Photography: The Geometry of Nature

Nature truly is a wondrous place

In the December 2013 online edition of Discover Magazine, an article written by physicist and cosmologist Dr. Max Tegmark proposes that “everything in the universe is made of math.”

I’m not a mathematician. Finding math challenging I gravitated toward history and geography in college. So, while most of Dr. Tegmark’s article sailed over my head, I did get the gist that there is mathematics in nature, everywhere we look, even if we don’t necessarily recognize it as such at the time. Now, that, I understand.

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a photographer, I look through my camera’s viewfinder and use math to compose visually and see natural and man-made objects in the form of geometry. My eyes are grabbed by circles, angles, lines, arcs, ellipses, rays, and spirals created by beaches, bridges, rivers, rock formations, trees, canyons, waterfalls, and other things I see in the landscapes around me.

Monahan Sands State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rule of thirds and golden ratio both use mathematics to achieve appealing photo compositions.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rule of thirds states than an image is most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds—both vertically and horizontally. The rule of thirds divides a photograph into vertical and horizontal thirds. Important compositional elements are placed at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines.

Bernstein Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The golden ratio is an ancient mathematical concept used to design everything from the pyramids in Egypt to photographs in popular fashion magazines. The ratio is 1:1.618.

McAllister Covered Bridge, Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that often appears throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye.

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the Renaissance, artists and architects have designed their work to approximate this ratio of 1:1.618. It’s found throughout the Parthenon, in famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and it’s still used today.

Great White Egret at Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is actually quite amazing that a rule so seemingly mathematical can be applied to something as varied and subjective as photography. But it works, and surprisingly well. The rule of thirds is all about creating the right aesthetic trade-offs. It often creates a sense of balance—without making the image appear too static—and a sense of complexity—without making the image look too busy.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I use that geometry to create scenic images filled with natural frames, leading lines, and orderly or abstract patterns. When you compose a landscape photo, you probably don’t realize you may have chosen that scene based upon geometry. You just know there is something about that landscape catching your attention and worthy of a spot on your memory card.

Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park screams large-scale geometry with its arc-shaped scoops of land. As I stood at the view area at Sunrise Point, I noticed the triangle created by the tree trunk and the hanging branches and included them in the composition. In retrospect, I could have used a slightly wider angle to include more of the tree.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Featuring similar geometric shapes, Cedar Breaks National Monument sits at over 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations and inspire you with its sunsets.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument features three majestic natural bridges that invite the viewer to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape in these Utah parks may seem static but the powers of wind, water, and time constantly sculpt new worlds. Arches and bridges are both fragile, natural rock sculptures. Both are formed with water and time but with different processes. Seeping moisture and frost shape arches while running water carves natural bridges.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go back and look at landscape images you’ve captured. Do you see the natural geometry in your photo compositions? You’ve actually seen and photographed the mathematics of nature.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…
The more one looks, the more one sees. And the more one sees, the better one knows where to look.

—Tielhard Chardin

Laura S. Walker State Park: A Place to Reconnect With Nature

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman

Situated deep in South Georgia just outside of Waycross and a short drive from the Okefenokee Swamp, this grass-filled blackwater lake sprawls for roughly 120 acres inside of the beautiful Laura S. Walker State Park.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. The park is an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven.

Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lakes, a championship 18-hole golf course, features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Greens are undulating rather than tiered. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three large lakes.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s namesake was a Georgia writer, teacher, civic leader, and naturalist who loved trees and worked for their preservation. Laura Singleton Walker was born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1861. She was both an author and a conservationist. Her friends included military and community leaders as well as presidents and governors. Her civic works and commitment to helping the environment led her to outline a forestry activity program that made many local conservation and beautification projects possible.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

She worked to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and maintaining forestry programs. She also had the distinction of being the only living person with a state park named in her honor. Ms. Walker worked tirelessly throughout Ware County and the surrounding areas until her death in 1955 at the age of 94.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. For those who want to see wildlife, they won’t be disappointed. The park is home to owls, great blue herons, gopher tortoises, alligators, and many other animals. It also hosts a variety of activities each year with the Friends of Laura S. Walker State Park volunteering their time to maintain the area and perform fundraisers.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For years, the lake has remained popular with boaters, skiers, and jet skiers, but during the last couple of years the area has become popular with bass and crappie anglers. 

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 44-site campground offers numerous sites suitable for big rigs. All sites include electric service. Site-specific information is available on the park’s website. Other facilities available for rent include six Sportsman’s Cabins (sleeps 6), seven picnic shelters, four group shelters (seats 75-165), one group camp (sleeps 142), and one gazebo. Other related amenities include a playground, a dog park, boat ramp, kayak and bike rentals, four miles of hiking trails, wildlife observation platform, and Wi-Fi.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranger Dave Jordan has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 25 years. He was appointed as the Ranger of Laura S. Walker State Park several years ago. He says, “One of the greatest opportunities we have at this park is to continue our public outreach to the folks in the community.”

Ranger Jordan relies on the Friends of the Laura S. Walker State Park to volunteer their time and help raise money that is needed to cover the extras. They meet on the first Monday night of the month. The Friends group raises money, purchases needed items, and donates them to the park.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2017, the park received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is well-known throughout the area for its amenities and friendly staff.

The park is located at 5653 Laura Walker Road in Waycross, Georgia.

Worth Pondering…

If the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

—Eleonora Duse

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: Connecting People with Nature

Connecting with nature at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland. Today, over 250,000 visitors enjoy Bernheim each year.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born in Schmieheim, Germany on November 4, 1848, Bernheim immigrated to the United States in March, 1867 at the age of eighteen with only $4 in his pocket. But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After struggling for several years he moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard. By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition and died in 1945 at the age of 96.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim was a man of vision. Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon, Bernheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the more popular trails, the 1.3-mile Lake Nevin Loop circles the 32-acre manmade Lake Nevin, a feature of the landscape design created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1948. This mostly flat and gravel-paved trail crosses through many of Bernheim’s beautifully landscaped gardens and connects to several other trails. This trail highlights Lake Nevin’s features, including the cypress-tupelo swamp, bluegrass savanna, and its irrigation duties for Bernheim’s arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in to the visitor center, Kentucky’s first LEED platinum building for information to help plan your visit. Take time to relax, explore the gift shop, grab a bite at Isaac’s café, and learn about sustainable design.

Each month Bernheim sponsors special events for visitors. These include nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about wildlife and nature at Bernheim’s Education Center. Stop in to view their art gallery, explore exhibits, and enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Room where you can watch birds, small mammals, and bees interact with their natural environment.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience Bernheim from atop the oldest structure, the historic fire tower. A volunteer naturalist will lead you 961 feet up the flights of stairs for one of the best views in the state. The incredible scenery will leave you amazed as you take in the knobby landscape that surrounds Bernheim.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang out in the tree-tops in our Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located in Clermont (near Jim Beam Distillery), 30 miles south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on KY-245, then turn right into the entrance.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The arboretum is free to all Monday-Friday; weekends and holidays, $5 per vehicle.

Grandma’s RV Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville (I-65 at Exit 116); distance to Bernheim Forest is 7 miles

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs