and heavy snowfall. The contrast between it and the sounds we normally tune out calls our attention to it. We go outside to watch and we listen closely. We even seem to breathe easier as the snowflakes make a barely perceptible sound. Before the shovels and snowblowers come out, before the sounds of laughing kids and car engines turning over, there’s that moment when we stand still and relish the quiet.

I made this photograph in one such moment. I remember it well because it was one of those instances where, after I made several exposures, I lingered a while to listen to the stillness and watch as the evening light gradually diminished. For me, the sensibility of silence in this image is reinforced by the iron “guards” who stand at attention with their spears, oblivious to the cold, wind and coming darkness. The regularity of the spear-shadows standing in contrast to the chaotic shadows of the trees, speaks to me of integration, of humanity (orderly lines) living in harmony with nature (disorderly shadows). Also, I notice that although the shadows take different forms, their brightness values are the same—a visual demonstration of unity in diversity.

In my experience silence seems to encourage more silence. Might the memory of past quiet moments, having been so refreshing and enriching—sometimes eliciting awe—prompt us to thirst for more? I think the centering that comes from being in nature at any time of year can be attributed as much to sound as to sight. The song of a bird, snow or leaves crunching underfoot, dripping or falling water or wind blowing through the trees are just a few of the sounds that connect us to the deepest roots of our physical being. This image has the same settling effect on me. It’s an image I’d be comfortable living with, having on a wall, because it has that effect. (The only reason it’s not on a wall is that the color wouldn’t fit very well with the colors in our home).

I find it curious, the role that the fence plays in contributing to the sensibility of this image. It seems the evocation would not be as potent without it. Wrought iron, being metal, dark and black somehow looks colder than the snow itself. Its spears, literally frozen in place, enhance the qualities of cold and silence. I debated about using this image in January, but finally decided—it’s less about snow and cold and more about the precious silence that can accompany it. Workers and travelers often see snow as a nuisance. Kids see it as an opportunity for fun and a day off school. Practical considerations aside, stopping to take in its beauty and listen to the sound of silence can be very enriching.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

Ansel Adams

About This Image

Title: Wrought Iron Fence In Snow

File #: DSCF 0967

Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH

We are fortunate in Cincinnati to have an enormous, beautiful and well-maintained cemetery. I’ve been photographing there since the early 60’s. Its many ponds, diverse trees and landscaping make it as much a garden and woodland as a final resting place. I’ve photographed the monuments, but more often work the angles to avoid them. Whenever the snow is deep enough to cover the simple grave stones I pack up the camera, bundle up and head to the cemetery.

It’s only in late December and January that the shadows get this long before the place closes at 5pm. On this particular day, the temperature was in the teens. My hands and feet were freezing. But considering the result, it was worth it, And the discomforts are long forgotten.

When I downloaded the file I thought the shadows were too saturated. After softening the blue and adding yellow to see how it would look, I decided to forego the adjustment. Also as a test, I straightened the fence to make the first “spear” perfectly vertical, but here again, I decided not to alter it. The benefit of leaving it alone, was an increase in the number of fence shadows in the distance that otherwise would have been cropped out.


Farm And Corn Field


I grew up in the city. My grandparents lived in the country, about thirty miles from us. We visited them most Sundays, year round, from the time I was born through high school. Although this is not a picture if their farm, it brings back vivid memories it.

Topping the list of the downside of going to grandma’s house was the two-hole outhouse (Who ever thought two holes was a good idea?) with pages of the Sunday Supplement covering the walls, spider webs in the dark corners and, well, the odor. When I was little, I had to be convinced that I wouldn’t fall in and nothing would come out of there to bite me in the butt. Because the house was heated by a wood stove in the back room, aided at times by the kitchen stove, the downstairs was warm enough in the wintertime with sweaters on, but I froze upstairs, napping under three or four blankets with my clothes on. With the exception of my father and me, the men in my family were very much into sports and cigars. So while they were watching “the game” and the women played cards around the kitchen table, it fell to my dad and occasionally my aunt, to keep my sister and me occupied. And that leads to the upsides.

My dad took us on walks to the nearby Clermont County Fairgrounds, where we would wander around the empty livestock stalls and climb the steps of the grandstand that overlooked the oval buggy track. In the summertime we would go to the corner market where, out in front, there was a bin where we reached in and fished among the blocks of ice for a bottle of pop.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas the main event was, of course, the meal. The scene in the dining room was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma was known for her cooking, so the long table was pulled out even further to accommodate all its leaves, and extensions were added as needed. There could be fifteen or more people seated around the table, passing turkey with stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, peas, carrots, cranberries… Then came the pies, always cherry, apple and pumpkin. Years later I realized that grandma had been making everyone’s favorites.

I took a lot for granted when I growing up. I thought everyone did what we did and had what we had. Now, I’ve grown to respect farmers especially. It took a long while for me to realize that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. I’d like to think it comes from fields like the one in the above image, planted, nurtured and harvested by people who respect the land and care about the health of the people they will feed. But I understand the “business” of farming is very different. I read and observe that small farms are on the rise and increasingly trending toward more healthy and sustainable practices. And greater numbers of people are supporting them. For all these folks and their initiatives, I am grateful.

My daughter, Jennifer Miller, has a blog for parents who are actively supporting kids’ social and emotional development. I thought I would share two quotes from her blog on gratitude. For more, visit: <> I recommend it, not just because I’m her dad. But because the content is always insightful and practical. She has over over 20,000 followers.

Research shows that grateful people have better physical health, less stress and depression, better sleep and a greater sense of well-being. The Templeton Foundation found that 90% of people say they are grateful but only 52% of women and 44% of men express it on a regular basis.

One of Jennifer’s colleagues

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy

About This Image

Title: Red Barn And Corn Field

File #: DC5729

Location: Sabina, OH

I like to photograph after a heavy snowfall. It affords the opportunity to shoot in high key. Particularly exciting is to shoot in bright sunlight when the ground is covered with fresh snow. It’s a challenge in two particular ways. First, it’s a race to shoot while the snow is pristine. And second, all that whiteness tricks the exposure meter whether it’s built-in or separate.

Exposure meters interpret what they “see” as middle gray—in order for the image to contain the full range of values from black to white, even in color photographs. That’s what meters are designed to do. So if you point your camera at a field of snow, it will render it gray in the photograph. Of course, this can be fixed in editing, but that degrades the resolution somewhat. Better instead, on location, to determine the exposure by using a standard photographic Gray Card, or set the camera to “Manual” or “P” for professional mode and point it at something that’s neutral gray. That way, the snow comes out white.

This photograph was made toward the end of the day when I “lost” the light. I was disappointed at the time. But now I think the gray sky with only a hint of blue adds to the sensibility of the cold that day. I was wearing gloves and a hat. Sometimes, when conditions aren’t optimal, it’s a good thing.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography



On the evening this photograph was made, the dominant sound in this airport parking lot was birds—a stark contrast to the busyness and clamor of cars, shuttle-busses and conversations that once pervaded it day and night for several years. The difference between the activity then and the serenity I experienced is heightened, I think, because the central structure existed, literally, to provide shelter. Ironically, the emptiness of the space in this image sort of fulfills the site’s purpose aesthetically by conveying the sensibilities of rest and peace.

The emptiness and quiet of the landscape encourages me to reflect upon its elements. Had there been cars, shuttle-busses and people in the photograph, my attention would have been drawn to the human rather than physical aspects of the image. Instead, the simplicity of elements and the long shadows direct my attention to the expanse of asphalt. I think of the forest it must have replaced, the animals and birds that were displaced, the mountains of sand and gravel, oil and paint that were used in its construction. It’s not that I object to this use of natural resources. I don’t. Building is what we humans necessarily do—it’s the activation of energy that flows from the desire to create and advance.

In addition to the raw materials that it took for this landscape and shelter to exist, I appreciate the army of individuals who envisioned, designed, leveled, supplied and built them, including the electricians who wired it for lighting and those who manufactured the glass and aluminum. Having traveled in countries where paved roads and electricity were barely functional, this facility stands as a testament to the power of collaboration.

The emptiness of a space designed to facilitate the movement of lots of people has a haunting quality. Not in a spooky way, but in the sense that purpose here is at rest. Potential. And because everything looks fairly new—no weeds pushing up through the asphalt, no fallen light poles or broken glass—there’s the hope of renewal. (And that hope has recently been realized. Today, this parking lot is back in action).

In serenity we touch impermanence, ebb and flow, rising and falling, coming and going. It gives rise to peace and quiet, the place in us where purpose discovers its most appropriate and creative action. In the state of potential, all things are possible.

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

James Allen
About This Image

Title: Airport Shelter

File: 998

Location: Wilmington, OH

I took an overnight visit to Wilmington, Ohio because the wide open fields provided an opportunity to use my 4×5 view camera. The airport had been a huge sorting center for DHL until the shipping company moved elsewhere in 2009. When I visited in 2011 there was very little activity, no planes flying in or out. Thus, the absence of people and cars in the parking lot.

Arriving in the parking lot just moments before sunset, I saw the cast shadows, stopped the car and worked quickly to set up the tripod and change the lens. If the sun went behind the trees, the streaming effect would be lost. The process was anything but serene.

The 90mm wide angle lens distorted the light poles considerably, especially at the edges. So I made the vertical correction in Lightroom. By doing so, some of the bottom of the image was lost. But I decided to sacrifice even longer shadows in the foreground for the lack of distortion.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L Smith Photography

The Ladder Of Success

Construction Ladder


Personally, spiritually, professionally, economically, socially, and politically we’re all climbing ladders toward “success” in these areas. What prompted the selection of this image for contemplation was hearing someone in a television commercial ask, “What do all artists seek?” His answer: “Recognition.” Ugh! I couldn’t let that go.

Did Michelangelo sculpt and paint to be recognized—or for money? What about Vincent Van Gogh or any of the masters of Western and Asian civilizations? Twenty-first century, Western culture is so saturated with materialistic, end-product and celebrity values it’s hard for us to imagine anyone defining success as other than fame and fortune.

Case in point: My wife, Linda, observed that in her English class discussions of forty years ago, her students said what they valued most was “making a contribution.” Ten years ago the consensus was that they wanted to be known. Famous. The latter perspective was echoed in my own teaching.

Since we largely define success for ourselves—consciously or unconsciously, I thought I would share some of the observations on the subject that I collected as quotes. Before presenting them, however, a perspective that I feel is important and missing from the perspectives below is that success for many people is achieved more through process than product, particularly when the activity is aligned with one’s personal purpose, their reason for being here. As noted on the home page, I write and photograph to feed my soul. Anything that may come of it for others is just “icing on the cake” to me. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life was breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.

Pablo Picasso


History has shown that the success of cultures and even of great civilizations is measured by the way they deal with crises; the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for positive response. The same is true for individuals.

George Leonard


Individual success depends on environments that trigger the fulfillment of our genetic potential. Environments that motivate through fear literally shut down the potential for growth. Those that motivate through vision, open us up to express unforeseen possibilities.

Bruce Lipton


The key to modern success is human resources. How well you educate, train, and treat people in your society becomes more important than the coal you dig, trees you fell, or rivers you dam.

Herbert Striner


We now have the technology, the resources and the know-how to make this world a 100% success for every human being on Earth.

R. Buckminster Fuller


The soul of an enterprise bonds it together as one force giving it identity, purpose, direction and a reason for being… Many pooh-pooh the reality and value of soul in the corporate world but it is truly amazing how, given the same business circumstances, some companies do so much better than others. It is not soul that assures success, but it is the presence of soul that unifies the mission to achieve success… Companies with soul never lose sight of one thought – If you are not making history, you are history!

Bob MacDonald


Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.

Albert Einstein


May your holiday season and beyond be filled with joy, love, peace and health. And success.



About The Blue Ladder Image

File #: DC669

Location: Columbus, OH

Not much to report. Walking the upper part of High Street in Columbus, Ohio, looking for things to photograph, I came upon a construction site. I saw this, took the shot and moved on. What I take from this is that evocative images don’t always require travel, special equipment or techniques. To quote Henri Cartier Bresson who, when asked the secret of his success as a street photographer, replied “Be there and f8.”

Growth As A Spiral

Nautilus Shell


The chambered nautilus is a creature that inhabits the Pacific and Indian oceans, today between depths of 600 to 1200 feet. Appearing in the fossil record before fish, dinosaurs and mammals, some 500 million years ago, they grew up to 20 feet long! The spiral occurs as walls are formed to seal off and make chambers to regulate buoyancy. As displayed here, the spiral moves me to considerations of human growth and development and beyond.

In the shell’s central spot I see the point of creation and emergence, be it the womb of an individual mother, our Earth Mother or dark energy at the beginning of the universe. It can represent any beginning: the birth of a project, career, a new direction in life or the birth of a nation. With movement, the spiral begins, not as a straight line, but as a curved one. Largely because clocks tick off present moments, we think of time as a straight line between yesterday, today and tomorrow. But indigenous peoples all over the world perceived time as a spiral, repeating periods marked by the regular “journeys” of celestial bodies—gods that were given names and personalities. For instance the ancient Maya—whose calendar was derived solely by observation and is accurate to within decimal points of our own—made detailed charts to indicate what happened in various cycles so the same or similar experiences could be anticipated on the next occurrence of the cycle. Researchers today refer to these periods as “calendar rounds.”

Movement gives rise to form—cells, walls in the nautilus shell, dark matter, stars and galaxies in the cosmos, knowledge in human beings, cities and governing constitutions in nations. Personally, I think of how many different people I have been since I became aware of myself as an individual. Form after form, experience after experience, role upon role, as interests, people and opportunities came and went, my personality and priorities evolved. I’ve often said, “On this turn of the spiral…”—I see things differently. I no longer believe “X” or want “Y.” With experience and education the chambers of consciousness and perception widen, become more expansive. It’s a process of reaching outward while remaining  connected, grounded perhaps. More boyant. All that came before is not lost, is present still, contributing to the next, more expansive part of “me.” As with everything in nature, growth and development is never a straight line. It’s a spiraling ascent. Rounds that come around, opportunities to examine and do better than repeat.

All evolution is a dance of wholes that separate themselves into parts and parts that join into mutually consistent new wholes. We can see it as a repeating, sequentially spiraling pattern: Unity—Individuation—Competition—Conflict—Negotiation—Resolution—Cooperation—New levels of unity and so on. 

Elisabet Sahtouris

About This Image

Title: Nautilus Shell

File #: 635

I have long been attracted to “high key,” photographic images where the dominant tonalities tend to the light and bright side. The opposite is “low key” where most of the image contains dark or black tones. Although I work in both modalities—and in-between—my aesthetic tends to favor the former.

This shell, a gift from my wife, had a beautiful spectral quality to it. On the outside, the silvery white surface, when held at an angle, revealed a rainbow of colors. Inside, the white quickly graded to deep yellow. To get these dark colors to render in high key, I first set the shell on the light table under my camera stand and positioned photoflood lights on both sides at a rather high angle. That brightened the shell and created a lot of contrast—just what you don’t want for high key. So to get rid of the deep shadows I put diffusion material over both lights. That softened the shadows considerably. Next, using a voltage regulator, I lowered the wattage of the lights so—according to my light meter—they closely matched the luminance of the light table.

With the luminance value of the shell and background fairly matched, the final step was to determine the exposure. For this, I used a standard Kodak Gray Card which has 18% reflectance. Had I taken the reading from either the shell or the light table or both, the film would have registered the full range of tones, black to white, in spite of my lighting efforts. So, by exposing for 18% gray, the film registered everything as white. Bright. The negative was dark, so in the printing I could enhance the high key through less exposure to the paper. A little underdevelopment of the film also helped to lower the contrast.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography