Archive for May 2015

Single-Image Sunday: Cataldo Mission   2 comments

I’ve been away from the wonderful worldwide web for awhile.  Hope you all have been good!  It has also been quite a long time since I’ve traveled through this part of the country; namely the Idaho panhandle.  I really like the little town of Coeur d’Alene, sitting alongside a big beautiful lake.

Cataldo is a historic Jesuit mission, the oldest building in Idaho.  It dates from 1850.  Obviously it has been restored, and quite nicely!  Located not far east of Coeur d’Alene and now a state park, it lies just off the freeway.  Nevertheless, I’ve never noticed it before now.  I saw the sign and pulled off, just at nightfall.  But the park was closed.

I could see the photographic possibilities from the road.  The attractive building was lighted up and the timing (blue hour) couldn’t have been better.  So I quickly grabbed my tripod and snuck up past the gate.  I snatched a few shots and stole away into the night.

Cataldo Mission, Idaho

Gorton Creek’s Cascades   9 comments

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorton Creek tumbles down one of the formerly not well known little side-canyons in the Columbia River Gorge.  Now, like the Gorge itself, it is fairly popular with photographers.  This verdant place is even on many photo workshop itineraries.  That’s because it’s a short hike in, is very green, and has two lovely waterfalls that are not well visited generally.

Parking at the end of the campground just off the Wyeth exit, a 1/4-mile walk will take you to the first falls, which is so small it has no official name.  The second one, called Gorton Creek Falls, involves either scrambling up along the steep left side of the creek on a user-made path, or hopping rocks and logs along the creek proper, and probably getting your feet wet.  It’s only another 1/4 mile up the creek.

Gorton Creek Falls.

The second method is good if you want to get pictures along the creek, but it’s best to have shoes or sandals that can get wet.  The potential shots are more numerous when water is high, in late winter and early spring.  This year the water is fairly low, which means it’s easier to hop rocks up the creek but harder to get good creek shots (in my opinion).

In fact on this recent visit, for the first time, I didn’t do any creek pictures, only shooting the two waterfalls.  The bottom image is from a previous year, in high spring flow.  The more rain, the greener everything is.  So it’s wise to try and plan a trip to the Gorge during or at the end of a wet springtime.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek's verdant little canyon.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek’s verdant little canyon.

Friday Foto Talk: Photography Today – The Great (and not so great)   11 comments

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

I’ll be doing a series of short posts on what I like and don’t like about the current state of photography.  It won’t be every Friday; boy would that be a mistake!   But occasionally I’ll let my opinions fly, starting today with how easy it is to get started in photography.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

LIKES:  Today we have digital, and that has made a big difference in the ease of getting into photography.  Although I don’t think that digital camera gear is especially cheap, I do agree the price points at which you can enter are always expanding.  Especially when the plentiful amount of used gear is considered, there is room for most anyone with some spare money to start shooting.

  • DSLR (and now mirrorless) cameras, while they may not be much easier to operate than film SLRs, are much easier to use to get good exposure & focus and to control contrast and other basics of a good image.


  • I love not worrying about how much film I have, and the experimentation that fosters.  I don’t know what I’d do if I had to limit the number of shots I take.  I like choosing to limit them from time to time, but I don’t want to be forced to.


  • The ability to control the process from capture to finish (without building a darkroom and exposing yourself to chemicals) is a great advance.  If we had to do all our own post-processing, this development might represent a “tyranny of choice”, but there are plenty of options for shipping out your images for outside post-processing.

Weather in the Columbia River Gorge.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

DISLIKES:  This increased ease of entry has led to many many relatively new photographers.  While this isn’t at all bad by itself, it does lead to quite a few unfortunate byproducts:

  • My number one dislike is the illusion that to produce images of professional quality (whatever that means), all you need to do is follow a formula, one that begins with buying the latest and greatest gear.  Yes the increased ease of use inherent in digital photography means you can advance quite rapidly.  But I strongly believe it remains extremely difficult to become a great photographer.  That’s because it’s about much more than gear, technical knowledge, or even technique.
Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.

Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.


  • An increase in the number of ‘teachers’ of photography is probably contributing to my prime dislike above.  I was a teacher (of science) for a number of years, and while I do not think one needs to go to school to become a good teacher, I do think there are far too many teaching photography who don’t bother to learn a bit about how to teach.  Rather they are simply doing it because of demand and the fact it is one of the few ways to make money doing travel, nature and landscape photography.


  • I also cringe at some of the things these self-described experts pass along.  Just one example:  too many don’t seem to realize photography is an art form and needs to be practiced as such.  It’s not simply a way to create images that are similar to theirs, those that get a lot of likes and ‘wows’ online.


Bella the Magnificent!


  •  While I like the fact that easy entry has put a camera in the hands of those who may have never tried, and who happen to have great natural talent, it unfortunately allows many others to participate in the boom.  For instance, I don’t think all the gear heads and people more interested in slick post-processing should be calling themselves serious photographers.  Now before you think me a snob, I think there is plenty of room for the casual and the serious, the amateur and the pro.  But there does seem to be dilution going on among those who call themselves artists.


  • The strange combination among us humans of competitiveness and the desire to belong (and thus follow others), means that popular photography has become a game of follow the leader (who is getting all the ‘likes’).  If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know how I feel about copying and following what is popular on the web.  I know it is just us being us, but it squelches genuine artistic impulse.


  • For pros, the flood of new photographers has meant an erosion in the dollar value of their photography.  This is a minor dislike for me, but I certainly don’t like being asked to give away my work to those who can afford it, or having to cut prices just because a bunch of photographers (who don’t need it for income) have inexplicably allowed their images to be used for pennies on the dollar.

Okay, now it sounds like I’m ranting, so I’ll stop.  Otherwise you all might think I’m just an old curmudgeon!  Have a great weekend!

Dusk on the Columbia River.




For Those Who Hurt On Mother’s Day   3 comments

john pavlovitz


Today is Mother’s Day.

For many people that means flowers and handmade cards and brunches and hugs and laughter. It means celebration and gratitude and rejoicing.

But for some it just means tears.

For many moms and adult children out there, this day is a stark unsolicited reminder of what was but no longer is, or it is a heavy holiday of mourning what never was at all.

This day might bring with it the scalding sting of grief for the empty chair around a table.

It might come with choking regret for a relationship that has been horribly severed.

It might be a day of looking around at other mothers and other children, and feeling the unwelcome intrusion of jealousy that comes with comparison.

Consider this a love letter to you who are struggling today; those whose Mother’s Day experience might be rather bittersweet— or perhaps only bitter.

This is consent to feel fully the contents of your own…

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Posted May 9, 2015 by MJF Images in Uncategorized

Friday Foto Talk: Simple vs. Complex   5 comments

My girl in the late afternoon sun:  it doesn't get much simpler than that.

My girl in the late afternoon sun: doesn’t get much simpler than that!

A lot of my Friday Foto Talk posts have been quite long and involved, so much so that I’ve had to split them up into parts, or installments.  In keeping with the week’s topic, this one will be as short and simple as I can make it.

Many people recommend keeping your photographs as simple as possible.  Pick a strong subject and exclude everything else.  It’s good advice, but as usual only as far as it goes.  In other words, you won’t be doing a great deal of shooting if you strictly follow that.  There’s more out there than just single-subject compositions.

A young Himba woman in northern Namibia is more than ready for her closeup.

A young Himba woman in northern Namibia is way too beautiful to include much of her surroundings.

My approach is this:

  • I look for cool stuff in places I like to be.
  • I try to time it so that I’m out there shooting that cool stuff in great light.
  • I frame that stuff in my viewfinder in a way that looks cool (shows it to its best advantage).  The only rule I tend to follow when photographing is the rule of thirds, and there are exceptions to that.  All else is situation dependent (and thus not a rule).
  • Before I press the shutter I zoom (with either the lens or my feet) so as to exclude anything that seems extraneous.  Sometimes I zoom in with my feet and zoom out with focal length.
  • I shoot.
  • If the light is still there, I work the subject some.   Most of the time this results in a picture (or three) within the picture, a composition that is narrower than the original.  Usually the effect is to simplify the composition.
  • Later, behind the computer, I will crop down if I change my mind about the composition.  This also simplifies, but at a cost to file size.


A landscape that has its focus the Columbia River, but also includes plenty of tangled forest and other Oregon vegetation.

A landscape that has its focus on the Columbia River, but also includes plenty of forest and other typical Oregon springtime vegetation.

A word about cropping.  Normally I don’t crop much if at all, but that wasn’t the case when I was less experienced.  You have to crop on the computer for awhile before you start cropping in camera; it’s a normal part of learning.  And you don’t want to start cropping in camera because some ‘expert’ said you should, then get back in front of the computer and realize you should have included more in the frame.  Take your time and let it develop naturally.  Instead, just work the subject (see below).

A composition of medium complexity, and the kind of scene you’ll find while hiking above the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, captured in everyday mid-afternoon light.

Now the question is this:  what compositions end up being “better”, the wider angle more complex ones or the zoomed in simpler ones?  It’s one of those loaded questions in photography, the kind you find people answering with way too much certainty.  In fact, you have to answer it when you’re rating your shots.  But I believe, like much else in photography, that it is purely subjective.

There's a lot going on in this image from Death Valley, California too:  the limestones of Rainbow Canyon in the foreground, Panamint Valley with its dunes, and distant Grapevine Mountains.

There’s a lot going on in this image from Death Valley, California: the compressed limestones of Rainbow Canyon in the foreground, Panamint Valley with its dunes, the Panamints and dark Grapevine Mtns.  beyond.

I probably have more keepers that are simple than complex, but that doesn’t mean some of my all time favorite shots aren’t complex.  Complex can be awesome!  But if you have a strong subject, you should try to get a few shots where it is isolated, where anything around it is so out of focus (or vignetted) that anything outside of the subject is unrecognizable.  The subject alone is the picture.

Then go ahead (quickly while the light is good!) and work it so that you get some shots with just a little bit of the subject’s surroundings, whether in soft focus or sharp.  And if it seems right, and especially if the light is great, get some shots where a lot of your subject’s surroundings are included.  Later you can decide which (if any) you like best.

Cactus flowers blooming recently in the desert of southern Utah.

Cactus flowers in bloom recently in the  southern Utah desert.

Keyword all those different compositions, using the same search terms so they will all come up when you’re looking for something.  Later on you may have a use for a shot you didn’t particularly like at first.  I’ve even sold pictures this way, shots that weren’t on my website, even those that didn’t show up here on the blog.

Ooh darn, I think this may be a bit too long and complex.  Oh well…Everybody have a simply fun weekend!

A leafless tree in southern Laos lies in a remote area that was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War.

A bare tree holds on in a remote area of southern Laos that was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War.

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