Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Going with the Flow

Last week was 6 straight days of pouring rain here in the mountains of southern California ...a grand total of 11" from Thursday through Wednesday. Although I like snow, I'm kind of glad that this storm was a warm one and we missed out on the white stuff (at least at this elevation)... otherwise it would have been a truly epic snow storm and would have made life pretty difficult around here for a while.
All that rain (and snow on the high peaks) is now flowing down the mountain and making for some really pretty and refreshing scenes along the rivers and creeks that were showing barely a trickle just a couple of weeks ago. It's really fun to explore up here with waterfall after waterfall....  the roar of the water acts like white noise, blocking out the rest of the world so you can really concentrate on your work... you just have to remember to think about where your feet are too, while standing on a rock in the middle of a rushing stream:) You can click for a larger view on this one.
I'm planning to be out in Joshua Tree before the end of this week... (actually I have several more nice ones from my last session out there in October that I haven't even shown yet).  The weather is ever-unpredictable around these parts in the winter, so you really do have to "go with the flow" and be willing to change your plans.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Skywatch: Monolith Meets Juniper, or The Photographer as a Detective

I was searching for this spot in Joshua Tree for at least the past two years.  I had seen some snaps of it here and there on the web, but no one ever said exactly where it was... and I even asked every park ranger I could find if they knew about it, but no one had a clue!  Back in October when I shot this, I tracked down a geo-tagged picture on Google Earth locating it in what seemed an unlikely area, but it was the best lead that I could find... and when I got there,  there was indeed a trail in the spot indicated, so I gave it a try, hiking a mile out into the middle of nowhere hoping the coordinates were accurate. When it became apparent that it wasn't going to be where it was supposed to be, I was seriously bummed, but determined to get some good work in anyway, since it was just a perfect, soft-light type day for photographing out here.
Later on, while driving through a well known campground to a good spot that I was already familiar with, a distinct shape somehow caught the corner of my eye (and I've driven past the same exact spot many times), up on some rocks above an unoccupied camping spot.  I thought it was pretty unlikely to be here in such a heavily used area, but I did stop and park just to check it out.  Hoorah!.. there it was:)  The standing rock is totally invisible from the road, but I had luckily caught just enough of the tree to make me stop and investigate.
Of course, totally the wrong light at that time, so I went down the road to work for a few hours, knowing that right before sunset was going to be perfect for this scene.  I got so busy over there though, that I ended up having to pack up in a hurry and rush back here to catch the good light, which lasted (as it likes to do) only a few minutes.  Only film gear on hand this day, so I had to fumble as quickly as possible to get a roll into a back and find the right lens/angle (actually kind of hard if you could see the whole situation with bushes and rocks in the way), but managed to get off a whole roll of 20 shots over a period of about 15 minutes.  This is a very wide angle view.. the monolith rock is quite a bit bigger that it appears here due to the wide-angle lens.  I also caught another completely different version, shot in the twilight after sunset that I like a lot, too.
All in all a very satisfactory day, since some shots from earlier also turned out quite nicely.  I'm planning to head back out here again this coming weekend,... we are in another unsettled weather pattern right now, and stormy skies are ideal for shooting in JT.
Tech note: Shot with a Mamiya 6x7 medium format, on Fuji Velvia 100. No filters, (no time:).
Check out the SkyWatch homepage every weekend for more great sky images from all around the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold Blue Cold

Another manzanita bush; but this one ended up a bit "under the weather":)...
Yeah, it can be uncomfortable to get up early in the morning after a snowy night, or stand around trying to frame and shoot while your hands are freezing, but fresh snow is such a great subject for minimal, stark, white-on-white images. Something I've been wanting to work on for a long time, but just wasn't in the right place.  Cloudy days are ideal, so you have more flexibility of time to work... and, color or monochrome seem to work equally well. This shot looked fine in pure monochrome, but I decided to leave it in color for now; I think it feels right with the cold blue cast in the shadows to emphasize the feeling.
This will be the first winter in many years that I am actually living where it snows, so I am hoping to put together a nice, unified folio of winter images this season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Skywatch-Snowy Peaks

Yes folks, this view is less than one mile from my house.. of course it's not always quite so dramatic as this, which I caught right after a winter storm. (Please click for the detailed view).  This is a section of Tahquiz Peak, one of the lesser peaks on Mt. San Jacinto where we live.  The large, tooth-shaped outcropping in the foreground is known as Lily Rock... it has a 1000' sheer face (on what would be the left side of this view) and is known as one of the best rock climbs in the west. Just a few weeks ago, some climbers had to be rescued from near the top after getting caught in a sudden nasty turn of the weather... they were very lucky that highly skilled people were available and willing to save their butts.  If any of you are into rock climbing, you can read some more about it here.
The main part of Idyllwild sits in a kind of valley out of view at the bottom of this shot... we live about 4 miles past the main village and 1000' higher up in a separate little settlement... and most every day get to drive past several spots where you can see across the valley to these peaks.  Looking in the other direction, we can see almost to the ocean on a clear day.
Check out the SkyWatch homepage every weekend for more great sky images from all around the world.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Manzanita in the Snow

No, I'm not quite done with the autumn stuff yet, but it'll keep for a bit.  We're well into the winter season up here in the mountains and I've been kind of slow getting started on taking advantage of this new environment's opportunities.  I figured it's about time to get out and capture some of the beautiful local scenery.. winter is probably the most attractive season, photographically speaking, in this area.
Manzanita bushes are everywhere up here and they are an especially interesting subject with their intricate branching and contrasting bark that grows away from the wood over much of the tree.. this one has more bark coverage than most.  They stay green all winter and produce thousands of small red berries, thus the name which means "little apple" in Spanish.
I found this almost perfectly shaped one growing among some lichen-covered rocks and snow. There are also some evergreen oaks in the background there, contributing to the green-ness. We were showing some visiting friends around the area and for some reason I just decided to grab my old Nikon D70 that I haven't used for years, and throw a lens on it for walking around.  On close inspection, the quality of this image is really awful compared to what I'm used to.. I guess technology really HAS improved a lot over the last 6-7 years.  I plan to go back to this spot on a similar day and get it on film, or at least a decent digital capture when I get a chance. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rainy Grove

A rather simple one from Utah, and not so many leaves left in this particular spot, but this is more about the random vertical lines of the aspen trees than the leaves anyway.  Once again, I shot this rather quickly between rain showers.  I was glad to put up with a little wetness though, because I love the light and colors you get from this kind of mixed-bag weather.
If predictions are correct, we may very well see our first snow of the season this weekend here in the San Jacinto Mountains area of southern California.  I'm kind of looking forward to it... nothing much more photogenic than fresh snow on a forest of pines and cedars, so maybe a chance to shoot some interesting stuff without having to travel... we'll see. Might be only rain and fog at this elevation where we live; we're often right on the rain/snow line early and late in the season, but either way, won't be long before I have some fantastic winter scenery to work with.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SkyWatch: Rain, but No Rainbow

Rain showers falling off to the east of Bryce Canyon, as seen from Rainbow Point, the southern-most and highest elevation stop on the road. The sun wasn't right to produce the namesake rainbow, I guess. This is a more colorful view of the canyon than in my last few posts from  here.... rain on the red rock just brings out those beautiful deep hues and an active sky is always key for me:)  Large view enabled for this one.. enjoy!
Check out the SkyWatch homepage every weekend for more interesting sky images from around the world.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nature's Museum

There is a fairly significant stand of Bristlecone Pines at the far south point of Bryce Canyon, just past the end of the road at Rainbow Point.  It's also the highest point  in the Canyon at over 9000ft (2743m).  I actually had not been here on previous visits... and as I mentioned in my last post, we got turned back while on the way to find a really big area of Bristlecones the day before, so I was determined to at least get to this one, thunder or no... and it WAS thundering, but far enough away to feel somewhat comfortable. Actually this shot would probably not be anywhere near as interesting without the threatening sky.
Most of the trees in this location are fairly young and green, unlike the really gnarly old ones found in the White Mountains of California, as I posted an example of here. I suppose this one keeled over hundreds of years ago and now sits like some abstract sculpture watching over the edge of the Canyon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Watercolor Aspens

After driving quite a ways down some rough dirt roads in search of a large stand of bristlecone pines in the Ashdown Gorge area below Cedar Breaks that I had read about, we did actually find the spot, but couldn't go up there because it was raining with thunder and lightening, and didn't seem such a good idea to venture out on an exposed slope with a camera and tripod. We waited a while... but the black cloud kept sitting right there, so decided to turn back and save that location for another time.  I did manage to get in a few setups between showers on the way back up the road, however.  This scene really reminded me of a watercolor painting. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Warm and Cool

I hope everyone is not too tired of fall scenery yet, because I have a lot of it coming up:) I must say, it's really good to get back to creating some new work after taking most of the year off to deal with moving and resettlement issues.  All that stuff is pretty much set for now, so with luck I can stay on a creative roll for a while.  The weather is finally changing here in the mountains as we get later into the fall and I should be able to find some interesting subjects locally as we move into winter.
We were lucky to pick just the right time and the right area to stay in Utah this year.. I could get up before the sun and drive only a couple of minutes down the road each morning to a great spot for the twilight and first light, then return to the lodge for breakfast, allowing my wife to sleep in and not have to stand around freezing and bored. The colors were absolutely peak perfect everywhere and even the weather cooperated; that's usually the wild card that you can't do anything about, given the narrow time frame of the trees' schedule.  I found a great variety of subjects within this one small area, which is always a convenient and relaxing way to work and bagging some good shots early makes the rest of the day seem more relaxed.. kind of takes off the pressure to get out and find that perfect scene and light.
I decided to leave the slight blue cast of the cold early morning light in the brighter areas of this image.. it makes for such a nice color combination with the yellow of the aspens and the cool green grass; kind of a fantasy look in the soft light.   

Thursday, October 28, 2010

SkyWatch: Head's in the Clouds

No kidding.. we WERE in the clouds all last week.  Nothing but fog, rain and cold every day, until Sunday when it started to clear up a bit.  Right after a storm is usually a great time for beautiful skies, so I was heading out to Joshua Tree for an afternoon of shooting among the rocks.  On the way down our mountain (Mt. San Jacinito) I had to hit the brakes and grab a quick panorama of this scene, looking across to the 11,500ft. (3505m) Mt. San Gorgonio sitting there quite contentedly, with it's peak clear and above the clouds.  Click the image for a bigger view on this one~!
For those of you not familiar with southern California, the I-10 freeway that heads directly from LA to Palm Springs, Phoenix and beyond is running directly below that low-level cloud layer... Palm Springs is just about 15 miles to the right.  The area you see in the foreground shows the foothills of Mt. San Jacinito and was devastated by a major fire in 2006.  Looks kind of recovered now from this far away, but up close you can still see evidence of the recent burning.  It was started by a nut job arsonist down near the freeway during a Santa Ana (powerful, hot, easterly winds that we tend to get in the Fall) wind event, with the intention of burning up the whole mountain, I suppose, but luckily it never got up into the forest where we live.. had that happened it would have been even worse that it was. 35 homes and 20 or so other buildings were destroyed and five firefighters were killed when they were suddenly overrun by the flames while defending some houses in the area that you can see in this shot. The guy who started it was convicted of arson and murder last year and sentenced to death.
Visit the SkyWatch site every weekend for beautiful sky shots from all around the world.
More fall colors from Utah coming up next...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Serenity in Blue and Gold

After my last, rather long-winded post I'll try to keep it short and sweet for today.  So enough of the technical talk and back to the pretty pictures:)
While in Utah, we stayed just a mile or so from this peaceful little aspen-rimmed lake, named appropriately enough Aspen Mirror Lake, so I was able to get out there quite easily every morning before dawn and have the whole place to myself for a while, before even the fishermen showed up.
I will just mention that I needed no post-processing at all on this piece.. shot it on Velvia 100 and took it right from the scan, as-is.  Velvia is so naturally vibrant and saturated that you really don't need to do much if you get the exposure right... love it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why Film Still Rocks

I don't talk about techniques or equipment very often, because there are so many blogs and websites devoted to those subjects already... and I am generally more concerned about the artistic result, not how I get there. Today's post will be an exception, so if you're not into the finer points of image quality and printing your work, this one probably won't interest you much.
Many, perhaps most, people are satisfied if their photos look good on their blog or on-line photo gallery, which is fine and good... and almost any image WILL look fine in those environments. I won't imply that any tool or technology is right or wrong, but I wanted to try to explain how and why my own particular method has changed. 
So as an example, here at the top we have a full frame 4"x5" image that I just shot in Utah, scanned from a Fujifilm Velvia color transparency. (This is not the actual full-resolution image, of course, but the following crops are. Please click on the full frame for a bigger version first, though).
This was scanned at 1200 ppi, which resulted in a 5735 x 4584 (26.3 megapixel) image and a 75+MB file size (.tif format... a jpeg file would be much smaller, but jpegs are destructive, as you know:)  This is nowhere near the maximum resolution that film can be scanned, it just makes an easily manageable file size for most common purposes, i.e. web posting or small-to-medium sized prints.  In this case, if printed at 240 ppi, which I find to be very adequate on my printer, the resulting print would measure 19" x 24", a pretty healthy size for framing. Bigger than that, I would simply increase the scan resolution to 2400 ppi, or more if necessary.  The film itself remains intact and unchanged as your analog "RAW" file.. you can always go back and start over from the original source, just as you would from a digital RAW file.
To demonstrate the incredible amount of visual information captured here, I have framed four quite small areas of the larger image in pink and included a 100%, full-resolution crop of each highlighted area, so you can see the detail to be had. Click on each to get the full 1-1 pixel resolution. These are unadjusted and unsharpened, as is the top full frame, other than the standard optimization used during scanning. With a little work any of them could stand alone, I think. Pretty cool, eh? Notice the clarity and definition in the blades of grass, tree bark, small twigs and the individual leaves (you can count 'em if you want!) and the lack of colors bleeding into each other from overblown pixels, or fringing in high contrast areas that you often see in digital-capture files.
The last sample is a side-by-side matchup to a digital capture, shot from almost the same spot one day before.. I tried to get as close to the same spot as possible with the crop.. (you can see a round spot on the rock and a tilted tree that match) and you will notice how it resembles an impressionist painting by comparison. I did add a little sharpening to the digital image to make it half-way comparable. Honestly, I was kind of stunned at the difference. Now to be fair, my digital camera is no longer state-of-the-art at 12 MP, but even the highest-end current DSLRs costing $7 - 8K barely touch this resolution, which as I said, is actually pretty low for medium or large format film. I suspect a medium format digital capture would look very close, but medium format (6x6, 6x7, etc) digital cameras/backs can easily cost the equivalent of a luxury car before you even talk about lenses, accessories, etc. This becomes a cost/benefit situation.  The cheapest digital back that would fit on my Mamiya 6x7 starts at a cool $10K for 22MP, just for the back... and I can buy a whole lotta film for $10K. (And, the film is still better, just less CONVENIENT). The new Leaf/Aptus 80MP back goes for about $32K.. I can easily produce an 80MP file from this transparency without spending another penny. There are some more "affordable" medium format digital cameras coming out around $10K (Pentax 645D), but we'll have to wait and see how they do, I'm not sure where the market is for something like that.  The camera that took this photo cost me under $1000 brand new (it is beautifully hand-made by a small company of large-format enthusiasts in China and is a work of art in itself), plus a nice, good-as-new German made lens that I picked up on EBay for $350. Unlike a digital camera, it will not be out of date next year... or in 10 years. The basic design has already been around for the better part of a century.  Workflow after scanning is exactly the same.. process with Adobe Camera RAW as far as possible, add adjustment layers in Photoshop to fine tune... and then off to print, website, or wherever. I actually find I need less messing around with "film raw".. the colors are richer and more right-on right from the start.
Does any of this matter to the "quality" of a photograph?  Yes and no.  It certainly can't improve improve the light, the composition, the color, the timing, the concept.. all those things that make up a good photograph as a whole, but there IS a certain expectation and respect for detail and print quality when it comes to landscape art, so from that perspective it is certainly a big advantage in at least one area. Disadvantages? Without doubt more cumbersome and slow to work with, no zoom lenses, no sophisticated built in light meter, no instant preview, no instant 5 shot bracketing to cover your exposure mistakes, but somehow it just feels more like the "real deal", at least the way I originally learned and fell in love with it, and had almost forgotten.
I think that's enough about large format, for today at least. Shooting in medium format is much closer to working with a typical digital SLR, while image detail remains superior... and it's very cost-effective. I find it to be an excellent compromise. I'll talk a little about that sometime soon.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Now there IS an actual area of Bryce named Fairyland Point, but this is NOT it:) I just thought the name so appropriate for this scene, taken not too long after the one in my last post... these clouds are the fringe areas of the storm seen in that shot.  I don't think you can find shapes and textures like this anywhere else in the world.  Although the colors here are fantastic, I find them almost a distraction in a heavily textured view like this, especially in mid-day light where they are much too harsh for my taste, thus the black and white treatment. For most of the day, the clouds were softening the light, making it much nicer to work in color and the rain showers really seem to intensify the red in the soil when it gets wet.
Color stuff coming up next....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sky Watch: Clouds with Virga Over the Canyon

I'll be regaling you all with countless, serene scenes of Fall color from Utah soon enough, but I thought I'd tease you with some black and white in the meantime.  This one just looks more foreboding in monochrome:)   I'm really disappointed if I travel somewhere to shoot and see nothing but blue skies... in this case the forecast held true and we had lots of interesting weather to go with the beautiful colors.  (No snow like I experienced a couple of years ago during the same weekend, though.)  This thunderstorm started as a little puff of cloud in the mid-morning and grew very rapidly as we were making our way down Bryce Canyon from point to point (my wife had never been here), finally dumping rain... and cooling the temperature from comfortable in a tee shirt to cool in a jacket, in a matter of a few minutes. It was pretty much like this every day, so a couple of times during the trip we had to give up or hurry up due to thunder and lightning, but overall it was very worth it for scenes like this and the temperature was quite pleasant the whole time.
Visit the SkyWatch home page each Friday for more great sky pics from all around the world.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Color Crazy

  Well, the redwood decks are all sanded and refinished, the woodshed is built and stocked with firewood, the new generator  is up and running and ready for emergencies... Ahh. At last I'll be off to color heaven in southern Utah.. I can think of no better place to be at this time of year. Even though we now live in a beautiful mountain environment and at pretty high elevation, we get hardly any fall color.. only the oak trees change and they mostly just go brown. Everything else around here is pine and cedar, so it remains green all winter... (very pretty in the fresh snow, however).
The forecast where we're heading: high elevation foliage at PEAK, mid elevation: near peak, skies: partly cloudy every day, with a chance of thunderstorms (excellent.. love those stormy clouds), temperature: around 70 during the day and 50's at night... made to order I'd say. Hope it holds true.
I'll be shooting mostly film this trip which I have not done for a number of years, so I expect my pace to be slower and more contemplative.. it promotes a mindset closer to that of a painter.  We'll have to wait and see how the end results compare to my recent all-digital stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Good Glass is Forever

Yes, a long time since my last post... but I've been busy behind the scenes, I swear...
This little stream view is from a field testing session last week, a few miles up the road from home. I had no intention of shooting anything worth looking at, I just wanted to run some new lenses (and this one old one) through their paces to verify that everything works as it should (unlike with digital, you can't just press the preview and see what you've done).  This Schneider 135mm lens has been sitting in a closet at my father's house in Massachusetts since I finished school (more than 30 years ago-wow!), but I was pretty sure that it could still work, so I had him dig it out and mail to me here in California... I especially wanted to shoot the same scene under the same conditions with both this and 2 newer Rodenstock lenses I recently bought that are the best you can get. I was prepared for this one to pale by comparison, but surprised to find that I can see little if any difference in sharpness, so I guess this will do fine as a "normal" range lens (135-150mm in 4x5 format is equivalent to 50mm in 35 format) without any further shopping, at least for now. Back in my student days I used to use this on an old Crown Graphic press camera.. I still have that too, but am not planning to coax that back into service anytime soon:)
Why mess around with film in this day and age you ask?  That's what I have been asking for years too.. I loved digital right from the start and will continue to use it, especially for paying work, but recently I've been feeling the need shake up my way of thinking and working artistically... getting back to the "old" ways, so to speak. I'm sure moving away from the big city to a slower paced life had a lot to do with it. Seeing these first samples of Fuji Velvia back from the lab with their incredible, clean detail and rich color convinced me it is certainly the right decision. Really just a matter of adding some new tools/options to the old bag of tricks. If you like to produce large prints, like me, then there are some definite quality advantages too, that I will talk about coming up...
Too bad I ran out of DOF in the upper right corner here, otherwise I kind of like this shot, but I was only experimenting after all. (A little tilt on the front standard would have fixed that, but I forgot!)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tree and Hoodoos (Diggin' in the Archives)

Southern Utah, just inside the east entrance of Zion N.P., from Fall, 2008. I realized I have a good number of exposures from this trip that I have never even processed, let alone printed. I guess I was so concentrated on the foliage shots when I got home that I put some of this other, less seasonal stuff on the back burner and never went back.  Late September - early October in the area is just about as good as it gets if you love the outdoors (and photography)... the foliage of the aspens in the high country, the brisk air and the soft light are all truly outstanding. In this particular area you can park by the road, gather your gear and wander freely up on the rocks for hours without being disturbed by another soul, while you explore the amazing shapes and textures.  I really have to get back there this fall.
I'm still a few weeks away (I know, I keep saying that.. but seems like it never ends) from finishing up critical work on the new house and finally getting free to make some trips, so I'll be relegated to retracing more old steps in the meantime.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

End of an Era

One of the last seascapes I made before moving away from San Diego.  Kind of an uninspired shot, at least to me, perhaps because I know pretty much every person in the city with a camera and tripod has probably shot this scene at some time.. I tried to resist but finally stopped on the way home one night when the timing seemed right.
Actually I am still back in town more than I had planned to deal with clients and the wife still wants to shop there, but I guess that is not altogether a bad thing... good to be busy.  Anyway, this is sort of my farewell postcard shot.
Still struggling to get out and do some new work, or even dig up and write about older stuff on here recently.. my mind is always on something still to be done around the new house.. summer is short here in the mountains and I need to finish some things while the finishing is good.
Probably it's the change of pace and quiet surroundings after so many years of city life in Boston and SD, but I am also inspired to be wading back into the weird and esoteric world of large format film photography.. something I have not done for more years than I want to talk about. (Not giving up digital completely, no way). But, it was the thing that first inspired me while in school and many of the photographers that did originally or still do impress me work in that medium, so I'm going to give it another go as soon as I can assemble a workable rig out of some old equipment I already have and some newer stuff too.  I have some thoughts about how I want to work with it and at the very least it should make for some real interesting topics of discussion here soon.  Filter factors, bellows factors, depth of field, reciprocity... my head hurts already!  Stay tuned:)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Monster

I must admit I've been back and forth on this one more than a few times. I liked it quite a lot initially, then began to feel that it was not really that interesting, now I am back to liking it again! I've said it before, but it normally takes me some months or even more to get "detached" from images to the point where I can really judge them impartially, like seeing someone else's work for the first time.  Some other photographers I've talked to say the same thing.
This shot definitely makes me think of some alien spider creature about to chop off my tripod legs for daring to take it's picture. In reality, it's the remnants of an ancient Bristlecone Pine, probably laying very still right here in this spot at 10,000 ft. elevation in California's White Mountains, for many hundreds if not thousands of years. Click the image for a larger view on this one.. the texture of the wood is amazing.
I wish the redwood decks on my house were this durable.. I am going to be spending most of the summer repairing and refinishing them:)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Evening on the Lake

Some tufa formations along the shoreline of Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierras, just as the sun set behind the peaks off to the west. The eastern entrance to Yosemite is just over there past the lake.  These towers are actually mineral deposits that formed as springs bubbled up from underground when this spot was under water, not all that long ago.  A thirsty Los Angeles drained Owens Lake down river from here in it's quest for water earlier last century (if you've seen the classic "Chinatown", that movie is loosely based around the story) and Mono Lake dropped to a fraction of it's former size also.  Efforts are under way now to let it refill to something like it's original size.  A much-photographed location, but you have to have some time in the area or be very lucky to nail an exceptional shot in one visit. This one's o.k. but I hope to get back for another stab at it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Geometric Puzzle

I finally decided to take a day off from working around the house and head out for a rare (lately) day shooting some new work. Joshua Tree N.P. is now only 80 miles or so from home (and the most photogenic location in my area), so we drove out there for a quick day trip.
This formation known as the Giant Marbles, is one of the most interesting among so many to be found here.. I had never managed to locate it on previous trips, but it was quite easy to find with some quick directions from a ranger at the visitor center. Molten magma that rose up under the earth eons ago, solidified, cracked and was then exposed when the softer soil eroded away, explains the geometric stacking effect. The soft light on the rocks is just a minute or so before the sun set behind a ridge, casting the whole scene into shadow and killing the color... glad I got the composition I wanted just at the right moment. For a sense of scale, the round "marble" balancing on the top is probably 5-6 ft. diameter.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Back to Work... (soon)

I know, I know, it's been quite a while since my last post. Moving is an all-consuming thing, but finally we are resettled and getting organized again.  Hopefully I can get back to doing some creative work in the next few weeks, although I still have lots of work to do around our new house.  Looking ahead, a big plus of living here, besides how beautiful it is, is going to be that I am now 2 hours closer to my favorite shooting locations in Arizona, Utah and the Sierras.  We're real close.. less that 1 hour.. from Joshua Tree N.P. too, which is going to be great.  Although I've been coming to the mountains where we now live for many years, I've had very little chance to get many good images locally, due to not being here all that much...  but now that we are full time I expect that I can get some interesting results.
My Skywatch scene for today is from last year's trip to Monument Valley in NE Arizona.   Another one of those that I almost passed up because I was dog tired and on my way back to the car to call it a day, but just had to set up one more time to get this gorgeous sky over the red-rock butte.  Never put your camera back in the bag until you're actually at home and it's pitch black dark outside:)
You can view more beautiful skies from all over the world each week here at the SkyWatch home page.  
At the root of creativity is an impulse to understand, to make sense of random and often unrelated details. For me, photography provides an intersection of time, space, light, and emotional stance. One needs to be still enough, observant enough, and aware enough to recognize the life of the materials, to be able to 'hear through the eyes. - Paul Caponigro

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Somewhere I'd Rather Be

Seems like forever since I've been out to do any serious shooting.  What with selling our city home and all that entails: paperwork, inspections, packing, getting rid of old furniture,'s just impossible right now. As for the blog.. it's not that I don't have plenty of work in the can that I could post, it's just that I have been in the habit of at least trying to add some useful information about each piece, rather than just toss it out there with no context or explanation, so bear with me until we get resettled.
This is Calf Creek Falls, found about 3 miles up a canyon in south central Utah.. a very hot hike up a loose, sandy trail in the summer, with the sun beating down and very little breeze, but cool and refreshing when you finally arrive.  I stayed several hours, trying to work around all the waders constantly walking into my frames, while enjoying a bit of the coolness myself in between.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

Today I was scanning through old folders, looking for something and came across this post idea which I had planned a while ago... and then forgot about.
I always say that you can't overstate the importance of planning... and even more, of allowing yourself enough *time* (and the patience to use it), when dealing with nature.  How often can you just drive or walk somewhere, set up and get the optimal shot right off the bat?  Hey, it happens and it's great when it does, but pretty rare, right?  Sooo many times, I have been all alone in a crazy-beautiful spot enjoying perfect light and shooting like mad after everyone else has left (or yet to arrive)!
I shot these two versions of one scene about 5-6 years ago at the Grand Canyon in Arizona and I think they make a good illustration of being rewarded for taking some time to analyze what is happening, or about to happen. I was with family here, sightseeing, and tempted to settle for the first shot and just move on.. I mean, it's not horrible, but I knew the sun was low and bound to peek through a break in the post-thunderstorm clouds, if I could hang with it for a little while. Luckily in this case, it was only about 3 minutes later... and I was quite glad I waited. (Slight change in composition, too, as you can see). I had probably less than a minute of sweet light before it was gone for good. This kind of late afternoon side-lighting has a particular character that I really love... and I would have to say it brings lot more impact and life to the shot than the flat shadow lighting of the other version, don't you think?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Photographer Contemplates...

This fellow photographer ended up in a bunch of my compositions one particular evening.. he seemed so enthralled with the beautiful sunset sky that he wasn't too busy shooting. Don't know if he was thinking about his foreground setup at all either, being out there on the edge, but to each his own:)... and very nice of him to stand so still for the 8 seconds duration of this exposure.  It didn't bother me much, because I knew I could easily remove him from the scene later if necessary and I just went on undisturbed.  If there's a whole bunch of gawkers standing in the scene, that CAN get to be a problem.  I left him in here this time because I think the figure adds a bit of story to the shot. You might question my choice to render such a colorful scene in monochrome, but I have so many color versions of this already and I like it this way.. your mind's eye fills in the colors and the textures of the rocks, sea and cloud are so awesome all by themselves.  
My posts (and comments, sorry) will probably continue to be irregular for the near future.. the practicalities of life sometimes intrude on creative endeavors and that is my story for now.  In short, we are preparing to leave the city life and move full time to our house in a small village high in the southern California mountains, so life is going to change drastically, but first there is a lot to deal with here as you can imagine. More info on this as it occurs, I suppose.  In the meantime I don't have much opportunity to travel or work on new stuff, but it should all be better in the end.
You can view more beautiful skies from all over the world each week here at the SkyWatch home page.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

California Sky Watchin' - Rocky Shore and Pastel Clouds

I rarely come away empty handed when I head over to this spot late in the day.. almost every evening it's somewhere between simply beautiful and mind-blowing, especially in winter, so I try to take advantage at this time of year.
If I painted this sky, I'd probably want to start over because it almost doesn't look real, but here you go. No HDR or exposure combination necessary here, either.  This is a straightforward shot except for some very basic adjustments. (I do love the graduated filter process that was added to Camera RAW in CS4.. what a great tool and no more messing around with grad filters in the field for me.)
It was still spitting rain after a storm this day, so the rocks were even more slippery than normal.. those dark and mossy areas that you can see are like walking on pure grease or wet ice.. especially dangerous as it gets dark and if your concentration is not on your feet.  But, so far, so good for me.. only a few near-disaster pratfalls that I managed to recover from.  My wife wasn't so lucky a few months ago.. one afternoon we were just walking here enjoying the day and the waves, when she slipped and split her forearm open; we then spent the next half day at the emergency room waiting for her to get seven stitches.. luckily it wasn't bleeding at all while we were waiting. It turned out to be a very expensive afternoon stroll, however. 
Check out more great skies from all around the world each week at the SkyWatch home page.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I'm currently involved in an ongoing studio project for a client that requires a lot of shooting and processing, so it's tapping my photographic time and energy a bit... resulting in a slowdown of posts here on the blog. Not complaining though, because at least it pays well:)
In the meantime, here is a "rainy-day" project from the past weekend.. reprocessing a view of the Kolob Canyons area of Zion N.P. in Utah, that I shot several years ago.  A bit hard to tell since this is in monochrome, but that is snow on the lower slopes, as this was shot on a bitter cold New Year's Eve morning.  A lot of people totally bypass this area in favor of the park's main canyon an hour to the south... although it is literally right on the major I-15 freeway, midway between St. George and Cedar City. The freeway exit goes directly into the park and it is only a couple of miles up a smooth road to this spot.  You can just stop anywhere at the many turnouts for views like this (It was so deserted on the day I was here, that I was able to set up my tripod right in the middle of the road), or there are several easy hiking trails that wind up into the backcountry.  A truly majestic scene if you are ever in the area.
Leaving aside the mysteries and the inequities of human talent, brains, taste, and reputations, the matter of art in photography may come down to this: it is the capture and projection of the delights of seeing;
it is the defining of observation full and felt.
- Walker Evans

Friday, February 26, 2010

Whoosh! Whump! Boom!... Sunset Cliffs

One of the more dramatic results from an afternoon spent watching post-storm waves crash into the rocks at probably our best local surfing/wave-watching spot.  You can't easily get down to beach level here (and wouldn't really want to on a day like this anyway), but there are some nice outcroppings where you can climb down fairly low and shoot back towards shore for a great view with reasonable safety. Amazing how tricky it can be to get the right composition to combine with the just right instant of the waves breaking.. but I sure can watch and work on it for a very long time without getting bored. 
Although the color of the waves was quite nice, I found it to be kind of distracting and decided that I preferred a monochrome approach. A few lucky people get to live right here, as you can see at the top of the frame... not a bad spot for your house, huh?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Mathematics of Nature

Bryce Canyon Sunrise - Utah
Something a little different for this post, inspired by a TV documentary that I saw a few months back, about mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot.
We tend to think of math and geometry as applying to man-made objects.. they have width, height, length and angles that can be expressed and measured in ways that we are familiar with. Nature on the other hand, may seem to be random and chaotic, totally free from the laws of math and geometry. Not so. Mandebrot discovered the formulas that can express most forms of nature in mathematical terms.. it's just a different kind of math, known as "fractals"... the term that he coined for it.
In reality, many of the the most amazing things in the natural world follow these fractal formulas: trees and plants, waves, mountain ranges, canyons, clouds, coastlines, even the capillaries within our bodies are all examples.
I'm strictly a visual person, certainly no math whiz... (one year of engineering in college and I realized that my calling was going to be elsewhere), but it's interesting to realize that everything really is tied together, art and science, if you look at it from the right perspective.  I leave it to you to read further if you're interested... I came across a really cool website that explains a lot of this in very visual and easy to understand terms here.. most artists, photographers and just plain nature lovers will think: "wow.. this makes total sense!", when they look at these pages.  It goes into other art-realated topics also, such as the "golden proportion", known by artists for centuries, and seems to be part of our innate, human sense of beauty. 
So, what is an artist's interest in all this? Well, computers have made the application of fractal formulas easy and practical.  The other images here (click for a larger view) are ones that I generated using a 3D terrain modeling software. The natural features... rocks, clouds, dunes and even the textures, are all created with fractal math.. there is no actual picture mapping utilized anywhere in the image.  I didn't go all out with the detail.. I could keep working for an even more photo-realistic effect, but this is good enough for a comparison to the real photo of Bryce Canyon at the top of this post.
It's basically "virtual photography"... the "camera" acts just like the real deal.. move it around as you wish, select the focal length, depth of field..everything.  Of course all the basic principles apply: composition, texture, color theory and lighting.  If only the real world was so easy though... you can literally carve and move mountains, then choose the time of day, along with a control of the elements limited only by your imagination. If you've watched a sci-fi, fantasy or animated movie in the last ten years or so, you've surely seen a much more sophisticated use of this technology, but this was done just sitting here at home on my everyday computer.  The tree was an afterthought as I was writing and took about 5 minutes to compose and render!

Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles,
and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.
—Mandelbrot, in his introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feelin' Abstract

It's a rare day out that I don't spend at least part of my time focusing on abstract details.. sometimes just to kill time while waiting on the light, or sometimes because I find some genuinely interesting subjects. Much of it turns out to be junk of course, but every once in a while I snag one that looks just right somehow, at least to my eye. Very much a matter of personal taste; some people find the "picture" in this pure shape/color/texture and others don't react to it at all, but Mother Nature is an abstract expressionist, for sure.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lush Green in the Deep Forest

This is Russian Gulch Falls, found about a mile up an easy trail in the redwood forest just outside the little town of Mendocino in northern California. I've always loved the light that was present on this day.. you might not expect the shady, deep forest to have much character light-wise, but as you can see, it does. There is a super soft quality to the already cloudy light filtering through the canopy of trees that highlights the greens, but still allows the beautiful deep shadows in the rocks and decaying wood.
Of the 3 main wine country regions in northern California (the others being Napa and Sonoma), Mendocino is the most remote and least commercialized. The winding road to get here travels past gorgeous vineyards in the Anderson Valley, straight into dark redwood forests and along the wild rocky coast up to the town, which is full of art galleries and boutiques but still manages to remind you of the nineteenth century.
I really wish this area was a little closer to home for me.. it's a bit too far to drive unless we're staying for a while, so we have to fly to Oakland and still drive 3 hours from there... well worth it though.
What I feel is that the picture-taking process, anyway a greater part of it, is an intuitive thing. You can't go out and logically plan a picture, but when you come back, reason then takes over and verifies or rejects whatever you've done. So that's why I say that reason and intuition are not in conflict--they strengthen each other.
- Wynn Bullock

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some Magical Light

This little tree resides in the community park near my house, where I walk most days near sunset after hard hours at the computer. Normally, this would be nothing to even turn my head for, but one day a few weeks ago, for a few fleeting moments as I was walking by, this beautiful light from the setting sun illuminated the tree against the colorful, wintery sky. This also was caught with my phone.. I truly regret I didn't have a "real" camera with me.. but hey, I think this is a lot better than nothing, even though it will be forever relegated to greeting card size prints.
Funny how it works.. sometimes you can travel a long distance, wait for hours for something to happen and then maybe it does, maybe it doesn't; other times you're just walking by and see something really incredible.. how often have YOU been in that situation and wanted to kick yourself for being unprepared?

Check out other beautiful skies from around the world or post your own at the SkyWatch home page.