Some iPhone snapshots from a mountain trip in Norway. This is from the Sølen mountain in Rendalen, the area where my father’s family is from. My grandmother would walk from the valley up to this mountain to celebrate summer solstice and watch the sunrise with friends. The photos are edited in Lightroom.
A couple of times, I have taken photos of someone, edited the photos for color balance and light levels, and they have asked for and used the unedited photos instead. Even if these photos sometimes are off in their color balance and light levels. (I often underexpose my photos to capture all the details in the lighter areas, and then bring up the exposure afterwards to make it look more like it did to the eye.)
It may be that they just like these dark and underexposed images more. But more likely, they have the idea that unedited photos are more pure, honest, and genuine.
That’s a noble idea, but misguided.
All photos are inevitably edited, even long before the shutter button is pressed.
They are always strongly influenced by technology and technological strengths and limitations, settings, and more. Just to take some examples:
Our cameras are designed to reflect our particular human perception of light. Other species perceive other regions of the light spectrum and would make cameras reflecting their own perception. (Of course, since the photos are meant to be seen by humans, this doesn’t matter. But it does show that the photos are strongly edited before they are even captured.)
Before color film, photos were “edited” by technological limitations filtering out color, and converting different wavelengths differently into black and white. That’s the case today as well, in other aspects of the image. (For instance, most cameras have a far lower dynamic range – the span between black and white – than human vision due to technological limitations.)
There are many decisions and assumptions built into the cameras from the manufacturer’s side. Other decisions and assumptions would make the images look different, and sometimes very different.
The settings from the user’s side also heavily influence how the image looks. The image may be set so it will be under- or over-exposed. On digital cameras, the colors may be set to be more or less vibrant, or to emphasize different wavelenghts. The depth-of-field may be short or long, determining how much of the image is in focus. The grain level may be set to be high or low. (And that, in turn, influences degree of motion blur.)
When it comes to basic aspects of the image, such as color balance, exposure levels, depth-of-field, and grain levels, the idea of a pure or unedited image is misguided. The image that comes directly out of the camera is directly and heavily influenced by technology and decisions and preferences from the manufacturer and user. It’s strongly edited before the image is even captured on the memory disk.
It’s, of course, different when it comes to photoshopping to delete or include elements that are not in the original image. In that case, the original may be more honest.
In my case, it’s been slightly frustrating when the recipient choses to use the “unedited” photos since they are often far too dark. The edited version is often much closer to how the scene looked to the eye. But I also realize that it pleases the recipient, for one reason or another, and that matters more. That makes it OK.
I have also noticed that only people less experienced with photography seem to prefer the unedited photos, so maybe some education is in order. That’s partly why I chose to write this article.
And just to have said it: The photo above is – more or less – correctly exposed. It’s one I took a couple of years ago at the cabin in Norway.
The term dark night, or dark night of the soul, can be used in a psychological or spiritual context.
In a psychological context, it’s often used about anything psychologically shattering – trauma, loss, burnout or similar.
In a spiritual context, a dark night of the soul it’s what typically comes after an initial opening or awakening, and a period of “illumination” (as Evelyn Underhill calls it). It can take the form of a loss of conscious connection with the divine, a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing, loss of health and other losses in life, and more. It’s a humbling and very human process, and the “darkness” comes largely from our reaction to it. Our minds don’t like it and perceive it as dark, even if it is the next natural step in our maturation and development.
They are quite similar. In both cases, we may have a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing with an invitation to find kindness, understanding, and healing for it. We come up against our beliefs and identifications with certain identities and are invited to examine them and allow the hold on them to soften. In both cases, it’s an opportunity for great healing, maturing, humanizing, and reorientation.
In the bigger picture, both can be seen as a spiritual process. An invitation for healing, maturing, and even awakening out of our old beliefs and identifications.
There is also a difference, and that’s the conscious context of the one going through it. In a spiritual dark night of the soul, there is already a knowing of all as Spirit – even what’s happening in this part of the process. And that makes a great deal of difference. That helps us go through it, even if it’s just a background knowing.
What helps us move through a dark night, whether the context is psychological or spiritual?
Here are some possibilities: Taking care of ourselves. Understanding people around us. Therapy – body-oriented, mind-oriented, or both. Nature. Food that’s nourishing. Time. A willingness to face what’s coming up and move through it. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries etc.). Heart-centered practices (Tonglen, Ho’oponopono, loving kindness etc.) Body-inclusive practices (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.)
For me, support of someone who understands the process, finding helpful tools and approaches, and the willingness to face what’s here and move through it, have been especially helpful.
What tools and approaches have worked for me? The ones mentioned above, and more recently Vortex Healing.
Note: In a spiritual context, there are several dark nights of the soul. I simplified it here and just mentioned the dark night of the soul. The essence of having to face beliefs and identifications is the same for all of them, at least the ones I am aware of so far.
Note: In any dark night, and any life experience, our distress is created by how we relate to and perceive what’s happening. That’s why inquiry can be very helpful. There is an invitation there to find more clarity and consciously align more closely with reality.
The photo is one I took at the edge of Princetown on Dartmoor some years back.
God is love.
Why? Why do we often experience God as love when there is a spiritual opening or awakening?
From a human perspective, we can experience God as love for a few different reasons.
When there is an initial opening or awakening and all is revealed as Spirit, there may be an experience of love towards ourselves, others, and everything. It feels like love. God feels like love.
When that realization is lived through us, we act as if from love. All is one, so helping others – as and when appropriate – is as natural as the left hand helping the right. It looks like love.
And when that realization is more stable through situations, we may realize that all is good as is. All is Spirit. What happens is Spirit. There is an infinite wisdom and intelligence behind it. Nothing is out of place. And that, to us, looks like love. The world looks like love.
The first is a felt sense of love, and the two others look like love but are not dependent on any feelings of love. And that’s why we may experience, and say, that God is love. Of course, love – and these three points – are all human concepts. It’s a human attempt at putting words on something.
The first one tends to naturally fade over time. I suspect it’s more a byproduct of an initial opening or awakening. And the other two tend to deepen over time.
Note: The photo is one I took at sunset at Venice beach in 2012.
We were blessed with snow today, and it looks like it will stay for a few days. (Macro photos of snow on a neighborhood bush, making it look like an alien landscape… Click them for larger versions.)
I keep noticing how the flavor of experience is always fresh.
It is fresh because its content is always different. (Even when a thought – comparing an image of what is here now and what was in the past – tells me the two are, for all practical purposes, the same.)
And it is fresh because it is awakeness itself.
I noticed this when I just looked through a series of photos from last winter. Many are very similar to each other, but even small changes in cropping makes a big difference in experience. I quite literally experience myself and the world differently. (Which I do whenever anything in any field changes, even slightly.) And it is also fresh since it is awareness itself.
The photo is from the woods down the street from where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there with friends, family and on my own.