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.

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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.
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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.
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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Published 8:53 AM by with 4 comments

The Wonderful People of Portland

Portland, Oregon is a hive of activity so it's a treat as a photographer to wander the streets and capture photos of not only the things that give it character but the people themselves. During my time there, my friend Glenn and I decided to go to an event called "Last Thursday" which is basically a street fair with artists, musicians and everything in between. It's held every week during the summer months.

I don't always feel comfortable photographing people while they going about their lives because it feels like I am violating their privacy. Only if I find someone really compelling will I do that. I'm a little shy about approaching people to ask if I can take their photograph but Glenn, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He boldly approaches people, disarms them with his charm and big kid smile and usually gets their consent for a picture.

With an event like "Last Thursday", people are there to be seen. They dress up and show off so it's a much more comfortable environment to snap photos. Frankly, I think people assume I am with some kind of publication when they see my big ass camera so they tend to be quite accommodating. When I can, I get their contact information and send the photographs or a link to where I have published them. It's mutually beneficial that way.

We encountered this colorful character on the streets of Portland earlier in the day. "She" was a very confident, seen-it-all, don't-fuck-with-me kinda gal but was quite charming at the same time and gladly allowed us to capture her likeness.

This artist had just finished the mural on the wall behind him. He was pretty pumped up and we had fun with him.

When I walk through a sea of people, there are always a few that stand out above the rest. This woman was one of them. I loved her free spirit and joyful demeanor. We asked if she had a business card so we could send the photos and she asked us if we would mind watching her stuff while she ran to get them. I love how trusting some people are :)

It was a hot day and after walking up and down the entire length of the fair a few times, Glenn and I ducked into a cool little bar for a beer. The bartender gladly posed for a picture (okay, maybe she just tolerated us).

There were many musicians playing on the street. I really liked the whole vibe of this guy. So many stories in his expression and body art.

I passed by this woman when we arrived first and made a mental note to come back and ask if I could take her picture. When we circled around again, she actually asked if we would shoot her! I think she is mesmerizing and beautiful.

Another woman I saw when I arrived that I just knew I had to shoot. I can't describe why I find some people so compelling but she is one of them. She had a wonderfully peaceful aura about her.

Loved the hat. I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would mind if I took her photograph. She said fine and turned turned away. It was funny because usually when I ask, the person will then engage with me. She just went about her business like I wasn't there. It was fine with me because I got more natural candid shots of her instead. I really liked the atmosphere in this shot, kinda like it was shot at Woodstock back in the day.

Okay, this is obviously not a person but I couldn't pass the shot up. The dog just sat there like it was no big thing that he was wearing the coolest mask on the planet.

The monkey suit teeshirt and this man's amazing face made for an unusual pairing. He was part of a group of drummers playing what sounded to me like Native American music.

This is my friend Glenn. I saw a storefront with some pretty strong fluorescent bulbs and wanted to use their glow for this portrait.

As the night drew in, this guy was off in the distance serving some kind of barbecued meat. The single strong light and dark background made it look like he could have been on a stage. 

It's rare when a street fair has so much interest for me. Mostly it's just regular vendors selling the same old stuff over and over again and the people are pretty ordinary. Not so with Portland, it truly is a boiling pot of many very interesting personality types.

Glenn and I started the day at 5:30am and finished up around 10pm. We wracked up 12 miles of walking  in our quest to find the perfect photograph. It was truly a great day and I'll miss him when we move to our next destination.
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