Sunday, August 31, 2014

Published 9:46 AM by with 2 comments

Finding Hidden Gems in Portland, Oregon

I'm currently camped out in Wilsonville, not too far from the wonderful city of Portland in Oregon. My good friend and creative genius, Glenn Scott Lacey lives in the area so I wanted to be sure to spend as much time as possible with him. When we get together, we always find something creative to do. He is also a photographer so spending time shooting together was an exciting prospect. For our first day together, we decided to walk around Portland City and see what kinds of photographic treasures we could capture. 

I love days like this because my mind is free and I have no expectations. If I got a handful of photographs I was happy with, that would be great. If I walked away with nothing, the experience alone would be worth the effort. Time spent being creative with my friend is priceless. At the end of the day, it's fun to compare both our visions of a common place. Glenn was shooting in color while I chose my current obsession of black and white.

I'm always looking for texture and the more worn and dilapidated a thing is, the more I want to photograph it. This old wall and stairs provided me with the perfect combination of textures; metal, bricks and graffiti. I liked the angle of the stairs and moody morning light.

I'm drawn to this kind of architecture. Shooting with an extreme angle made for a dramatic and bold statement. The style of the buildings made it feel like a photograph from the early 1900s. The light also added to the drama and dimension of these beauties.

Another extreme angle that added a stylistic feel to this image. There are times when these kinds of converging lines work and other times they just don't. In this case, the lines add a great sense of energy and the clouds provide the perfect contrast to the geometry of all the other elements.

I liked this deli/market because it reminded me of New York. When I first moved to Brooklyn in 1987, I would go to a place like this for all my basic groceries. So what attracted me about this exterior was the memory of that time.

I wanted to experiment with slow shutter speeds to convey a sense of speed. Had I taken a regular photo of this biker, it would have been boring and he probably would not have stood out against the background. Following him with my camera and using a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second perfectly isolated him and added lots of energy to the shot.

This is just one of those kinds of photographs that has a mood I like. It also makes me wonder about the man. Who is he, what kind of life has he had, where is he going.? Juxtaposed with the coffeeshop blackboard and the Embassy Suites sign, he both fits and is at odds with his surroundings.

This bicycle just worked really well in black and white. Isolating it with a shallow depth of field made it feel like an intimate portrait and gave character to this pile of inanimate metal.

I loved the way this classic car looked in black and white. The light on the black made it feel chrome-like and highlighted the beauty of a design that seems to be lost on the cars of today. 

During the day, we stumbled across artisans preparing for an event called "Last Thursday" that takes place every week during the summer months. I loved these little sculptures.

The font on the window, the architecture of the building and the hard sunlight falling on the chairs - all of it made for an interesting mood for me.

An almost extinct convenience. I feel like I'm looking at a piece of history when I see a payphone like this. The next time I visit Portland, it maybe gone forever.

My most favorite thing to do while walking around in a city like this is to find something extraordinary in the mundane. Black and white tends to freeze a moment like no other and forces me to see things in a way that perhaps I don't ever notice when I pass these things in real life.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Published 7:10 PM by with 1 comment

Increasing the Odds of Serendipity

Sometimes people look at my photographs and say I was lucky to be there at that particular moment with that particular light. Maybe they are right.

I don't think that luck happens randomly. I tend to be out shooting quite a lot. I have studied weather and wildlife for many years so I can usually make an educated guess ahead of time what kinds of photographs I am going to shoot. Great moments happen every minute of every day but we are just not always present to them. Sometimes, because we are out there exploring our world, we are. 

Case in point: Linda and I were staying in Kelso, WA. We decided to drive to Seaside in Oregon for the day but when we got there, the fog was really thick. I am usually drawn to fog but this was just a flat soupy mess. We decided to continue on the seven miles to Cannon Beach, one of our favorite spots in the Northwest.

As The monolith known as Haystack made itself known when we came around a bend on Highway 101, I knew it was going to be a good day. A thick marine layer was on the beach and the giant rock's tip was peaking ominously out from the top. The sun tried to penetrate the misty air but with little success.

It was hard for me to resist shooting every few seconds. The fading silhouettes of beach walkers made the entire place feel mysterious. The stark contrast between the people and the foggy backdrop with faint outlines of the rocks made for perfect black and white fodder.

A family was sitting under this umbrella, taking photos of Haystack monolith. The sunlight made them stand out in an almost three dimensional way while the huge mass eerily loomed above.

A single form on the beach looks like he is about to be consumed by the marine fog. These conditions on the beach made it feel like people were in isolation, detached from their counterparts. In reality, the beach was teaming with couples, kids, dogs and more.

The low angle of the sun made the sand ripples stand out in relief. The distant people added a sense of scale and depth in the photograph.

There was a pretty impressive wind but it didn't manage to disperse the dense fog. I liked the contrasting silhouettes of the dragon and the kite flyer.

Before I left the beach, I wanted a shot of either a bucket and spade or a sandcastle. Something I could relate to from my childhood. I settled on this somewhat simple construction. I don't think my own sandcastles were any more elaborate.

As I was about to leave the beach, I turned around and saw all of these people. All are doing their own thing but are unified by their silhouettes. I like the way they are reduced to two-dimensional shapes. It adds a layer of anonymity which, in turn, creates that timelessness I yearn for. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind where volunteers walked towards the intensely lit mothership at the base of Devil's Tower.

Neighboring resort town Seaside provided me with some interesting textures that translate very well into black and white. You really can't go wrong with strong light and weathered wood.

The more I am out there, the more likely it is that I will capture some of the iconic moments that are omnipresent in our world. So, yeah, I am lucky.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Published 7:47 AM by with 2 comments

From Where I Stand

Ansel Adams once wrote, "a good photograph is knowing where to stand" and it made me think about how true that is for me. I'm not usually conscious of the amount of effort I expend composing a photograph but I know it's substantial. Well, it certainly is now that I have slowed down and am really trying to make photographs rather than take them.

Having a zoom lens can sometimes make me a lazy photographer. What I mean is, if I have a lens that has a focal length of, say, 24mm-104mm, that's a pretty wide span and I don't need to move at all from where I stand to get a variety of shots. Each shot I take is just a zoomed in version of the same thing. I sometimes cheat myself out of other potential angles and compositions when I bring a zoom lens along with me.

With a prime lens (one with a fixed focal length or, to put it another way, no zoom capability), I have to physically move to "zoom in". If I want something to be closer, I have to move the camera closer or if I want the subject to be wider, I have to move further away with the camera. Doing this is a good idea for me because it makes for more opportunities to experiment with different compositions. Maybe I want to move to the left or right or maybe up or down. What about on a diagonal? Not everything has to be straight. When I'm already moving around, it feels more natural and I come away with a true variety of shots.

 When I visited the Westport Lighthouse in Washington, I was far more interested in details than the usual wide angle shooting up at the lighthouse kind of thing. That day the only lens I had with me was a 50mm prime. I moved in close for this shot of the interior. If I had shot the lighthouse like one of the many images you see during a Google search, I don't feel like I would have done justice to my own authentic experience of the place. These little detail shots literally bring back details of my experience.

Another detail shot of the handrail leading up to the top of the lighthouse. I'm deathly afraid of heights and, as we ascended I became more and more nervous looking down. This handrail was my savior so its meaning is significant when I think back on being there at that moment.

I often joke with my friends that if you don't come back with dirty knees, you do not have the shot. What I mean is it's important to get away from just looking at things the way we see them in our everyday life. When we look at a child, we look down at them, simply because they are smaller. We look up at things that are taller than us. It's the way we see things every day and it makes for boring and predictable photographs. I sometimes climb ladders so I can be at eye level with that thing up high. Maybe I'll venture higher and actually look down. What about shooting pets, children or flowers? For me, the most rewarding photographs happen when I get down on my knees at their eye level and capture the world on their terms.

On a recent trip to Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park, I saw a group of rocks off in the distance enshrouded with fog. I knew I had to shoot the scene so I told Linda I was on a mission and took off in a hurry. Afraid that the fog would disperse, I zoomed in full on my lens and took shots of the scene as I approached ever closer over uncooperative wet pebbles and feet sinking into soft sand from the approaching tide.

When I arrived at the rocks, I couldn't believe their actual scale. They were not mere rocks, no, they were 60 feet monoliths and it was an awesome sight to behold. Had I been satisfied with my earlier zoomed shots from afar, I would never have fully appreciated the magnitude of the scene. As a result, I walked away from the beach with some spectacular shots. Converting them to black and white, made the place seem like it was something from the movie Planet of the Apes. I did think to look for remnants of the Statue of Liberty...

Rialto Beach is a favorite of mine to shoot because it does have that sense of time standing still or at least time traveling at an almost immeasurable pace. I can't imagine how long it has taken for all of the deadwood to make it to its current resting place. Here I chose to make the vertical tree the main subject of the picture. On the left in the distance you can see the "little" rocks I was trying to reach.

Scale was also a challenge to convey when we visited Hurricane Ridge in Washington. I spent a long time hunting for the perfect composition but, in the end, I settled for capturing the play of light on the mountain ridges rather than the impossible task of translating into two dimensions the massive size of the scene.

I was equally challenged when I visited Mount St. Helens. The sheer mass of the volcano in front of me was daunting. There was no way to capture that kind of grandeur with my relatively modest camera. Instead, I chose to focus on the crags and fissures and valleys created by the 1980 eruption. The colors were too pretty and distracting for this message so I again chose black and white to finely focus on the many and varied textures. Some clouds moved in over the top to add the final touches to my photograph.

Black and white was also my choice for this scene of the valleys, hills and mountains leading up to the towering volcano. I chose to convey distance and scale through tones of gray.

At the Johnston Observatory at Mount St. Helens, I shot Linda in silhouette to give a sense of being there for the viewer. She is instrumental in, again, conveying the scale of the landscape beyond.

I loved the curve of this trail and all the stuff going on around it. Shooting it without context would make it unremarkable but put a person in the scene and all of a sudden it has a focal point and also a context of scale. Linda's hat adds interest to the scene.

The more I learn about photography, the less I know. This is true today more than ever and it is exciting to know that, for every day of my life, there is a new thing to be learned. For this photographer, at least, the reward is in that quest for the thing, not having it.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Published 1:58 PM by with 3 comments

Discovering the World Anew

One of the many things I love about black and white photography is its simplicity. It's easy for a viewer to understand the point of a composition because the picture is devoid of the distractions of color. By the same token, a photograph that is lacking in contrast, rich tone and/or texture can also fail miserably as a monochrome.

I like to strip places and things of their contemporary settings and create a timelessness in my black and white pictures. For me, it makes them feel otherworldly. Something else I've noticed is that close ups seem even more intimate than their color counterparts. There is an apparent quietness introduced into the frame that I don't feel otherwise. It's like a moment frozen inside a moment.

I saw this tree trunk while on a trail. Not sure what made the hole but the choice of black and white made the composition less cluttered.
Detail of an old train track reclaimed by Mother Nature
Searching for and shooting a successful black and white photograph is challenging. It forces me to see the world in tones rather than colors. It makes me notice shadows and their powerful language. Although light is the single most important thing in all types of photography, I think it's importance is arguably even more pronounced when working in a grayscale world. 

I use the right and left side of my brain equally when looking for a good black and white composition. While analysis and creativity don't always make for great roommates, they sometimes find common ground. I suppose this process is more like shooting film for me. With film photography, the number of shots on a roll is finite so I have to really think about each shot, like every shutter click really counts. Likewise, each digital black and white shot has an added weight.

I was drawn to the vertical lines, curves and texture of the sky. Cloudless skies don't do it for me but give me something like this and I'm in love

The cuves in this winding staircase reminded me of a seashell. Shot inside the Westport Lighthouse in Washington

With this new way of seeing, I have a greater sense of the world around me. I don't feel such an urgency to click, click, click and try to get the shot. Rather, the shot presents itself to me after careful scrutiny. I'm excited to continue down this road of discovery. 

Here are some more of my favorites...

These haystacks on Whidbey Island stood alone and stood out because of the surrounding fog. The receding lines give it a sense of scale and depth

I saw this on the way to Marymere Falls, near Lake Crescent in Washington. The Falls themselves worked better in color but I love how black and white totally transformed this scene into something magical
No mistaking who the star of this photograph is. A chipmunk was quite curious about what I was up to
This staircase in Salt Creek, Washington made for a good black and white capture. It has all the elements; texture, contrast, tonal range and a sense of mystery

What photographer can resist a decaying building? Lots of texture and interest and some remnants of the people who once lived here

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Published 1:44 PM by with 0 comment

A Day at the Beach

When I was growing up, my family and I would spend two weeks every summer vacationing usually at some kind of beach resort. We camped in tents, rented caravans and stayed at bed and breakfast farm houses over the years. I guess that's where I got my yearning to be near water. Those were peaceful times. I would not trade a walk on the beach in the early morning for anything. In the wee hours alone on the sand, it felt like I owned the place.

Beaches have always been somewhat solitary for me and it's a good place to clear my head or just regenerate. The rhythm of the tide does that. People go for all kinds of reasons; people-watching, swimming, romancing, tanning, horse-riding, name it.

But for me, I may as well be back in my childhood again because I can wipe out all of the distractions around me and just focus on the sound of the ocean and feel the breeze on my skin. Being on the road has afforded me more visits to the sea than would be usual in my "former" life. Below are scenes I observed recently from Ocean Shores and Westport Beach in Washington.

This line of horses reminded me of when I was a kid. I think I was on a horse once in my life but it made an impression.

This couple didn't venture too far from their car. Two beach chairs and a great view of the water and passersby

Loved the line of horses. They went for miles until they disappeared into the horizon

Lovers hand-in-hand and children playing. This shot encapsulates so many things I love about the beach

Even though they are a couple, these people seemed a little lonely, like the landscape

What I have learned so far: Slowing things down has enabled me to experience and appreciate the scenes I am shooting. Often, in my not-so-distant past, the moment was lived only through my viewfinder.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Published 9:44 PM by with 4 comments

The Timeless Beauty of Black and White

Black and white photography is deceptively simple. It's not a case of just transforming a color photograph, it's a combination of composition and light and being able to "see" in monochromatic tones. My recent travels have given me plenty of opportunities to experiment and I'm reaquainting myself with this wonderful form.

First up is Larrabee State Park in Bellingham, Washington. With chiseled cliffs, abundant deadwood and seaweed-smothered rocks, it was the perfect place to start exploring.

I liked the leading lines in this scene. What didn't work for me was the depth of field. The foreground is out of focus and I think it would have been more effective had everything been sharp. 

Shooting this scene in black and white transformed it into one of timelessness. There was a lot of distraction in the color version so I was pleased with this one.

This person stepped into my frame and actually made it a more interesting photograph. Inserting a known object (such as a person) helps the viewer get a sense of scale.

The tunnel to the beach was covered with graffiti and I thought this not only captured the name of the place but the bold playful lettering, almost font-like, made it a good choice for black and white.

Searching for a more interesting angle can make something relatively mundane much more dramatic. Here is a windmill in Windjammer Park in Oak Park, Washington. From this angle, it's a cool structure but not all that remarkable.

Shooting at a low angle really showcases the structure and also incorporates the backlit sun. Black and white simplified the tones so that the architecture was at the forefront of the composition.

This is one of the oldest residential buildings on Whidbey Island in Washington and was built in 1860 by Winfield Scott Ebey as an Inn for sailors and other travelers. My friend Dan and I visited it early one morning. There were no clouds and the sun was pretty strong. I could have walked away with this average photograph, but...

I felt that black and white would make the house feel less contemporary and maybe a little mysterious. The heavy shadows added something special to an otherwise ordinary building. I also stripped away any other distractions around the house so the sole focus is on the lines and shapes.

The house was locked up so I couldn't get inside so I leaned my camera lens on the window and shot this interior. Apparently the wallpaper was added in 1998 by a film crew when they shot scenes for the movie Snow Falling on Cedars. Who knew?

I love trees and I love silhouettes, especially one as interesting as this. The colorful fields in the background were beautiful but converting it to monochrome helped to strengthen the shape of the tree so it looked more iconic.

This staircase at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, WA cast many shadows that made it fun to shoot. I used a wide angle lens at 24mm to exaggerate the perspective of the bannister.
What I learned: My best black and white shots are not accidental. When I choose to "see" in this way while shooting, I usually yield better photographs. I should also bring my tripod with me so that I have the choice to shoot with a slower shutter speed and smaller aperture. That way, I have the choice of a deeper focus in low light situations like the trail with the fence above.

Stay thirsty, my friends...
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