Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Friday Foto Talk: Shoot what you Know & Love?   13 comments

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

Shoot what you love.  Shoot what you know.  Have you considered these little nuggets of advice lately?  Whether you are a professional, part-timer or serious amateur photographer, you spend enormous resources on your passion.  Of course you spend plenty of money on camera equipment, classes, etc.  But perhaps your biggest investment is time.  We only have so many breaths in this life, and to be engaged in things that are worthwhile and enriching is a common goal for all of us.

Shoot what you love

I assume most of you are like me in that you enjoy photography not only for the sake of it but also for what appears in your viewfinder.  Many of us love to capture beauty, in people as well as in nature.  But plenty of photographers love the intrigue and mystery of things, and try to capture them to cause the viewer to wonder and to question.  Others love to take pictures that tell stories.  Some photographers even like to capture the seamy side or even the downright ugly side of the world.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani's summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani’s summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

I think it is worth remembering from time to time what you like to capture and why.  No matter how abstract your photography becomes, you are still putting yourself in front of real scenes in real life.  We all want to enjoy the time we spend doing this.  What do you love to shoot?  You know, because when you grab your camera and go out with no real goal in mind.  And then you find yourself in front of something or someone, capturing images in the best light you can find, that means you love to shoot that subject.

Documenting a climber's desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

Documenting a climber’s desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

But there might be times when you choose a subject for other reasons.  Perhaps it’s because of the likelihood of making money with the images, or because you know your friends or loved ones will enjoy seeing the pictures.  Perhaps it is simply because that is all that is available, and you feel a strong urge to photograph something.  I don’t particularly love still lifes, for example.  But when I feel that urge and the weather is unsuitable for shooting outside, then I might look for the bowl of fruit or the flowers.

I'm drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

I’m drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

Your decisions on what to shoot are your own of course, but your images will soon begin to impart something that most of us could do without: a label.  You become a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, a macro or wildlife photographer.  You might even be labeled a lifestyle photographer or a wedding photographer.  There are no shortage of labels.  Some of them we apply to ourselves (perhaps in order to market a business) and some are applied by others.  (“Hey Jim, I’d like you to meet Michael, a very good landscape photographer”.  Does this make me feel good?  Would it feel better to be introduced as a very good person?)

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Shoot what you know

I do indeed shoot a lot of landscapes and nature subjects.  But not just because I love it.  This is what I’m most familiar with, and have the most intimate knowledge of.  I also have a good knowledge of wildlife, but sadly my telephoto lens was stolen not long ago and I cannot now afford to replace it.  I’m an astronomy nerd as well.  So I have gotten into shooting starscapes.  In recent times this has become a very popular subject to photograph, so I’m not alone.

I'm a night person and an astro nerd.  The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

I’m a night person and an astro nerd. The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

But it’s funny when I speak to some photographers who do excellent night sky work.  With most I can’t have a lively back and forth with them on astronomy, about the actual objects in the sky, even about constellations and their stories.  All the subjects I shoot I already knew about and I tend to shy away from those subjects I am fairly ignorant of.  Perhaps this is why I don’t shoot many pictures of women!

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter:  Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter: Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

But I’ve found that for many photographers it is the opposite.  They begin to shoot something for other reasons (such as for business reasons as mentioned above) and then proceed to learn about the subject.  This seems a backwards approach to me.  But I’ve learned to appreciate those who actually make the attempt to learn something about what they’re shooting; some can’t be bothered at all.

I love the subtle beauty of nature:  A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

I love the subtle beauty of nature: A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

All of the above verge on being truisms.  But since I tend to reject labels and also really love to do photography of any kind, I think these matters bear considering in a balanced way.  What I mean is that while you should definitely shoot what you love and what you know best, it is also important to mix things up, to not be pigeonholed.  The sooner you consider yourself an artist, the better your images will be.  And good artists explore their art.  They don’t settle (immediately at least) on one type of art and do it to the exclusion of all else.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine:  The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine: The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

In other words, you must break out of your comfort zone from time to time.  That is an overused expression but also a truism.  For one thing, if you love taking pictures, putting yourself in front of any subject will likely leave you feeling like the time was well spent.  Sure you will experience some frustration trying to photograph in a manner with which you are unfamiliar.  Sure your images will probably not be up to your usual standard.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I'm traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I’m traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

But you’ll learn something new and I bet you’ll end up having fun.  There’s another reason to do this.  You could very well discover that you love something that you never thought you would.  I did not know I loved shooting candid street portraits until I began to travel to other countries with my camera.  Now this is one of the things I most look forward to when I travel, and I load up on knowledge of the cultures I visit partly for this purpose.  I’m not sure why I don’t do it at home, but this weekend I will be attending a workshop on available-light portraits.  Heck, I don’t even do workshops, so this is a bold departure for me on two counts.

Misty Cross

I love mood and mystery, perhaps because I rarely find it: a cross stands improbably on the summit of a tropical mountain on the island of Flores.

But while you’re cross-training, or “breaking out of your comfort zone” (if you prefer), remember your core photography.  In other words, just because you don’t like being labeled, don’t ever devalue – even a little bit – those things you love to photograph.  Why is this so important?  I believe it has little to do with photography itself.  You started photographing those subjects because you felt good being in their company.  It does not make any sense to over-think this.

I love wildlife, especially when you can catch them when they seem to be unaware of your presence: a long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

I love capturing images of wildlife, especially when when they seem to be unaware of your presence.  A long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

For example, I have since I was small loved being out in nature.  I loved looking out across wide expanses of land, feeling a brisk wind blow in my face, or the soft crunch of leaves on my belly as I lay on the autumn earth.  I loved spying on a creature going about its daily business, or finding a small sculpture of ice hidden in the snow-covered world of winter.  I loved touching my nose to the flowers or grass and pretending I was an insect seeing the amazing world that lay hidden at my feet.  I did not decide what to shoot when I first picked up a camera.  It had already been decided long before.

Now I”m an adult and I can never fully reclaim the wonder I had as a child.  I know too much, and that gift of knowledge was never meant to be free of charge.  You know how it goes: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form.  That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at.  This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form. That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at. This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

You undoubtedly have similar experiences in your background.  But what about now?  You now have both the freedom of choice and the ability to capture most anything with your camera.  And so there is nothing keeping you from getting out there to explore new subjects; nothing to keep you caged within the four walls of your labels, whether they’re self imposed or placed by others.  By all means shoot what you love and know, but for as long as you and I breathe the world will be a big place.  It will be a place that constantly presents new things to see and experience.  Of course you can photograph these new things as well.  What are you waiting for?

Thanks for looking.  If you’re interested in any of the images just click to access the pricing for high-resolution versions.  These are low-res. and are copyrighted, not available for free download, sorry.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for your interest.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake with a dam-producing landslide.

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Plan B   3 comments

A colorful sunset decorates the winding Columbia River, as viewed from Larch Mountain, Oregon.

A colorful sunset decorates the winding Columbia River, as viewed from Larch Mountain, Oregon.

The alternative, the plan B: what a wonderful aspect of life.  I’m not talking necessarily about the planned-for plan B.  I think it is much more fun to either stumble upon a plan B or come up with one on the fly.  Both happened over the past couple of days when I went out to get late-day photographs.

A vibrant dusk descends on the Columbia River, viewed from Larch Mountain, Oregon.

A vibrant dusk descends on the Columbia River, viewed from Larch Mountain, Oregon.

I am dealing with an injury, so have been hanging around the house a lot.  But the pain is not so much that I can’t force myself to go out for sunset pictures.  On Easter Sunday I headed up to Larch Mountain, which is a mountain near Portland where I live.  I have blogged about this place before.  The view from the top is sublime, and it promised to be a  gorgeous sunset.  It also was destined to be a great example of stumbling upon a plan B.

 On the way up I noticed a few snow patches.  Then I rounded a bend and came upon the closed gate I had been worried about.  The Forest Service had not opened the road yet!  I turned around in utter disappointment and headed back down.  The forest is thick on Larch Mtn., and so views are very hard to come by.  But looking off to the right and seeing an opening, I reacted and whipped over to a wide spot along the shoulder.  With not much time before sunset, I walked into the woods and entered the clearcut I had spotted from the road.

The Columbia River in Oregon is peaceful at sunset.

The Columbia River in Oregon is peaceful at sunset.

Clearcuts are common in the Pacific Northwest.  Loggers still use this extremely destructive form of harvest, and I always feel sad when I see them.  But in this case it was a blessing.  I was able to walk the dirt tracks made by the trucks until I found a place with a view west over the Columbia River.  Climbing atop a large stump, I shot out over forest below me, and the shots above are the result.

A pile dike stretches out into the lower Columbia River in Oregon as dusk deepens.

A pile dike stretches out into the lower Columbia River in Oregon as dusk deepens.

Then yesterday I headed out to the Columbia River Gorge.  But the clouds were much too thick up in the Gorge, so I stopped not far in and wondered what to shoot.  Just then the sun peeked out from the clouds to the west, and I walked west toward it.  Stumbling along the riverbank, I finally came to a spot where a pile dike (row of wood pilings sticking out into the river) made a nice foreground for a sunset shot.

There was one problem however.  I could not get a clear view of the sunset because of all the brush along the river bank.  So I came up with a plan B on the fly.  I quickly shucked my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and waded out into the water.  Brrrr!  I was reminded that the Columbia is mostly made up of snow-melt this time of year.  I was able to wade far enough out to capture the images here.  A pleasant surprise was a sea lion, who was cruising the area for dinner (image below).

A seal cruises the lower Columbia River in Oregon at sunset.

A sea lion cruises the lower Columbia River in Oregon at sunset.

Hope you enjoy the pictures.  Simply click on the images for access to high-res. versions suitable for framing.  Once you are there, click the appropriate tab for purchase options.  Remember these are copyrighted and not available for free download.  Sorry.  If you have any questions or comments you don’t want to put on the blog post, please contact me.  Thanks very much.

A peaceful dusk descends along the lower Columbia River in Oregon.

A peaceful dusk descends along the lower Columbia River in Oregon.

Poor Khallie   7 comments

Khallie close-up.

Khallie close-up.

This is sort of a personal post, totally unlike me.  But it’s also a good chance to highlight some pictures of my favorite little filly, Khallie.  She is on my mind right now because of an accident.  It could have been worse (of course) but she got hurt and that’s bad enough.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

We were just starting a ride.  She did not want to step into a big puddle of water to get around a gate (she has “issues” with water, something I’m trying to gently fix).  So I led her under a strand of barbed wire to avoid the puddle.  This is something some lame-brained landowner put up, not even on his property.  We had done this numerous times in the past, so I was not worried.  Perhaps I was a bit complacent about it, but I allowed the wire to catch on the saddle horn.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie chose that moment to jump forward, and the wire scared her.  She took off, no way I could have held her.  She ran away like the wind, dragging the barbed wire behind her.  She thought she was being chased by the wire.  I jogged after her and finally found her standing in the trees off the trail, breathing hard.  She was very scared.  I only noticed some minor cuts and abrasions, no limp, and so continued the ride (though I shortened it significantly).  I wanted her to calm down before taking her back.

Khallie just a week after being born.

Khallie just a week after being born.

It wasn’t until the next day that her leg swelled up and pus began dripping from a hidden wound.  The wire had apparently sliced cleanly into her flesh, a nice 4-inch long gash, about an inch deep.  Not good, especially the pus, which means it’s infected.  It might need stitches, but the place it is located would likely mean stitches would not hold.

Khallie just loves the snow.

Khallie just loves the snow.

So now she is being doctored, on antibiotics and confined to her stall.  It should heal fine (she’s young) but it still makes my heart break for her.  I know it was really my fault, so I feel quite guilty about it.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

Khallie is my little girl, my favorite horse (I have two, her mother also).  I was there when she popped out of her mom, and she quickly wormed her way into my heart.  I love her spirit.  That spirit you can see in the image below when she is barely a week old already longing to get out of the birthing stall.  Her mom is sick right now with a flu bug and so now I don’t have any horse to ride.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

It’s difficult also because Khallie was just learning to ride.  I’ve only ridden her a half dozen times up to this point.  So now I’m off to the barn to bring her more treats.  Along with cleaning the wound, I feel my job is to baby her and soothe her bruised feelings.  She’s a bit of a prima dona, but I know she has a tough streak in there too.  So she should get through this with no lasting scars, at least emotional ones.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Life and the Universe I   8 comments

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of evening.

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of evening.

How is that for a title?  Perhaps a bit too broad for a blog post, ya think?  I know, I’ll spread it out over 2 or 3 posts, that should do it.

Actually I have been thinking about this subject in a different way off and on for a few years now.  It can be boiled down to this: does the universe show a consciousness?

Several cosmologists out there have written books where this idea is implied if not outright stated.  And these are scientists, so please don’t think I’m off my rocker!   Paul Davies is one scientist who has influenced my thinking.  He wrote a book in 2007 called Cosmic Jackpot where he discusses some of the theories behind modern cosmology, including the idea of the Multiverse.  He doesn’t stop, however, with yet another layman’s explanation of relativity or string theory.  He goes further and tackles quasi-religious “why” questions, such as:

  • Why is the universe so dang perfect for the emergence of life, when it could have been so easily hostile to life?
  • Why are we here, and why are we conscious?
  • Does the Universe itself have a consciousness?  If so, why?
The white mineral terraces at Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park glow under a partial moon and the summer stars.

The white mineral terraces at Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park glow under a partial moon and the summer stars.

Davies isn’t the only cosmologist who is exploring these questions, but most scientists don’t go so far into speculation about the purpose for and meaning of life in this universe. My ideas as summarized in this post aren’t exact copies of Davies’, and they don’t use these cosmological ideas to springboard into fantasy land.  I’m not saying the ideas could not be the basis of a very good, and very bizarre, science fiction novel.  But in a way I am a good little scientist who doesn’t stray too far from what can be tested and established by observation and other lines of evidence.

I think the fact that our universe is so finely tuned to the emergence of life begs to be explained.  I also think that life is too often regarded as a sort of passive feature in the universe.  You have gas clouds, dust, rocks, and other stuff…and oh yeah, you also have life.  I really think it’s possible that it is much more than that.  It is now obvious that life has influenced everything on Earth from climate to the oceans, even minerals (whose incredible diversity on this planet is very likely because of life).

The complex and beautiful symmetry in nature is suggestive of design, but obeys natural laws.

The complex and beautiful symmetry in nature is suggestive of design, but obeys natural laws.

Just one example: a little over two billion years ago the atmosphere was infused with oxygen by micro-organisms who bloomed fantastically in the ancient oceans.  Mostly the changes that life has wrought on Earth have served to make the planet much more hospitable to…you guessed it, life!  In the example above, the oxygen in the atmosphere allowed the evolution of energy-hungry complex life.   Oxygen supplies enormous energy within your body’s cells, much more than any other element could.  There are many other examples; ask any good paleontologist and they’ll tell you.  Is all of this mere coincidence?

Venus passes in front of the Sun, an event that won't be repeated for over 100 years.

Venus passes in front of the Sun, an event that won’t be repeated for over 100 years.

Now Earth is the only model we have thus far to explore the tight inter-relationships between non-living matter, energy and life.  But looking out into the galaxy, we are finding more and more planets that are looking more and more like they might also harbor life.  When you consider the numbers involved, life might actually be quite common in the galaxy, and by extension the entire universe.  If we can find some of the same types of connections between life and the history of the cosmos that we have found on Earth, then we might be looking at something very profound indeed.

You might have heard that in astronomy, time starts with the Big Bang.  Nothing existed before this but a singularity, which takes up no space.  So what happened before the Big Bang?  That question is nonsensical, or unanswerable, or blah blah blah.   This is utter nonsense of course.  We might not be able to answer these questions about our origins right now, but they are certainly legitimate (and very important) scientific questions.  Next lecture you go to where the Big Bang is discussed, make sure and raise your hand to ask the question, what came before?  If the speaker is good, while probably not being able to answer definitively, she will never brush this question off with a lame excuse.

Storm clouds gather.

Storm clouds gather.

If we live in just one of many, perhaps an infinite number, of universes, in other words a Multiverse, then it is impossible to ignore the startling consequences.  And it goes beyond the admittedly bizarre fact that there could be another person virtually identical to you in a parallel universe.  If we are part of a Multiverse and begin to understand how it works, we could discover some mind-blowing things.  We might actually find out in the not-too-distant future how we got here, how all of this got going in the first place, and crucially, WHY.  Why are we here?

The atmosphere is a dynamic place, where interactions between air and energy often create the impression that it's alive.

The atmosphere is a dynamic place, where interactions between air and energy often create the impression that it’s alive.

Never let anybody tell you this isn’t a legitimate scientific question, that it’s outside the purview of science.  But I’ll excuse you for being selective regarding whom you get into a discussion of these matters with.  After all, religion tackles the same sorts of questions, and things can get emotional and personal real quick!  Science and religion mix much like water and oil do, and sometimes they mix more like pure sodium and water!

Next up: let’s dive into some real arm-waving speculation on these questions.  I welcome any and all comments and contributions, no matter how wacky you might think they are.

The moon sets behind the Tetons as the Milky Way soars over Jackson Lake, Wyoming.

The moon sets behind the Tetons as the Milky Way soars over Jackson Lake, Wyoming.

Teasing the Viewer – Landscape Photography   4 comments

Mount Rainier peaks out above Mowich Lake as the dusk deepens.

Mount Rainier peaks out above Mowich Lake as the dusk deepens.

 

I rarely post on photo how-to, since I find it a little boring.  Much better to go out in the field and interact one-on-one with people and their cameras.  But this little tip I’ve discovered is as far as I know not discussed by your typical workshop leader.

In fashion and boudoir photography, although this is not my thing, I am certain that most photographers and models know how effective it is to leave something to the imagination.  If you show everything, that might be the last picture the viewer sees.  It is much better to tease, to leave the viewer wanting more.

I have found that this often works well with landscape and nature photography as well.  A tiger nicely screened by beautifully out-of-focus vegetation, an action shot where it is not at all certain if the predator will capture the prey, and similar photos leave the viewer wondering what happens next, or wanting to see more of the animal.

Even in landscapes, leaving a mountain or other spectacular feature partially hidden can work to create a sort of tension in the photograph.  As long as you don’t totally frustrate the viewer, where not enough of your subject is shown, it is perfectly fine to compose your subject so it is partially hidden.

That’s the case with this photograph.  I admit to feeling a bit of frustration at only seeing part of Mount Rainier from Mowich Lake when I arrived last fall to camp.  I planned to hike up to a higher lake (Eunice) where the full glory of Rainier is on display and reflected in a lovely alpine lake.  But I had arrived too late to Mowich, and so had to be content trying to find good compositions with a partly-obscured peak.  The above shot was one of my last, a long exposure during blue hour after the sun had set.

The next afternoon I did hike up to Eunice Lake and got the shots below.  I included two from Eunice Lake; the second, during blue hour, is for easier comparison with the above shot.  Perhaps with some cloud cover in the sky these would be better pictures than the one from Mowich above.  But as it is, I prefer the first shot to the second and third.  And it is partly because the mountain is not in full view that I think it works.  Which do you prefer?

Mount Rainier in Washington rises above Eunice Lake.

Mount Rainier in Washington rises above Eunice Lake.

Whichever shot is your favorite, it is true that you’ll strengthen your collection if in some of your pictures you leave the subject partly hidden, or the story partly untold.  I believe this holds in all types of photography, not just those where the teasing aspect of this technique is more obvious.

Blue hour at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Blue hour at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

 

Turn of the Year   2 comments

The lower Russian River near its mouth runs brown with silt during winter on the northern California Coast.

The lower Russian River runs brown with silt during winter on the northern California Coast.

A year has ended, and a new one begun.  I spent the night on the banks of the Russian River, listening to its irresistible push to the nearby Pacific Ocean.  Just before midnight I took the top photo.  The moon and stars shine over the Russian, its waters brown with winter runoff.

The Russian River flows peacefully toward the Pacific Ocean in northern California on a misty winter morning.

The Russian River flows peacefully toward the Pacific Ocean in northern California on a misty winter morning.

Then in the morning I woke to mysterious fog lying on the river.  Rousting myself, I walked along the river toward its mouth, where clear, cold air and the mighty Pacific greeted me.  I found a half-empty champagne bottle from the previous night’s celebration.

A half-empty champagne bottle is all that is left of New Year's Eve celebrations, the Russian River in the background.

A half-empty champagne bottle is all that is left of New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Russian River in the background.

Flocks of birds rose into the air as the sun hit the rocks that mark the River’s meeting with the ocean.

A flock of gulls takes flight in early morning light on the Mendocino Coast of California.

A flock of gulls takes flight in early morning light on the Mendocino Coast of California.

I let the waves wash over my feet, despite the frigid air, and the cobwebs of the year that passed cleared away.  I looked out onto the crystalline coast, and felt a fresh breeze hit my face.  It was a New Year!

California's Mendocino Coast features sea stacks, arches and broad sandy beaches.

California’s Mendocino Coast features sea stacks, arches and broad sandy beaches.

Happy New Year to all the people of this beautiful world!

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