Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sun Sets on Another Year

Good Bye, '09... and thank you to all the various fellow artists, photographers and general outdoor lovers who stopped by to look in or leave comments in the past year. I have discovered many interesting people from all over the world and seen a lot of great work that I would otherwise never have experienced, if not for starting up this blog just over one year ago.
Sometimes when I sense a nice sunset and I have nothing else pressing to do, I drive over to the beach that is a few minutes from where we live, just to see what might happen. I usually don't bother to take my camera because I see this all the time (especially in the winter months) and there's no real "subject" per se, just the ocean and the sky in their simplicity. I did happen to have a camera a few days ago when I shot this exceptionally nice one, just for fun. It seemed like an appropriate fade out for my last post of the year. Here's hoping for good things to come in 2010.
Check out the fantastic scenes from SkyWatchers all over the world here, and see you all next year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunlight Meets Badlands

Whoa.. hardly a thought about the poor old blog in over a week. Been concentrating mostly on holiday stuff and trying to get a new computer up and running while things are kind of quiet, business-wise.
Here is one more interesting formation from Death Valley, showing in more detail the incredible work done by the power of erosion in creating these badlands landscapes. Shot also from Zabriski Point (same as previous post), a couple of minutes after sunrise, which you can probably tell by the light just kissing the tops of the hills. I think this formation has a name, but I don't know what it is:).. will have to research it sometime. If anyone knows, feel free to set me straight!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In the Twilight Zone

"Moonset-Zabriski Point, Death Valley"
I find fairly often that the most interesting light actually occurs in that strange few minutes just before sunrise or just after sunset. Not so with something like the dunes in my last couple of posts, where the sunlight really is necessary to bring out the shapes and shadows, but for this one I found it disappointing as soon as the sun broke the horizon and got to work on the scene.
This spot is probably one of the most photographed in all the west, (and that's saying a lot)... every day, busloads of tourists stop in the parking lot, hike up a small hill to the lookout and shoot I would guess tens of thousands of snapshots. Almost every serious photographer stops by here too.. for that reason I've avoided it for all the years since I moved to California, but I have to admit that I'm glad I finally gave it a "shot":)
No busses and only one car in the lot when we arrived about a half hour before sunrise... one other photog and his wife beat me and were already set up and working. Of course I knew there was a full moon that night since we had been camping out nearby, but for some reason it didn't occur to me beforehand that the moon could still be part of the composition... until I got up to the hilltop and noticed that it was still sitting on the horizon, just about to disappear. I had to rush down to the "tripod spot" in front of a small wall and set up in a real hurry in order to get at least a few shots in the can before it set behind the Panamint Mountains off to the west, beyond Badwater. If I had a bit more time, I could have set up something with a telephoto and got the moon really big and fat sitting over Manley Beacon (the sharp, tooth-shaped landmark rock), but hey, you can't have everything. Anyway, I think it really made the shot and my day. The pre-dawn twilight turned out to be by far the best for this view, although some other interesting formations that can be photographed from here in the other direction worked quite well after the sunrise, at least for a few minutes.
It looks great in color, too, but I am kind of leaning towards this B&W interpretation. Be sure to click for a full view, the details and textures of the eroded landscape are really fascinating.
Check out lots of great sky shots every Friday at the Sky Watch home page.
In some photographs the essence of light and space dominate; in others, the substance of rock and wood, and the luminous insistence of growing things...It is my intention to present-through the medium of photography-intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to spectators... - Ansel Adams

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Desert Sunrise (nearly missed)

Here we have a partial section of a larger, eight frame panorama that I shot just as the first rays of morning sun were sweeping across the dunes at Mesquite Flat. It was the night to set the clocks back an hour for the end of Daylight Savings time... and since there was no cell phone signal, I thought it would be safe to use the alarm in my phone to wake up for sunrise without changing anything, but somehow the time got set back during the night even without a signal, so we overslept and had to make a mad dash to get out here before the sun.
What a sight to see the whole scene go from dark and flat to brightly side-lit in just a few seconds, revealing all the amazing wind carved shapes and desert colors. I don't know if I will ever do anything with this as far as printing.. there are quite a few tracks in the sand rather bothering me, beginning just at what is here the left edge and continuing into the next section, but I thought it was at least worth a look. If enough people seem to like it I may take the time to do the necessary touch up in order to make a large print. Cropping out the sky is also an option... sometimes I have to look at these things for a few months before I can make a proper decision. (As usual, some nice clouds would have made my day). Look carefully and you can see another photographer kneeling on the crest of a dune over toward the right side, off in the distance.
Nature does not create works of art. It is we, and the faculty of
interpretation peculiar to the human mind, that see art.
- Man Ray

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Light+Shadow=Pure Form

Finally working up some presentable frames from Death Valley a few weeks ago...
For the first night, we stayed right by the Mesquite Flat Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, and getting some good stuff out on the dunes was my main goal, so I might as well start there. This is the perfect kind of place: a wilderness where you can just wander around anywhere and anytime you want, totally undisturbed and with a limitless source of ever-changing light, shadow and beautiful sweeping shapes to keep you busy for hours.
At first impression, you might think that you can just point anywhere and get a great shot, but I find it really challenging to pick out and isolate just the right portion of the whole scene that might make an interesting composition. A certain shape or shadow will catch my eye from a distance, but by the time I walk towards it to find the right distance and angle, it's all gone.. point of view is everything here. Also, some otherwise nice scenes can get messed up by all the tracks in the sand.. (you kind of hope for a windy night followed by a quiet morning, but can't honestly expect that kind of perfection very often). I used a long telephoto (which I rarely do) for many shots, and it seemed to be a really effective tool for once.
This is one of my favorites so far... shot in the very late afternoon just before sunset; the light seems like it was just swept across the foreground by a painter with a large brush... and I love the warm golden glow of the sand against the flowing, soft blue background shapes. The smaller image is actually the larger; you can click for a screen filling view of this one because I think it gives an interesting sense of scale, especially with the figure of the guy walking on the crest. I want to call this one "Sword in the Sand".. can you see my thinking for the title?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Typical West Coast Evening

Very little chance this week to work on any new stuff (although I have much to go over and process from Death Valley), so back to my archives for this week's SkyWatch.
I don't produce as many seascapes as I probably should considering where I live, but whenever I have the inspiration and a prospect of some interesting weather, this is my "go to" spot, just a few minutes from home... no matter how many times I return here it always seems to look different. (I published a whole sequence from one afternoon at the same spot back in February, if any newer readers are interested and haven't seen these yet.)
Enjoy beautiful sky-oriented scenes from all over the world every Friday at the SkyWatch home page.
Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Friday, November 6, 2009

Back From The Desert

Photo credits go to my wife today... she snapped this one while I was preoccupied with the sunrise at Zabriski Point in Death Valley, as you can see:)... me there on the left.
Death Valley has absolutely perfect weather this time of year with warm days and cool nights.. nothing too extreme and great for camping out under the stars. I managed to shoot some really good stuff but have not had much time to sort through and process anything yet. Also I have a paying studio project to get going on and I have to concentrate on that for a bit, so this is a little teaser for later.
I actually crossed paths with and got to meet Gaelyn, aka the Geogypsy, on Sunday.. I recognized her and her RV at Furnace Creek, so stopped to introduce myself and say hello. She has lots of pictures already posted of her adventures in the park last week, so stop over there and take a look.
On another note: Deb, author of Stroll Through Storyland, was kind enough to feature me as the subject of her "Internet Artisans" series this week, so a big thank you to her for that and please have a look if you get a few minutes. She grabbed some of her personal favorites from my blog posts over the past year to illustrate the interview and did a really nice job of putting it all together.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Simple Seascape

My mind is kind of occupied tonight with loading up for a photo trip to Death Valley, so this is from the archives... wanted to leave something fresh to look at since I'll be out of touch until next week.
I was planning a fall color shot for today, but while searching for the one I wanted, came across a different image that I've been meaning to post anyway. Not really sure why I like this so much but I do, something about the soft light and contrast of textures; sometimes really simple images can be really satisfying.. we don't always need to think so hard. I shot this several years ago out on some cliffs in the Big Sur area, south of Carmel in central California... well after sunset, one of those "one last shot before heading for the barn" type throwaways that like to pop up fairly frequently. The old "inner eye" strikes again.
Hoping to have some interesting new desert scenery to play with when I get back:)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bare Bones, III- A Photographic Sketch

Probably my favorite of this quickly shot set from my iPhone; good enough I think, that I will return and re-shoot the subject with an actual camera next time I am here. Maybe try some different compositions, but the shapes and contrasts are ideal for a nice image. I'm planning to experiment with this in the future as a "sketching" tool or "visual notebook" of sorts, to quickly pre-visualize scenes and subjects, helping to decide which are worth returning to and how to set them up for the actual shot... much as a painter would quite normally do. I often spend a lot of time in a new location just wandering around, composing images in my mind and getting a feel for what I might want to attempt at a better time of day, so this could be really useful, especially if I have a laptop handy to download and play around a bit during mid-day "down time".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bare Bones, II

Continuing with my "iPhone Chronicles".. a straightforward scenic for today. (I wouldn't contend that you should expect any very technically challenging work to succeed with such limited equipment, but knowing your limitations and working within them is always necessary no matter what you're doing, isn't it?) ... and it can still work out pretty well.
It's not unusual in this area for the coastal cloud/fog to recede off-shore during the day and slowly work its way back in the late afternoon or early evening. The sinking sun, peeking through an occasional thin spot in the cloud cover, creates a wonderful shimmering light on the waves and beach against the almost black overcast off in the distance. I kind of wish I had been prepared with my "real" gear to shoot this, but like I said, this kind of situation is not so uncommon here, and I'm very lucky to live only a few minutes away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The "Bare-Bones" Approach

Went walking on our favorite stretch of local beach the other evening, armed with nothing but my trusty iPhone. No zoom, no shutter or aperture controls, barely anything like a lens... People often stop by to examine my prints and ask (especially guys) what kind of gear I use; I think I'll freak 'em out from now on and say; "Just my cell phone.":)
I feel a quick series coming on... I could put the results of my experiment all in one post, but I might have a few interesting points to make about each one, so I'll do one per day. First up, a little "seashore triptych"; three still life shots that are similar and complementary. Click for a larger view on this one. Experienced eyes might notice that the resolution was of course limited; I couldn't frame and hang these in any gallery, but in this environment, if I didn't tell you beforehand, would you notice?
Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Waiting for the Sun (part deux)

So, here is the other half of last week's post. This shot is taken from exactly the same tripod position at the Grand Canyon as my previous one, just 180° opposite. It was obvious that the sun was going to peek through the clouds down at the horizon for just a minute or two.. the question was, if it was going to be too low by that time to light the canyon walls, which is what I was hoping for. If that had not happened as it ultimately did, it would have been a bit of a disappointment since the lighting from the overcast sky was pretty flat and unspectacular. I was reasonably sure about the colorful sky in the other direction, so I had my bets at least partially covered. Must have looked kind of odd swinging back and forth like a madman working both compositions for 2-3 minutes, but by this time there was no one else around, so who cares? The light catching the little tree in the foreground was an unexpected bonus.
As usual, stop by at the SkyWatch home page to see great sky shots from around the world.
In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.
- Alfred Stieglitz

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Waiting for the Sun and Two for One

"Waiting for the Sun" - Grand Canyon, AZ
This particular day started out lucky; pulling up to the Desert View entrance ranger post and reaching for my ATM card, I was informed that it was a national park "Free Admission Day", so "Thank you, sir" and off to a good start.
After spending the day just wandering around and shooting a few different locations (a couple I've already posted), I decided to head over to the main Canyon Village for a break and an early dinner, leaving plenty of time to find a good location for sunset. My preferred spot was going to be Yaki Point, but the road into there was closed for some reason; if I had been able to scout a likely shot earlier in the day I would probably have hiked it, but without that very specific plan I wasn't willing to spend the time and effort; I settled for searching out this promising little outcropping not far from the main road. The afternoon had developed quite a bit of cloud cover, but it tends to break up as the sun goes down and there was already a pretty steady opening down near the western horizon which was obviously going to light up at some point, so with nearly two hours until sunset, I had plenty of time to line up a shot and settle in on the edge wearing my sweatshirt (after 100° days previously on the trip) and ponder the immense beauty of the canyon.
The key thing with nature photography sometimes just boils down to patience.. you can make do with what nature offers you at any given time, or you can try to anticipate a much better situation that will turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Here, I had the time to wait... and the reasonable expectation of something worth waiting for, so I determined to stick it out no matter what.
The "2 for 1" part of the story is that I was able to set up two different and distinct shots from the very same tripod position, just 180° apart. This one, directly at the setting sun, the other back towards the east catching the (hopefully) sunlit canyon walls under a stormy sky.. I'll cover that one next week. A very high contrast situation, so 3 bracketed RAW exposures were necessary to capture the entire range, blended together and then processed as normal from there.
Be sure to check out more interesting skys from all over the world at the Skywatch home page.
You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn't waste either.
- Galen Rowell

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What?... Fall Colors Without Color?

Aspen Trees - Southern Utah
Sure, the leaves were very pretty shades of gold and yellow, but the light at the time was kind of flat and try as I might, I couldn't get any shots from this location to pop as I would like in color, so why not reconsider conventional wisdom and try it in black & white? Aspens seem to be one of those subjects that look great either way... and I am much happier with this now than I ever was with it in color. The thin vertical lines of the trunks and the delicate leaves always give a watercolor painting-like feel that I never get tired of, especially if you can get them against a dark background. Luckily that happens a lot in Utah where the groves tend to line open meadows against the darker evergreens of the forest. I found it interesting when analyzing this scene that I could crop it to almost any section, size or proportion and still end up with a pretty decent composition, so I guess in reality it's a kind of texture study.
Shot one year ago to the day, I came back to this because I'm deciding if I will go foliage hunting this year and where.. it will be more towards the end of the month or into November if I do. And yes, the colors were indeed fantastic.. I will post some color images too:)
"Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your
own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: "Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print - my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey - from the subject before me?"
- Ansel Adams

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ghost Tree and God Sky

Another example of an image that takes on a life of it's own only after you get home and start to work with it. Of course, it was intriguing enough at the time for me to set up and frame a few shots... and I pretty much had a black and white result in mind under these conditions, but somehow in real life and later in color on the raw exposure, it just didn't have the drama that came through ultimately. Shot near Desert View at the Grand Canyon a short time after my last one from this location (here), I was busy watching the sky develop minute by minute and searching out interesting foreground subjects to use as a foil for the clouds.
I borrow the term "ghost tree" from a local newspaper writer who sometimes does articles about nature, parks and hiking trails, etc. (maybe she in turn borrowed it from someone:) I love it, since this is a fairly frequent subject for me (as you can see from an older post here) and I've always needed a descriptive tag for these skeletal trees. "God sky" speaks for itself.. I almost expected to see a bolt of lightning crash down from the heavens and this dead tree to burst into flames. Honestly, not a good idea to be standing on the edge of a canyon with a metal tripod if there is lightning about.. (there wasn't in this spot at the time).
As usual, check out all the great SkyWatch images of the week right here.

Our job is to record, each in his own way, this world of light
and shadow and time that will never come again exactly as it is today.
- Edward Abbey

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Do you look on the dark side or the bright side?

A couple more from the ghost town of Bodie mentioned in my last post. These two in particular I think are good examples of how you can come away with totally different moods/interpretations of essentially the same subject, depending on your own point of view and techniques used. The B&W shot is not quite so dark and decayed in feeling when seen in color, but if you want to emphasize that view, then monochrome seems the way to go. In the color shot, the fresh green grass and the blooming flowers become the subject, creating a whole different attitude where nature can be seen as always moving forward and renewing itself even while the manmade structures slowly return to the earth.
I need to get back to this location and spend at least a whole proper day working (this stop was too brief)... the still-life, detail and landscape possibilities are endless. I'm afraid though with all of California's budget cutting, if they start to close some state parks, this might be one of the first to go, since there was already some talk of closing it for preservation purposes.

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask "how," while others of a more curious nature will ask "why." Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.
- Man Ray

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wierd Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

"Late for Breakfast" - Bodie, CA

Or in this case, inside the gold mining ghost town, to be exact. (Some of you from the same generation as me will recall that snippet of lyrics from the Doors "The End", which I am listening to right now because it sets the mood perfectly.)
The town of Bodie is found in a desolate high-plains area east of Yosemite and north of Mono Lake, 13 miles down a dirt road from the main highway, almost right on the Nevada border. It began as a small mining camp around 1876 and grew to it's ultimate size of 10,000 people/2000 buildings in 1880. Think of "Deadwood" if you ever watched that HBO series; it once had 65 saloons on Main Street, it's own Chinatown with opium dens and plenty of wild times... the epitome of a lawless wild west boom town. You can feel how hard life must have been here... although at 8400 ft. elevation, this is not the mountains; rather open, grassy hills where the wind howls and deep snow falls in the winter, while the sun beats down relentlessly in the summer. Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter" was filmed just south of here, near Mono Lake.
As the supply of gold dwindled over the years, so did the population, until there were only about 120 residents left in 1920. A fire destroyed much of the town in 1932 and the last of the mines officially closed in 1942. The remaining buildings have been preserved exactly as they were left; stores still have goods on the shelves, some houses have furniture inside, child-size coffins are on display at the undertaker (very creepy), so the overall feeling you get from this place is decidedly ghostly.
Photographically, it's the kind of spot that, ideally, you can get to when the sky is stormy and dramatic, but unless you live in the area or get lucky, you just have to make do. It's also a "gold mine" of textures, tones and untold stories if you concentrate more on the buildings and the interiors. I think it's worth a few posts and I feel like a short break from pure landscape subjects. The small images are clickable for a higher rez view on this post.
There's danger on the edge of town
Ride the kings highway, baby.
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby.
-Jim Morrison

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mushrooms of Stone

These odd formations resemble something Lewis Carroll might have dreamt up, but believe it or not they are quite real and occur naturally in a spot along the Utah/Arizona border known as The Rimrocks or The Rimrock Hoodoos, about midway between Kanab and Lake Powell and just a short hike from the road. Another fine example of the endless wonders that can be found in this area. Some have a white base with a red cap and others are red all the way, but all have the distinctive "mushroom" cap due to uneven erosion in the different densities of rock.
On my first stop here a year before, the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn't even get out of the car because of the sheer force and the blowing blasts of sand that would have ruined my camera if I had decided to try. Those same winds turned out to be the ones that nearly caused all of San Diego to go up in flames, as we discovered while driving home a few days later. So, last year while foliage hunting, I was determined to get back to this spot even though this time rain was the problem, but the weather broke overnight and I was able to catch some soft post-dawn light filtered by the remaining storm clouds. On the drive out here before dawn, I experienced the awesome sight of leftover clouds from the storm literally pouring out of the vermillion cliffs to the north, along the ground and across the road, backlit by the rising sun. Something I was unable to stop and capture photographically then or to describe adequately in words now, but believe me a sight to see, so this will have to do for today.
The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.
-- Edward Abbey

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Desert View Watchtower-Grand Canyon

"Desert View" - Grand Canyon, AZ
For this "SkyWatch", I was perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon, watching and waiting (and hoping) for the sky to develop as it does many summer days around these parts. I won't say a clear blue sky can NEVER work for you, because it can if handled properly, but everything is so much more interesting and dramatic when there is some activity in the sky. It got even better than this in a few minutes, but I'll cover that in a future post:)
This view from the south rim includes the
Desert View Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter, architect for the Fred Harvey Company that developed many famous and still popular hotels and buildings around the southwest early last century. Colter's body of work is quite impressive and influential, especially considering that she was a successful female architect in a time when that was almost unheard of. A really interesting (but not too long) article about her history and work can be read here. Or, the super-short version on Wikipedia. As usual, check out all the great SkyWatch images of the week here.

On a side note, I know my posts and visits have been few and far between recently... I have been involved in relocating my entire office/studio, which as you might guess is a lot of work, but at last we're pretty much resettled and I hopefully won't have to devote quite so much of my time to that process anymore, allowing me to get back to some fun stuff.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lair of the Spider Woman

"Spider Rock" - Canyon de Chelly, AZ
This photo, in itself, is probably not my very best - although not my worst either:) - but the process of taking it definitely epitomizes what I love about the art of photography. This location is exactly 750 miles from where I live; I drove the whole way in one day, almost non-stop... and don't regret a minute of the effort it took me to get here, because unlike my experience a few days later at Monument Valley, I was able to appreciate this scene in an ideal way. I scouted the location earlier in the day and by the time I arrived again in the early evening, all the casual visitors were returning to their camping spots or motels, leaving me to select a nice perch on the rim of the canyon from which to observe the shadows climbing these fantastic spires as the sun slowly sank in the west. Only the occasional raven would stop by and sit in a nearby tree to see what I was up to... and I could hear coyotes calling clear as a bell from the canyon floor 1000 feet below. In a place like this, all alone in the warm evening light watching the shadows grow, you can imagine yourself observing the scene 100 or even 1000 years ago, and wonder at how similar it would have been.
Known as Spider Rock in Navajo lore, this 800 ft. tall formation is believed to be the home of Spider Woman, one of the most important figures in their mythology; a main character in the creation of the world and the one who taught them their most revered craft of weaving, which they still practice with great artistry today.
Would I make the same effort to be here if I wasn't so determined to capture the scene... and would I have learned about the Navajo traditions surrounding it?.. probably not. That kind of unexpected benefit is what makes this work rewarding on so many different levels. Producing a successful photograph is really just icing on the cake.
A short but interesting history of Navajo weaving
can be found here, with some good links that go deeper into the old tales and history should anyone be interested.

Photography appears to be an easy activity; in fact it is a varied and ambiguous process in which the only common denominator among its practitioners is in the instrument.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Spanish Rock

Back to Canyon de Chelly and I hope you all can indulge my fascination with rock art for a few more posts...
This is probably my favorite of all the rock art sites I visited and was one of the main reasons for going in the first place.. I had previously heard about this one and wanted to see it for myself. This branch of the canyon is named "Canyon del Muerto"(Canyon of Death) for an incident related to the story depicted on this rock. The art is Navajo in origin and nowhere near as old as the last one I wrote about, dating back only to the 1800's. In fact it depicts an expedition by Spanish soldiers into the canyon in January 1805, led by Lt. Antonio Narbona, in which they cornered a group of Navajos at their hiding place in the rocks and massacred everyone, including women, children and elderly. That spot is now a ruin known as "Massacre Cave" and is quite a bit further up the canyon from this spot where the artwork is found.
As Spanish, Mexican and eventually American settlers began to invade the traditional Native American territories, they (the Navajo and others) understandably felt justified in raiding and pillaging the intruders, but that in turn prompted retribution from the armies of the various governments involved, which of course were destined to prevail due to their size and resources. After many years of back and forth raids, in 1863, a force led by Kit Carson, under orders to subdue Indian unrest in the area, entered the canyon from the upper end and drove all the remaining residents from this last refuge, destroying their homes and crops and forced them into "The Long Walk".. the infamous 300 mile forced march eastward to the Fort Sumner internment camp in New Mexico. Hundreds died on the 18 day trek. Once there, they were forced to live together with other tribes with which they had historical disputes, (kind of like the racial divides in modern day prisons), creating lots of new problems, but eventually in 1868 they were allowed to return to their traditional homeland.
I love the way the artists used the natural formation in the rock wall to create a ground for the riding characters, as well as the way the intricate textures and colors highlight the scene. Notice the robe and cross depicting a Spanish priest riding along with the soldiers and the detail of the horses.
The photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically – that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes, so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.
- Edward Weston, The Art of Photography

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Skywatch - A Painted Desert

This shot is an early favorite of mine from a new crop of images taken around NE Arizona, this one obviously at Monument Valley. Kind of a surprise that I caught so many successful images here, because to be honest, I was in a very bad mood the whole day... after the relative peacefulness of Canyon de Chelly, the heat was brutal and it was totally over run with tourists buzzing about in their rented cars, spewing up dust on the deliberately horrible road that winds through the park... and which you are not allowed to leave, so I was nearly at the point to give up and leave. I planned to camp in the area, but it was just too hot and crowded with zero shade to be had anywhere... and all the services belong to one company with no competition, so it's just a total rip-off until you get 20 miles down the road to Kayenta, which is where I ended up staying.
Every time I wanted to set up at an interesting spot, I had to deal
not only with the 105° temperature, but the dust clouds kicked up by passing cars and all the jokers jumping out to strike silly poses against the landscape as their friends or family took snaps. Everyone has the right to enjoy as they see fit, but it just kills the aura of the location if you know what I mean. Maybe I'm spoiled or a bit selfish, but I often manage to find myself alone and at peace with the environment in places like this, and I definitely picked the wrong season this time. I thought I was totally wasting my time, but as is often the case, surprising things happen if you just stick it out to the end.
I often say that I like photographs that resemble a painting.. I think this one qualifies. As the sun gets low, the rich colors of the red earth come to life in a way that you just will never experience at mid-day here in the desert. The crowds thin out, heading off for drinks and dinner, the temperature cools a bit and maybe even the sky which was mostly clear blue for much of the day starts to cooperate.
Check out the SkyWatch homepage for more great sky oriented scenery from all over the world.

You could not guess in what a fantastic place I am. I sit in the shade of an ancient, dying juniper tree, cushioned on my Navajo saddle blankets. On all sides, the burning sun beats down on silent, empty desert. To right and left, long walls of sandstone mesas reach away into the distance, the shadows in their fluted clefts the color of claret. Before me, the desert drops sheer away into a vast valley, in which strangely eroded buttes of all delicate shadings of vermilion, orange and purple, tower into a cloudless turquoise sky.

-Everett Ruess, June, 1934 (age 20) writing from Monument Valley.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The White House Ruins

"White House Ruins" - Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Archeologists have determined that various peoples have been living in Canyon de Chelly for 5000 years. The structures I photographed here, known as The White House, were built approximately 1000 years ago and were occupied for another 300 years, until the builders decided to move on for reasons unknown... perhaps over population, lack of food supply, drought, or just feeling the need to move, we will never know for sure.
Although administered by the National Park Service, mainly to preserve what is left of these valuable sites, the canyon and surrounding area are completely owned by the Navajo people, many of whom still reside here in the canyon during the summers, running small farms and living in traditional Hogans (round, low profile log cabin-like structures.) Closed to outsiders unless accompanied by a Navajo Guide, horses and cattle wander around freely among orchards and small fields, making it seem a pastoral and peaceful place now, but there is a long and complex history of struggle and violence in the whole of the southwest.. some of the most important of it happened right here. I'll get into a bit of that in another post.
This particular ruin is the only site down inside the canyon that you can visit on your own, by hiking down from the rim. The accompanying photo looking out over one section of the canyon, which you can click for a detailed view, was taken at dawn from the spot on the rim where the trail begins. I'm including it here as a good scene to put the place in some kind of context.. I took it while waiting for the sun to come up enough to start down the trail; my theory was to get down and back before it got too hot since there is no shade and the days were running in the 100° range, but I ended up having to endure it anyway because I spent so much time at the bottom shooting the ruins. The trail is about 1.5 miles and 500 ft. elevation gain which is not too bad, but with the heat and having to carry my photo gear, I was complaining to myself at the start back up when I met an old Navajo lady, at least in her late 70's and probably older, dressed in a colorful full length skirt and wearing a jacket even in such heat, hiking down all by herself. She seemed to be fine and happy, so I had to tell myself that if she can do it at her age, I should be able to make it up without complaining.
I decided on a black and white treatment for this image due to the way it highlights the textures of the rock and especially the dark streaks of desert varnish trailing down the sheer rock face from high above.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is This the Original Blog?

"Newspaper Rock" - Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Well then.. back from my 1800 mile road trip to the Navajo country of Northeast Arizona, and a bit of time off from the city, work and computers. This time I specifically wanted to photograph some of the wonderful cliff dwellings and rock art that are found all through this area, along with the incredible landscapes in and around the canyons. It'll take me some time to sort and process all the new material, but this one is a relatively straightforward shot of what is essentially an ancient form of blog.
Humans have been living here in Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'SHAY, a Spanish corruption of the Navajo word "Tsegi" meaning canyon) for 5000 years. The Navajo people now own this land, but they are just the most recent inhabitants and all the various peoples before them are referred to by the generic term "Anasazi", meaning Ancient Ones, who apparently left here around 1300 A.D. and were followed first by the Hopi and then the Navajo.
Primitive rock art is divided into two types: pictographs, which are painted on with natural pigments... and petroglyphs, which are scratched or etched into the rock. Over the ages, various residents have embellished the walls of their home area with the symbolic art depicted here, each group having different techniques and styles to tell their stories. Some are fairly obvious in their meaning (notice the Spanish Conquistador-looking characters etched more lightly in the upper center area-they are a common subject and I have another really fantastic location for that later), some are not. What appear to be bullet holes in the rock are probably the work of some fairly recent vandal. My Navajo guide was explaining some of the symbols to me but I didn't really have time to take notes since I was busy trying to get as much work done as possible at each location while listening.
Some of the best Anasazi cliff dwellings in the Southwest are located here in this canyon, so I hope to have some interesting shots from my time photographing these, as well as more interesting facts and stories about the area which I will get into to accompany new images as I get to them.
My pictures are never pre-visialized or planned. I feel strongly that pictures must come from contact with things at the time and place of taking. At such times, I rely on intuitive, perceptual responses to guide me, using reason only after the final print is made to accept or reject the results of my work.
- Wynn Bullock

Monday, July 13, 2009

Twilight in Joshua Tree (and an Instructive Site to Visit)

All that I have achieved are these dreams locked in silver. - Paul Caponigro

No special background story to go with this one! It's a rather alien-looking scene (the kind I love) shot at twilight among the boulders in Joshua Tree National Park, which I have mentioned before here, in a February post. If I remember correctly, some smoke from a distant wildfire contributed to the nice colors in the sky at the horizon on an otherwise pure blue day. The granite formations in this area are very unique and interesting as you can see, but no Joshua trees appear in this shot.
In addition to mentioning as I go along here some of the classic photographers or artists that have influenced and inspired me, I want to occasionally point out a site that is especially interesting or informative. Therefore, for my "tip of the day", I give a big thumbs up to Georgia-based photographer Craig Tanner's video series "The Daily Critique". You can view it directly on the website where he is the principal contributor: The Mindful Eye (after a free sign-up), or find the entire archive easily here on YouTube. Each day, he takes a viewer-submitted image and analyzes it in a very informative and positive way, discussing composition, color theory, processing techniques and the general thought process behind art and photography. I'm pretty sure that no matter what your skill level, you will find it quite fun to watch. He has a very pleasant manner and more importantly, is excellent at articulating the concepts of visual language. A nice byproduct (to me at least) is that at the end of each segment, you will have spent 6-8 minutes really studying an image and getting a feel for what the photographer was thinking and trying to accomplish, as opposed to the quick few seconds glance we typically allow when cruising blogs and websites. His essay, "The Myth of Talent" is quite inspiring, also. Please check out a video or two and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another Scene from the Narrows

What's just around that next bend in the stream? Well... you're never really sure, but the answer in this particular case turned out to be each scene more fantastic than the last. Well worth trekking all day in thigh-deep water up Utah's Virgin River. This image is another of my once passed-over rehab projects; not quite as much "wow" factor as some other shots I have from this area, but worthy of a look, I think. Truly a dream location for texture and color lovers like me.
The first hour or so on this trip I was diligent about hiking with my gear stored safely in a waterproof pack.. stopping to unpack and set up at each scene along the way. Way too much work under the circumstances and I found that I was passing up potentially good shots because of the extra effort involved. Eventually I had to say screw it... and took my chances walking with the camera around my neck and ready to pop on the tripod, even at the risk of stumbling and ruining the whole deal. Walking very slowly and deliberately through the water with the aid of a tall staff for support saved the day. Try walking on slippery rocks in cold moving water, with all your camera gear someday if you want to see what it's like:) Nothing to complain about in the end, though... got back in one piece with all gear intact and plenty of very cool images.

Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer - and often the supreme disappointment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Water Study (Part 2), and a New Series on Influential Artists

As promised in my previous Water Study post, here is another, completely different interpretation of the same subject, this time in color. Since it was a "local" subject and I was in no hurry, it was possible to spend more time than I normally might working a very limited area, trying to construct as many variations as possible from this little area of falls. It's not just one grand fall, but a series of cascades wandering all around the rocks and trees below a mountain lake, so there are certainly many different possibilities to be had. This type of "intimate landscape" leads me into a new subject I've been mulling over for a while: I would like to give mention to some of the greats of photography (and art) that have shaped my vision, as well as a few of the contemporary people whose work I admire. So I'm going to occasionally steer you to some different sites that I feel are worth visiting if you are at all interested in the masters that have paved the road to where we are today, or some current artists that are very worthy of attention.
Some of the people I have in mind are very well documented and represented on the web; at least one that I want to refer to is surprisingly hard to find, so I'll start with an easy one because I found an excellent website covering his work: Eliot Porter. Probably the first great color landscape photographer, his show,"Intimate Landscapes" in 1980 was the first one-man show ever of color photography at New York's Metropolitan Museum and he was one of the first masters to catch my imagination during my younger days in art school. I won't repeat a lot of info about him here, because this website is concise and full of samples.
I'll mention others as they come to mind, or seem to tie in with my own examples; probably mostly photographers, but some other types of artists too... as well as some fellow bloggers that I have found since I started doing this blog. I know that with photography in particular, lots of people have been taken up in a sudden fascination on the subject and haven't necessarily looked into the history of what got us here, so I hope I can turn a few of you on to some great work that might inspire you even further. And I would certainly love to hear back from anyone who has their own favorite masters or contemporaries that they would like to share.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some Trip Planning and a Grand View

If all goes according to plan, I'll be heading out to some prime shooting areas across the canyonlands of northern and eastern Arizona in a few weeks; that prompted me to dig up this one from several years ago. Shot from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, looking northeast under a clearing late-afternoon sky, following a day of showers and thunder (a little early this day for the really "sweet" light, but still kind of nice with the cloud shadows to emphasize the multiple layers and colors). In fact, I'm purposely delaying our upcoming trip until July, in the hope of catching some of the monsoon storms that bubble up into Arizona from Mexico in the summer. Maybe I'll capture some lightning or rainbows over Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly if I'm lucky:) You can rarely trust nature to cooperate with your best-laid plans, so we'll see how it goes, but for me, studying the weather and sky is a significant and fun part of any serious nature/landscape photo work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Nice Little Sunset - Sky Watch #49

A sky like this is so rare around where I live, due to the mostly dry climate, that when they do occur, you just want to get out and shoot something, anything, to take advantage. This one was taken among the eroded hills above Torrey Pines State Beach, just a few miles from home. Interesting how the flowing forms of the clouds echo the similar shapes of the terrain in the foreground. Wish I could say I was considering that at the time, but if I was, it was subconsciously. As they say.. sometimes it's better to be lucky:)
Check out lots of cool sky shots from all over the globe at the Sky Watch Friday site.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Water Study: Time Provides Perspective

This image and a color one to come, were both taken over one year ago near our home in the southern California mountain community of Idyllwild. I made about 40 exposures over the course of several hours, working on the waterfall flowing out of a small local lake. (Hard to call it a "waterfall" compared to one like this, but they can't all be epic:) The whole session has been languishing in my "digital negative cabinet" since then. I had looked through the exposures several times and played briefly with a few, but just had it in my mind that there was nothing really worth developing from this session. Something about the quality of light or color of the rocks just wasn't sitting right with me at the time.
As I've talked about before, it very often pays off to go back and rework things after some time has passed.. shots that you think great in the excitement of reviewing them while brand new, can be evaluated more honestly after the attachment we feel to them has faded. Even better, as in this case, you may find something very worthy that you completely overlooked. Just consider that whatever skill level you are currently at, your eye and technique are constantly changing and developing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rethinking the Dunes

I wanted to briefly go back and wrap up my post regarding the Algodones Dunes: "Solitude and Civilization", that I posted a few weeks ago.  At the time, I mentioned working some exposures from that session in both color and monochrome, so here is one B&W version that is very similar in composition to the color one posted previously.  You can see that it's essentially the same shot, although I shifted position slightly to lessen the size of the deep shadow on the right side of the frame.. it seemed a little overbearing in this monochrome version. Other than that, I don't have any strong preference between the two, maybe slightly towards the B&W, so I'd be interested to hear any opinions.
Check out lots of fine B&W images at: The Monochrome Weekly Theme page.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

Some English Roots

First, I'm sorry for the unusually long gap between posts, but paying work has taken priority the last couple of weeks...
Secondly, I wanted to throw a change up in here just for fun. I know I have at least a few regular visitors from the U.K., and thinking about that inspired me to dig up something a little different for this, a bit of personal history:
My mother's family emigrated from England to the Boston, Mass. area early last century and I kind of promised myself that if I was ever "in the neighborhood", I would try to find the small town of Ilfracombe, in southwest England, that they had left behind. My wife and I were staying near Bath a few years ago, having taken the train from London, and had already decided to rent a car and drive down to Devon and stay in the town for a few days, since we wanted to see that area anyway. I already knew, from an old (circa 1930) tourism catalog that somehow got left over from my grandparent's possessions and found it's way to me, that Ilfracombe is a resort area, but we were pleasantly surprised at what a beautiful little place it is, sitting right on the north coast surrounded by rolling green hills and rocky cliffs. Hiking on the cliff tops and looking out over the ocean, it felt remarkably like some of the coastal areas I now enjoy in California, so maybe it was in my blood that I would end up here on the west coast, close to the pacific and it's many rocky cliffs. It was surely kind of odd, walking around this little village, halfway around the world from where I live now, realizing that my grandfather and his family had lived a good portion of their lives among these same streets and houses... and that they probably didn't look very much different then than they do today. After returning home, I contacted a nice lady from the Ilfracombe town museum and she helped me trace this branch of my family back several generations, so I definitely have long history here, but I got to the point where it was going to take some serious investigation to go back any further. Hopefully, I will return some day and be better prepared to do some efficient research, since they have many years of historical records at the museum.
From Boston, my grandfather eventually found his way to northern New Hampshire, where my mother and later myself, was born, while my great grandparents lived out their lives in the Cambridge/Arlington area, just west of Boston.
I really like this shot of the town harbour, taken at twilight. It has a special significance for me and people seem to like it even before knowing it's story; for some reason, many ask me if it was taken in Denmark:)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Solitude and Civilization

There are several large areas of dunes in California; the best known are in Death Valley and here, in the extreme southwest corner of the state right next to Arizona, are the Algodones Dunes. More commonly known as the Imperial Dunes, because that is the name of the recreational area set aside for all the dune buggies, ATVs and dirt bikes that buzz around burning gas literally by the tens of thousands on any given weekend. Especially in the winter when it's cool, there is basically a temporary city of campers and motor homes each weekend as thousands migrate here to play in the sand. Fortunately, the much larger part of the area is set aside as a pure wilderness... no vehicles or other man made activity is allowed except for hiking and nature watching. So, as peaceful and desolate as this image may look, a mile or so behind from where I took this is all the motorized craziness. Wandering out in this direction, you can barely find another human footprint, but if you look closely in the foreground you can see part of a few prints that look like a coyote had walked by, and we found numerous beetle and bug tracks in the undisturbed sand also. There are no trails, obviously... you can just wander around up and down the dunes wherever you want until you get tired, which doesn't take that long walking in the loose sand. Dangerously hot here in the summer, but winter is very comfortable.
I mentioned this area briefly in a previous post, and have been struggling a bit since then with how to present these; going back and forth between B&W vs. color so many times that I'm not sure which I prefer... depends on what particular day I happen to look at them I guess. For today, I'll show a color image and then maybe a B&W one later... I'm always curious about what people prefer. Since it was winter and the days were short, we stuck around until late in the day to capture the low golden light and deep shadows just before sunset.
You can get a sense of scale and see an interesting shot of the dunes taken from the international space station