Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Bit Closer to Home

I often end up traveling quite a distance to find the spots where I am inspired to work seriously, but this is one of my favorites and just a few minutes from where I live. You wouldn't expect to find such a wild looking place literally in the middle of one of the country's largest cities, but we are blessed with some fine natural areas here in San Diego. This location can be found just a Tiger Woods drive or so beyond the North Torrey Pines golf course (on TV, Feb 2-9, Buick Invitational), in Torrey Pines State Park. I come here often to just to hike and enjoy the view out over the ocean and as you can see... it's a rich area for artists and photographers.
I've shot this particular spot a number of times, but on this day we had an incoming storm and I knew from experience that the sky and light were going to be ideal. I almost missed my opportunity due to a social obligation that ran longer than expected, but finally managed to race home, change, grab my gear and get up here for that last 2 hours of light, for the best session I've ever had here.

"Broken Hill"-Torrey Pines, 2008

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Duke, The Art Car

From my "Lost & Found" files: 
Walking down the road after breakfast with a new camera in hand (luckily) I happened upon this artistic oddity of a vehicle circa 2003 in the little mountain village of Idyllwild, CA where we have a home. It pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks because it's not what you would expect to see parked in a small rustic community high in the forest, under the pines and cedars.  "Duke" is basically a mobile, living sculpture created and owned by writer/artist Rick McKinney (you can see the whole car and more about him here). Every square inch is covered with various antiques, junk, jewelry, you name it. Don't know how he keeps it all together.. lots of glue, I guess. Anyway, I was delighted to have such a great subject right at hand to give my new camera a workout and ended up shooting a whole bunch of odd, interesting still life images. This is not my normal genre of work these days, but this one was so unique that I wanted to revive it. 
"The Art Car"-California, 2003

Friday, January 23, 2009

The landscape under your feet

It's always a problem for me.. what to do during the middle part of the day? The sky is blue, not a cloud in the sky.. most would say: "It's a beautiful day", but photographers say: "this sucks!" I often drive the better part of a day to get somewhere interesting to work and then have to deal with that mid part of the day when the light is harsh and the colors are all washed out, so I normally use that time to drive around and familiarize myself with the location and scout out where I want to be early and late in the day.
Sometimes you get lucky and there's some interesting weather, or some nice clouds to filter the light, but one other alternative is to concentrate on smaller subjects right under your feet. Not necessarily macro shots (which you can do anytime), but close-ups and abstracts where you can look for textures and colors that are less affected by the quality of light that might not work for a larger scenic.
In this case, I was at Point Lobos, a nature reserve just south of Carmel in central California, and facing the "mid-day dilemma", so I spent a few hours just shooting the many interesting rock formations at Weston Beach. The formations in this tidal area are so colorful and varied, that they are mini landscapes all by themselves. This kind of image is really fun to work with when you get back to the studio... you can experiment with cropping, burning, dodging and saturation; working it like a painting with no particular goal in mind other than to make it into a pleasing composition of shape and texture.

"Rock Flow"-Point Lobos

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth passed away the other day. Although he was a painter, any photographer aspiring to improve could study Wyeth's work and learn everything they need to know. Anyone can operate a camera, that's the least of what it's about; if you can absorb some of his sense of space, composition and detail, you will make better photographs.
I know that some critics didn't care for his realism in this age of abstraction, but to me he was a profound influence and inspiration. His watercolor sketches are like Chinese brush drawings in their simplicity; with just a few strokes on an otherwise blank paper he could create a whole scene of hills, snow and woods and make you feel the cold. And his tempera paintings have a photographic sensibility and a feeling of story to them that I don't often see in paintings. A love of nature, an amazingly keen sense of observation and dedication to craft really set him apart, in my mind.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fall in the Narrows

Utah is one my favorite photographic destinations, relatively "close" to home at only 500 miles or so, but always worth the trip. This was shot over 1 year ago, mid-October, on a trip up the Virgin River Narrows. I like this image, but to be honest I never print it bigger than greeting card size, because I managed to get some slight camera movement even though I was using a tripod... not too surprising since the tripod and I were both in moving water and on slippery rocks at the time. A whole day of cold wet feet doesn't help your concentration, either. The contrast of the delicate trees hanging on in the stream against the massive painted walls walls caught my eye, even though it was a rather inconvenient spot to stop and set up. I passed it by on the way upstream, but decided to try it on the return.
Relative to my previous post about B&W vs. Color, this is a case where I would say the color is indeed an important element of the image.

"Fall Saplings" - Utah, 2007

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Decisions, decisions. Color or Black & White?

Reading another photo blog yesterday inspired this post.  Back in the film days, I used to shoot only black and white because I have always liked to do my own printing and I just didn't have the equipment or knowhow in those days to print color.  These days, of course, that's all changed and it's just as easy to print in color as in B&W.  In fact, you could make the argument that printing nice B&Ws digitally is actually more tricky than color; getting nice deep blacks and neutral grays requires some real care and an intimate knowledge of your printing process. I replied to that other person's entry that if I am going to present an image in color, it is because the color is truly adding something important, not just because I happened to capture it in color. Many times taking the color out is actually a huge improvement. I think most would agree that the original image seen here (pretty much untouched, right out of the camera) is nothing special, but I liked the pose of the egret and the reflections in the water; so I decided to work it up as a monochrome, getting rid of the awful green water and the drab colors and turning it into a pretty effective image by concentrating on the mirrored reflections, then playing with the curves and contrast adjustments until I got the desired effect.
My first influences in photography were some of the greats who never touched color, so I still have a strong attraction for beautiful monochrome even though I have kind of moved away from it in my own work. Check out Lenswork Magazine to see some really nice contemporary B&W work.   

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Warning: Not a Spectator Sport

Some fellow photographers may know what this is about. Usually, I take a few days around New Year's to go somewhere alone, do some shooting and enjoy the solitude. Due to other obligations this year I was limited to one day, so my wife wanted to come along and not let me have all the fun. We drove out to the Imperial Dunes near the Arizona border and I had (brilliantly, I thought) brought along a beach towel to set my equipment on in order to keep it off the sand while working, but she found it convenient to use for a nap after I had been working in one spot for a bit too long. I used her little pocket point-and-shoot to take this.
I wonder how many photographers prefer working alone as opposed to those who prefer having some company? It's definitely nice to have someone on the long drives (I like to work in some pretty remote places) or in the evening, but it's always in the back of my mind that someone's waiting for me if they're along while I'm shooting. Maybe it's just the type of place I like to work that makes it difficult. My wife keeps her own blog (in Japanese) about life in California and she's always looking for interesting new material, so she appreciates this process more than some would, I guess.
By the way, these dunes are a great photo destination in the winter when the temperature is very pleasant and the sun goes down early.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Henry's Kitchen

If you've been following "The Tudors" on Showtime cable, you may be familiar with Hampton Court, Henry VIII's country estate, just southwest of London. It originally belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, The Archbishop of York, but he later gave it to Henry, who developed it further and it has been added to and renovated over the ages. It's truly spooky to walk through the rooms here on a dark November afternoon thinking back on all the historical figures that occupied the exact same space hundreds of years ago. You can walk the halls and look out the windows to the same courtyards as Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn and Jane Seymour.
In most of the interior spaces photography is not allowed, but the kitchen areas are an exception. This huge fireplace is still working and served as one of the cooking areas for hundreds of people on a daily basis. One lucky gentleman(at least in the winter)gets to tend this baby as tourists wander through the otherwise cold rooms of the traditional kitchens. The old utensils, ovens, walls and doors make a fantastic photographic subject. I love the color, texture and atmosphere of this kind of place.
"Henry's Kitchen"-U.K., 2008