Are We the Water or the Light?

Are we the drops of water that catch the light, or are we the light that pours into form as the dew of dawn before filling the sky?

I wonder about this sometimes in the still breath of morning as I sit having coffee at Rosewood. I know I’ll never discover the answer. Yet I can’t help thinking about the question, and as I do, it occurs to me that I’m like all people. As one life in a chain of souls that have come before me and asked the same basic question, I can know that there really is an eternal mystery and a consciousness that lingers behind it, because I won’t be the last person to sit beneath the morning trees, and the dawn will always bring the dew and the light.

5 Keys to Shooting Photos in a Las Vegas Casino

While most Las Vegas casinos have relaxed their rules about shooting photos, there are still a few rules to follow to avoid an encounter with security staff… or winding up in some back room for “a little chat.” Whether such back rooms still exist, here are five key tips I’ve personally tested in Vegas to shoot photos in a casino.

NEVER SHOOT THE CAGE: This is the biggest rule of all. A casino cashier’s cage is basically a bank that’s jam-packed with money, and that keeps security on hair-trigger alert 24/7. Taking photos of the cage translates as, “I’m casing the place so I can later pull a heist.” This translation may be a bit misguided and outmoded, but shooting the cage amounts to a daredevil move that you don’t want to take.

Don’t Use a Tripod: Unless you’ve been hired by a casino to shoot a TV commercial or promotional video, tripods are an absolute no-no. Tripod legs are a tripping hazard to guests (especially since many of those guests are drunk).

Don’t Use a Flash. Aside from being a distraction and disturbance to gamblers, using a flash is like switching on a big sign that says, “I’m a person violating the rules. Please use your Tasers on me immediately.” Sure, you’ll have to hold your camera rock-steady by hand to even hope for a crisp image… but by playing around with different shooting modes, you should end up with a selection of good images.

Don’t Photograph Guests: Customer privacy is a top priority for Vegas casinos. Guests have come under the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and casinos want to protect that expectation as part of the complete Vegas experience. Yes, people will often walk into a shot. That’s practically unavoidable, and won’t be seen as privacy infringement. However, directly photographing guests IS seen as privacy infringement, and if you don’t earn a visit from security, you just might wind up with a hostile guest in your face.

Use a Small Camera: The smaller the camera, the more you’ll go unnoticed, and thankfully, there are many great compact camera options. I used a pocket-friendly Nikon A900 to grab some great shots of the casino at the Aria Resort, and the tilting screen was a BIG help. By holding the camera down at waist height and flipping up the screen, I was able to take some good shots without anyone noticing anything.

For more casino shooting tips, watch the video below to discover what I learned about shooting at places like the Aria Resort & Casino, the Bellagio and even Caesar’s Palace.

The Vdara Canoe Explosion

Although there’s never been a known explosion of canoes, Las Vegas gives us a good idea of what it might look like in this colorful bouquet of canoes outside the Vdara Hotel & Spa.

As a Canadian staying near the Vdara at the Aria Resort & Casino as part of a four-day marketing conference, I gotta say. I felt a bit homesick. Yet a few seconds later, I was distracted by thinking, “You know? With all those cables holding the canoes together, the display also kind of looks like Spider-Man  stopped an invasion of voyageurs.”

Whatever the thinking behind the sculpture was, I just couldn’t convince the hotel manager to let me rent one of the canoes so I could paddle around the hotel fountain.

That would have been fun.

The Warhorse (A Phototale)

Left to instinct, the warhorse didn’t walk toward the mud… the blood… the smoke and scattered footprints of ghosts chasing ghosts. Instead, he started back to the fields… to the greenwood and glens… because like all creatures, he knew the way home despite the reins and whippings he’d been forced to endure. And he didn’t hurry… or worry… or want. As rain spattered down to begin washing away the blood and mud and other echoes of madness, he simply walked as he’d always done, and the wind didn’t remember the sound of cannon fire as ever having existed.

A Man Walks Up to a Bird

A man walks up to a stranger and asks, “Can you fly?” The stranger replies, “Are you crazy? Of course I can’t fly! I don’t have wings. I’m much too heavy and, even if I could fly, I’ve got much more important things to do than fly around all day.” Puzzled, the man walks on until he meets a bird and asks, “Can you fly?” Bewildered, the bird replies, “Oh course I can fly. Can’t you?”

If this seems like a strange little story to you… well, it did to me too. Yet that’s what popped into my head yesterday afternoon while walking around the Granary Building in downtown Guelph, Ont., to test-drive my new Nikon A900 camera. The song of a cardinal caught my attention from a distant tree, and as I encountered more birds, something beneath it all slowly wove its way into my head.

Each of us has a different view of what flying means:

  • Escaping the seeming bonds of some crappy job
  • Leaving some unhealthy relationship
  • Rising beyond cultural, racial or sexual discrimination
  • Transcending physical or mental “disabilities”
  • Unfettering yourself from what others say you “should” be doing

Yet there would appear to be a constant that applies to everyone.

While any number of people are only too happy to tell you that flying is impossible and even crazy and irresponsible, there are an equal number of people (and fellow creatures) who’ve never even considered that you CAN’T fly.


cardinal

mourning dove

robin

starling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography Note: Even though this sounds like a product plug, I’ll take a second to gush anyway about the new Nikon Coolpix A900 camera (in case you’re considering buying one).

As a travel-size camera that delivers crisp 20MP images with its low-light CMOS image sensor, the A900 packs a super telephoto NIKKOR glass lens with 35X optical zoom — and 70X digital zoom. As someone who takes a lot of nature shots, the combined portability of the camera with an optical zoom was the main reason why I bought the camera, but the perks include full manual control, 4K HD video recording, Wi-Fi and SnapBridge, plus a fully tilting LCD screen. There’s no viewfinder and the screen isn’t touch-sensitive. Yet the camera controls are simple to use and conveniently at thumb’s reach, and as one who spent a long time using a Samsung Galaxy touch-screen camera, I personally found the button controls a relief to use (especially in glaring sunlight conditions that make LCD screens very hard to see).

The Vulnerable Heart of the Bog

Featured image from the opening of my art showcase video Half-World.

Most people don’t like the idea of being lost, and I’m with them when it comes to major travel concerns like sailing across the ocean or flying across the country. Yet when your feet are firmly planted on the ground, I discovered that being lost can lead to truly magical moments.

While housesitting for friends outside of Owen Sound, Ont., Mary Beth and I were exploring the depths of the surrounding winter woods when we lost our way. As we wandered deeper into the woods, we happened across a frozen bog, and it felt like finding a door to a hidden realm.

For most of the year, the place was hidden from view behind leaves and thickets. Mosquitoes swarmed its borders to guard against intruders, and the pools and muck of the bog itself were a treacherous moat against all but the most brave and foolish. Yet in the cold of a late February afternoon, the bog appeared almost vulnerable without its concealing cloak of leaves. Without its sentinel mosquitoes, the bog seemed to be surrendering itself, however briefly. And as we stepped across frozen ground, it felt like  brief permission to approach the vulnerable heart of the bog and glimpse its secrets.

Later, after finding our way home, it felt good to be back within the warm square walls of familiarity. Yet as I studied the photo I’d taken… as I found my eyes returning to the trees… and as a strange longing filled me… I understood that sometimes the most incredible moments can only be found by being lost.

The Curtain Rises on Half-World

After a year of work and more cups of coffee than one human being should be allowed to drink, the curtain finally rises on my short video art show called Half-World, and as I reflect on the experiences that brought it all together, it occurs to me that we’ve likely had a similar experience…

…a moment that altered our lives…

…and perhaps it still lingers with you.

Like me, someone may have once told you that you don’t have what it takes… that whatever dream you have, you’re living in a “fantasy world” and you should “get real” because you don’t have the right skills… the right education or enough money.

Maybe like me, you believed them and put your dreams away, and because of that, perhaps you have days when you feel unhappy, frustrated or a bit lost.

If this sounds like you… or even if you’ve only felt this way once or twice… then I think you’ll enjoy Half-World because, at its core, it was created to show you two things:

  • Those “get real” people are wrong.
  • You have everything you need right now to create whatever dream you.

To better illustrate, let me tell you a quick true story about how I created Half-World.

In 2013, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming an artist, and to many, it seemed like a foolish decision at the worst possible time in my life.

  • I didn’t have any special skills.
  • I didn’t have an arts education.
  • I definitely didn’t have any money.

In fact, I had less than no money.

I was out of work. The bills were piling up and the only studio space I could afford was the back of an unheated garage, and believe me. If you’ve never worked in an unheated studio during a Canadian winter, it’s not an experience I would recommend for anyone.

Worse than that, I wanted to create fantasy art, which didn’t exactly promise the fast track to commercial success.

But I had three things:

  • a cheap camera
  • a burning desire
  • the world around me

So I started taking pictures of whatever I found: trees, rocks, flowers, anything. Then I took pieces from those photos and arranged them to create the pictures I wanted.

And I didn’t know whether it would lead anywhere. So I got scared sometimes—especially about the money.

I started thinking about how they used to tell me as a kid, “You can’t make any money in the creative arts. You’d better get real or you’ll die poor and miserable,” and I definitely started thinking they might be right…

…and in a conflicted state of confusion, I lost my way.

Luckily, I had the good fortune of being reminded of something that applies directly to you and whatever you dream of doing.

When you stay focused on the passion and joy of what moves you, the rest eventually takes care of itself, like it did for me. I just focused on creating the best art I could with whatever tools I had around me. That was it.

Then I just put my work out there in the world with no attachment to outcome.

After a while, a few people contacted me to do some freelance work, and I just kept following inspiration until I was soon making a living in the creative arts.

Here’s the point:

Whether you dream of being a singer or an entrepreneur or even an astronaut, if I can do it, you can definitely do it too. That’s the message behind the short 3-minute art video called Half-World.

On the surface, the video (involving over 800 individual image elements) is a trip to a faraway forest, where glimpses of a strange carnival fantasy world come alive inside a mysterious theatre. Yet the video is really about the pieces I found and how I arranged them to create the images.

Those pieces are your reminder that you can also use whatever’s available in your own life to create the world you want to live in, and there’s a reason I called it Half-World.

The name represents a truth…

…that as long as you follow your passion and joy, you’re already halfway to where you want to be.

Enjoy the show. –Xris

Click Here to Enter Half-World

P.S. – For a close-up look at individual images used in the Half-World video, you can check out the exclusive collection of Half-World art at Redbubble.

 


Image Credits

All images (photos, drawings, video clips) are original, copyright © 2017, Xristopher Bland | abmCreative. All rights reserved, with the exception of a few short royalty-free video FX clips used here and there.

Soundtrack Credits

“Elysium” copyright © 2016, Zero. Used and shortened with written permission from the composer per non-commercial use, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 to adapt and share.

“Mother Earth Chant” copyright © 2016, DL Sounds. Usage adheres to all royalty-free usage guidelines.

All Sound Effects are also royalty-free and adhere to all usage guidelines.

Special Thanks

Eternal and tremendous thanks to my partner, muse and fellow Half-World explorer Mary Beth for the continual inspiration, for contributing photographs and accompanying me on countless shoots, for being in the video and for encouraging me to head into the wild where the magic still lives in forgotten places.

Eternal and tremendous thanks to my son and fellow Half-Worlder Nicholas, who showed me the way to Half-World long before I believed such places could exist.

Special thanks to my cat, Majyn, who kept me company every morning while I worked on this video (and “contributed” to the video by jumping on the laptop once or twice).

Special thanks to coffee. Without you, brain no work good.

And extra special thanks to:

  • My mother for trusting me with the ABM name and for her guiding spirit throughout this.
  • Trevor and Emese for letting us housesit at Snelston Maples (featured in the opening and closing of this video).
  • Osie for his friendship and letting us romp around the farm with cameras, from Pond Acres to the Circle of Friends. (And all that awesome pie was pretty sweet too.)
  • That wonderful unknown woman who let me into the O Theatre alone that morning at the Bellagio in Vegas, where I was able to capture some shots of public-display Cirque sculptures that would have been impossible to capture in any other circumstance.
  • Rosewood Farm for being a major backdrop in this video and… well, for just being an amazingly magical place.
  • Friends, family and followers for their encouragement and inspiration along the way, even if they didn’t know they were inspiring me. For every one of the 800-plus elements involved in the making of Half-World, I have 800-plus reasons to be thankful as I move forward to future creative projects and what I might find there.