Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Published 11:58 AM by with 1 comment

The Grandest Canyon

When we first outlined our route from Seattle to Texas, we had not anticipated making a stop at the Grand Canyon. It was a little out of our way and there wasn't much wiggle room in our schedule. But the beauty of living on the road is that we can be flexible. With four days to play with while we were in Arizona, we decided to camp out at the quaint little historical town of Williams. It was beyond thrilling for me to anticipate going to see, not to mention shoot, the Canyon.

Usually upon our arrival at a new place, we will spend the day setting up our rig and just chill out but I was determined to make the 50 mile drive to see the sun setting over the Grand Canyon.

When I arrived (Linda stayed back in Williams), I quickly found a parking space and followed the signage to the South Rim Viewing Platform. I passed the visitor's center and I could feel my heart pounding with anticipation. Some people I had spoken with said they were underwhelmed when they first got a glimpse but I didn't think that was going to be the case with me. As I walked toward the metal safety fence, the sheer grandeur of this, one of the planet's natural wonders, revealed itself.

It was literally breathtaking. There were hundreds, no thousands, of tourists gathered at the best viewing points but they faded away in my mind as I focused on the shadows, textures and colors all plummeting almost a mile deep.

My first thoughts were to just take it all in. I resisted the urge to start taking photographs. Once I get into that frame of mind, I tend to only see what's in front of me through the viewfinder. It was absolutely necessary and crucial that I refrain from that behavior and just let time stand still.

When I came out of my hypnotic state, my mind began to fill itself with all the challenges this huge space presented in terms of capturing and truly representing it's massive presence. My first thought was to include something of known scale. Huge clusters of tourists would be good for that. I really wanted to record a few shots with people for my own reference. The rest of the time I would concentrate on finding interesting shapes and textures. 

The people definitely contributed greatly to giving scale and context to this photograph.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most photographed places on Earth so it's almost impossible to avoid cliche so I didn't even bother trying. I just wanted to capture this place as I saw it and if it wasn't original, who cares?

Nowhere else have I been so aware of the effects of light. This is near sunset, one of the two best times to be at the Canyon.

The next morning, I was on the road again at the crack of dawn to capture the sunrise. This proved to be the most rewarding trip of my visit there. I moved to another location and shared the view with only a handful of brave souls who had ventured out in the sub-freezing weather at that time. As the sun rose over the canyon, fingers of light reached out across the peaks and troughs and colors and shapes and textures changed by the second. It was almost impossible to stop pressing the shutter although I did, again, remind myself that I must also be present to these wonderful moments. Everything else in my life seemed trivial once I filled my eyes with the majesty before me.

The break of day over the Grand Canyon. Nothing can come close to the feeling of being there.

The layers of light during the sunrise were extraordinary.
I was surprised at how much risk people were willing to take for a photo.
I loved the contrast between the bold silhouette of the trees against the rich textures of the rocks.

On the third day, Linda came along with me and we spent time at the visitor's center learning about the chronology of the many rock structures. Each of my three visits was a completely different experience and I know when I return again, it will be like seeing it anew.

As an added bonus, Linda and I had a close encounter with this beautiful elk on the way out of Grand Canyon Park.
I'm so glad we were able to make it work to see in real life something I thought would be forever confined to magazines and books. Did the Grand Canyon live up to its hype? Hell yes, and then some.
Read More

Monday, October 27, 2014

Published 9:16 AM by with 4 comments

Under Desert Skies

Living on the road has been an amazing adventure of discovery. America is such a monumental place, it would be impossible to see it all in a single lifetime. As we cross each state border, it feels like we are entering a new world. Hell, it sometimes feels like we are on a different planet.

Arizona, for me anyway, is one of those states that is so different from what I am used to, it feels exotic. The people and culture are not noticeably different but the landscape is made of the stuff I had only so far seen in books and magazines.

My first indicator that we weren't in Kansas anymore (so to speak) was the prevalence of cacti (as an aside, the world "cacti" doesn't sound like a real word to me. I think it should be "cactuses". But I digress). They were everywhere. Linda said I had seen them before when we were in New Mexico many years ago but my eyes were not as photographically trained back then and so many things of interest got away from me.

The other thing that caught my eye was the rock formations. There seemed to be an abundance of red in every direction and the carved shapes of these structures were unlike anything I had seen in Washington, Oregon or California.

The final differentiating factor was the quality of light. It seemed to affect everything I looked at. Sunrises and sunsets were more vibrant and shadows seemed more intense. Was it my imagination? Maybe, but it was real to me and my photographs seemed to corroborate my experience.

We stopped briefly at a campsite/gas station in Gila Bend and, although we were there for just one night, I made the best of it roaming around the dusty desert landscape in search of cactuses, er, I mean cacti.

The many shapes and personalities of each cactus fascinated me. I like the almost human form of this particular one.

The moon, the distant mountains and the formation of this group made this an interesting composition. I felt like the dude on the left balanced the picture.

The next day, we traveled to Usery Mountain RV Park near Phoenix where I had lots more opportunities to become acquainted with the abundant saguaros, a fascinating species of cacti that can live for up to 150 years. They were particularly plump when we arrived because of the recent rain.

One of many beautiful sunsets. The clouds in the sky caused spotlights on select objects in the landscape. At this moment the top of the mountain and the cactus lit up. A few seconds later, the sun had disappeared.

I loved the rock formations in and around Usery Mountain RV Park. We had way more cloud action than I expected during our stay.

Superstition Mountain near Usery Mountain RV Park had the most drama, almost on a daily basis. When I saw these clouds, I jumped in my car and sped to the scene. Luckily, on this day, there was almost no traffic allowing me to stand in the middle of the road for this shot.

We had arranged to be neighbors with fellow RV fulltimers, Fred and Jo. I flexed my portrait-snapping muscles on them during our stay. When I first got on the road, I was worried about essentially giving up shooting portraits in favor of landscapes so it was nice to get back to it again, albeit briefly.

We also managed a trip to Sedona, a city in the northern Verde Valley region of Arizona. Unique to this area is an array of sandstone formations that glow red during the setting and rising sun. Although their color is the big attraction, it was the textures that drew me to the landscape and I felt like I could best interpret it through black and white.

Bell Rock in Sedona. We had every intention of reaching the top but it was the end of the day so our tired feet dictated our actual ascent (about halfway up).

This was the actual view we had from that point on Bell Rock. Not too shabby. I prayed for some clouds but none came.

Part of the appeal of Sedona for many is the presence of vortexes (yes, that's spelled correctly) that evoke a sense of inner peace. This particular area is known for that energy.

Arizona is vast and sprawling and I honestly feel like I could easily spend a year there and produce thousands of unique photographs. It was thrilling to live in the desert for a little while and I hope to do it again in the not to distant future. 

In my next entry, I'll share my experience of seeing something that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember: Grand Canyon. Stay tuned.
Read More

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Published 11:50 AM by with 2 comments

Splendor in the Sierras

As mentioned previously, I am studying the work of Ansel Adams in great detail and have been fortunate to be able to trace some of his travels through my own adventures on the road. I am continuing my exploration of landscapes in the black and white medium and hoping his influence on me is strengthening my photographs and not turning me into a second rate imitator. Either way, it's stimulating and inspiring me to appreciate the experience of being there, not just pressing the shutter.

I recently visited the quaint town of Lone Pine just off Highway 395 in California. This is Sierras country and Adams took several of his most well known photographs there. My main stomping ground during our stay was an amazing drive right up to Lone Pine Peak itself called Whitney Portal Road. The views are breathtaking and I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn't in a dream. 

During our stay at Lone Pine, Linda and I visited the Manzanar National Historic Site. It was quite a moving experience. This was one of several relocation centers set up when the US declared war on Japan in World War II. What was unique for me was the abundance of personal stories and anecdotes. It was as close to being there as is possible for someone like me. Of course I could never even imagine what it was really like but the visitors center wasn't just about statistics and facts. This old truck was eye-catching to me against the drama of the mountains.

I love horses and will stop to photograph and hang out with them whenever I can. These two were hanging out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. They were friendly and we had a nice few moments together.

There are lizards everywhere in this part of the country and I have to get used to this new precedent. They are to California what squirrels are to the Northwest.

One beautiful morning, I found a place not to far from where we were staying that had wonderful views of the mountains after the first dusting of snow for the season. I shot this as the sunrise crept over the peaks.

Movie Road is a right turn off Whitney Portal Road and is home to many famous westerns and modern blockbusters alike. Examples include: Around the World in Eighty Days, Django Unchained, Gladiator, Gone in Sixty Seconds, High Sierra, The Lone Ranger, North to Alaska and many more.

Another view of the Sierras with some dramatic clouds for good measure. 

While staying at the spectacular Tuttle Creek Campground, we had an unobstructed view of Lone Pine Peak and surrounds. I had the opportunity and privilege to watch the movement of the sun and how it affected the shadows and character of the mountain over the course of the day.

As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, it created layers and separation between the various peaks.

The sun sank behind the mountains and gave off one last beacon of light before it finally disappeared.

I have never seen so many stars in my life, at least not consciously. Astrophotography is a whole science and art unto itself but I tried my hand at it to capture some of the essence of what I saw.

One of my favorite Ansel Adams photographs is called Winter Sunrise and it was shot in Lone Pine. I did some research on the Web about Ansel's exact location when he shot it but came up empty. It took me a few days driving around but I finally managed to figure it out. Ironically, it wasn't in some remote place, it was right on the side of highway 395, just north of Lone Pine. I wanted to make my photo as close to the original as I could just so I could feel what it was like to be there in his shoes in 1944. Of course, it wasn't winter when I was there so the angle of the light was different and the clouds were obviously very different too. I couldn't stand in exactly the same place, however, because a huge tree was obscuring the entire scene but what I got was close enough and I felt touched by the spirit of the master as I clicked the shutter.

You can see Ansel's original photograph by clicking here.

We will return to this area whenever we get a chance. We have tentative plans to be there in March of next year. At that point, there will be a healthy dose of snow on the peaks. Until then, this experience will stay with me as one of the most important places I have ever visited.
Read More

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Published 9:37 AM by with 4 comments

The Magnificent Redwoods of California

I distinctly remember how I felt when I was given my first goldfish as a child. I couldn't wait to get home from school every day to ogle over it because it was so special to me. That feeling has stayed with me throughout my life. Not for the long-deceased fish, of course, but for other things, usually creative in nature. When I collaborated with other musicians in my various bands, for instance, I would religiously record our new musical ideas and listen to them at night on my headphones. I felt like I possessed them in a way.

Everyone who creates, I'm sure, feels the same way about their art. In recent times, I feel it about certain photographs I make. There's something about the magic they possess, like they have bottled up the feeling of being there, and are not just limited to their two dimensions.

When I recently visited the redwoods in California, I sensed that magic and I wanted to capture it. The first morning, Linda and I drove through The Avenue of the Giants, as it is called, and decided to walk the Drury/Chaney Grove Trail. It was an easy 2.5 mile loop showcasing some amazing old growth redwoods. Being among these behemoths was much more moving than I expected. Their scale, for one thing, put my own stature into perspective but it was something else. Of course I wanted to photograph every single tree I saw but I knew capturing these trees needed the respect they deserved. I didn't want to just do a run-and-gun shoot-from-the-hip kind of thing, I wanted to slowly take it all in, be mindful of the specific trees I wanted to shoot and pay attention to how I composed them. I decided to revisit the trail early the next day by myself. 

The thing about this area in September is that few, if any, people walk the trail until about 9:30 or 10 in the morning so it was a privilege to be there alone and made for a very memorable experience. From a technical perspective, the darkness of the forest made handheld shooting impossible for what I had in mind. I wanted a wide depth of field, which meant a small aperture and also a low ISO, for optimal quality. Normally, I would need a lot of light for this kind of requirement but I brought along my tripod and used the timer on my camera to fire some long shutter photographs (around 10 seconds apiece). With no wind or movement anywhere, the conditions where ideal. I used the timer so I wouldn't have to touch the camera to engage the shutter which might have compromised the sharpness of the shot. I also used a light meter to ensure accuracy of exposure.

It's hard to convey how tall these trees are so I avoided the straight up in the air kind of shots. However, I loved the leaves surrounding this particular redwood so it got my attention.

As I was leaving the trail with Linda the first day, I noticed the soft light bathing this tree. It gave the subject a nice sense of separation and depth, but mostly it was the mood that appealed to me.

This tree is awesome in the true sense of the word. There is something so complex about it and the composition, to me, is really dynamic. Almost like it just forced itself into the ground like a sword. The subtle light nicely enhanced its every crag.

In an effort to vary my shots, I got closer to my subject. What impressed me the most about this one was the thickness of the bark and, of course, the light.

Not everything has to be on a grand scale, of course, and these clover-like plants were everywhere. They were each about 10 times the size of a shamrock. I like the contrast between the delicacy of these plants against the massive coarseness of the trees.

In a forest like this, direct sunlight is rare in terms of where it precisely falls. This sunspot disappeared as quickly as I captured it.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this bush-like growth was Bigfoot. It was a little unnerving stumbling upon it while I was there alone. One thing that I found to be unique in this forest was the absolute silence. Birds only made themselves heard in between very long intervals of quiet. This enhanced the sense of eeriness I felt.

I placed myself in this photograph for scale and I also wanted a human presence. Because the shutter speed was so slow, I would have had to stand dead still for about 8 seconds to be sharp but I moved a little on purpose to obscure my features and become anonymous in the frame.

This experience was one of the highlights of my travels so far and I get that feeling of being there once again in all its three-dimensional glory when I look at these photographs. I will return here whenever I get the chance.

Read More

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Published 8:14 AM by with 2 comments


Who doesn't love the beach? It represents so many varied things to an equal number of people. It brings joy to children and adults alike. I love the beach but not in the sense of it being a resort. I'm drawn to areas where people are a rare sighting. I love being alone by the ocean and I've had a lot of opportunities recently to do just that. Once Labor Day is over here in the States, it basically signals the end of weekend jaunts by the masses to these coastal jewels.

When I'm walking alone on the sandy shores, I think about the vastness of nature and my own insignificance. It's actually comforting to know that I am less than a speck on the face of a giant clock that represents Earth's history. I can see the way both water and sand have shaped the things around me. Rocks smoothed down to glassy forms that will continue until they themselves become grains of sand. Huge tree trunks once floating on the ocean and now dried out and resembling skeletons on the beach. Remnants of sea life; empty crabshells, the glistening snake-like forms of seaweed, the twinkling light reflecting off both tiny and huge jellyfish.

Cape Blanco Beach on the most Westerly point of the United States has such strong winds that the beach literally changes in front of your eyes. The footprints I made while walking on the soft sand disappeared as quickly as they were formed. The strong gusts of wind send millions of grains of sand slithering across the surface like so many snakes.

It was both exhilarating and terrifying to be leaning into the gusts trying to find photographs amongst the debris of the beach. Exhilarating because there is no end to what you can discover every few feet but terrifying because the swirling sand might get into my camera and lens. There were a few times where I just whipped out my iPhone and used it instead. I kept my big camera under my shirt until I was absolutely sure of the shot I wanted. Miraculously, my camera and lens were unharmed but I'll be more cautious in the future about risking damage to my equipment (no you won't, Steven).

I love the idea of a lone figure against a dramatic landscape. Linda and I were walking along Battle Rock Beach in Port Orford, Oregon and it provided the perfect backdrop for her silhouette. As I have discussed before, having something familiar in a photograph gives the viewer a sense of the scale of its context. The light was at a perfect angle to separate all the elements into layers of depth.

This was a challenging shot because there was so much contrast. The small amount of detail behind Linda was important to convey the sea and I had to work hard in post production to bring out the detail in the sand and the rock. It almost feels like the rock is a living thing, like the textures suggest it is a dinosaur.

Reflections can be a cliche and maybe this photograph is one but I liked the way it is not a perfect mirror-like reflection. The ripples caused by the wind give it some texture and separate it from the actual rocks.

I had about 2 seconds to get this shot as we were leaving the beach. The setting sun was directly behind this couple and there was a moment where I could feel they were experiencing something special together. My exposure was not correct but I pointed the camera and spun the shutter speed wheel until I saw the correct settings and took the shot. I would never be able to get a precise exposure using any kind of auto setting on the camera so it was good to know what I was doing just then. This is definitely one of those "decisive moments".

In my last blog, I mentioned that I didn't have the light I wanted while I was visiting the sand dunes of Florence but I had better luck at Cape Blanco. I love the way the low angle of the sun accentuated the ripples. Nature is constantly fascinating to me.

Another cliche shot but sometimes you just have to shoot stuff for yourself. If I was to avoid every cliche, I probably wouldn't have any photos to show. Sometimes these kinds of shots can lead to more interesting creative opportunities. Again, the low angle of the sun made this a fun photo.

There was lots of dried out wood on Cape Blanco Beach and many resembled skeletons. This one reminded me of a skull from some prehistoric animal, complete with eye sockets. The sand drifts around it made it beautiful to me.

More evidence of the strong winds on the Oregon Coast. I like the meandering leading lines in the shot.

This is another dried wood form that reminded me of perhaps a prehistoric fish. The arched shape and sand drifts leading off to the horizon gave it a feeling of loneliness. I almost felt sorry for this abandoned fish-like creature.

This is a closer shot of the same fish creature that is really dead wood, of course, but seeing these things on the beach makes my imagination run wild.

At some point soon, we will be leaving the coast for desert terrains in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas so I wanted to get as much shooting done at the beach as I could. Things shift so much in this wild landscape that it will be a whole new experience the next time I visit.
Read More

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Published 8:08 PM by with 3 comments

Postcards from the Road

One of the many things I love about photography is that it just gets me off my butt and makes me interact with the world. I honestly don't think my life would be as rich without it. It allows me to interact with people, notice the sunrise and sunset and see the beauty that's present in the world every day, be it in an urban or rural setting. Living on the road in a motorhome now affords me more opportunities to do all of these things like never before. The sheer variety of photographs I have captured in the last month is staggering to me and I feel very fortunate. I have some long-term projects in mind but they will have to wait. For now, I'm happy to immerse myself in whatever comes my way.

When I was in Portland with my friend Glenn, we collaborated on a photography project and I took the opportunity beforehand to do a separate portrait shot of our model, Grace. I wanted to create a vintage feel with a low key lighting setup. The strong shadows and single light worked perfectly for black and white.

One evening, while Linda and I were hanging out with Glenn and his wife Kris at our campground, I noticed the beautiful evening light. Glenn and I jumped up, pushed through thorny bushes to the huge adjacent illuminated field. Always adventurous and playful, Glenn posed for this semi-serious superhero pose. 

The repetitive patterns and sense of height made this an interesting composition for me. We were on the way to the top of Beacon Rock in Oregon. It was a mildly strenuous ascent but the views were quite rewarding.

While on an early morning walk, I noticed this sculpture and thought it would work great as a silhouette in black and white.

There are certain subjects that look great in black and white and others that fail but this is one of the good ones. The strong sunlight, the timelessness of the woman's clothing and the somewhat whimsical "Juice Bar" made this a favorite for me.

When we were in Florence, Oregon recently we stumbled upon a classic car show. It was a challenge to get some shots without people walking in front of my lens. I wanted the photo to look like the same vintage as the car so I tried to omit anything modern.

On Haceta Beach near Florence, these crows were curious about something on the ground. I liked the contrast between their dark bold shapes and the distant fog and people walking on the beach.

I noticed these dunes behind, of all places, Fred Meyer (a grocery/home store) in Florence. What drew me to the scene was the weathered fence. I love contrast in black and white and the relative purity of the sand with the dark textured wood worked really well. When these two people walked into my frame with their sandboards, it was a lucky accident. They not only added interest to the composition but they also gave it a sense of scale.

Continuing on the sand dune theme, I spent one early morning at South Jetty near Florence walking on the beach by myself. It was truly amazing. There are actually 40 miles of dunes in this area so I guess I could have walked until I literally dropped. My preference would have been to shoot the dunes with low sunlight to accentuate the ripples in the sand and the strong shapes but the cloudy sky made everything pretty flat. Still, I felt a lot of gratitude having the freedom to walk on that vast beach and breath in the fresh air.

Although living on the road has made it possible to see all of these wonderful places and people, my passion for photography, in turn, makes it possible for me to appreciate it all on a profound level.

Stay tuned.
Read More