Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography’

Social Photography: Road Tripping With Friends

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

(If you are reading this article via email subscription, make sure to click the title link to view the video on the blog)


In my opinion, photography is one of the most fun, healthy, enriching, energizing and positive pastimes a person can be involved in. It is a creative outlet and it also provides an ongoing source of learning and intellectual stimulation. It gets you outside and provides a pathway for greater appreciation of nature. It is accessible to people of all ages, interests, experience and ability. It teaches you to slow down and really notice the world around you. One of the greatest joys photography has brought me is the social aspect of it. While photography can certainly be private, introspective and deeply personal, it also offers wonderful opportunities to connect with other human beings. Many of my best friends and colleagues are people I met through photography and some of my most gratifying conversations, collaborations, adventures, and experiences are the result of hanging out with people who share my passion for photography. I have had the pleasure of meeting and communicating with photographers from all over the world, I have been a student and a teacher and I have been fortunate to travel with friends and lead workshops to all corners of the globe.

Frosty Yosemite Falls towers above the dark valley below.

Frosty Yosemite Falls towers above the dark valley below.

Back lit mist below Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Backlit mist below Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Perhaps my favorite social photography experiences is the “road trip”. I love the adventure and freedom of being out on the road; sleeping in a different place every night, seeing new sights and being able to simplify, focus and relax. Sharing the road trip experience with others only enhances it. I’ve enjoyed road tripping since college, although back then my road trips were rock climbing trips and the real adventure was finding out if my $600 car would break down in the middle of nowhere. My first photography dedicated road trip was in 2004. It was a solo trip and it left me with some great memories. But what was missing was the laughter, the collaboration, the camaraderie and the synergy.  The conversation certainly left something to be desired as well. And now I find I miss being able to reminisce with someone about that trip.

Abstract dune shapes at sunrise, Death Valley.

Abstract dune shapes at sunrise, Death Valley.

Alpen glow on the hills of Death Valley.

Alpenglow on the hills of Death Valley.

Since then I have been on at least a couple photo road trips each year, some of them solo, but most of them with friends, colleagues, and clients. Most recently I went tripping with two of my best friends and Photo Cascadia teammates, Zack Schnepf and David Cobb. All of these photos are from that trip. I have traveled with each of these swarthy gents many times and we have THE best time together. For this trip we had planned to search out winter conditions in the Tetons or the Canadian Rockies, but the day before we left the weather forecast indicated low cloud cover for days to come in those locales, so we redirected our plan to California just hours before departure. With the Millenium Falcon filled to the gills with camera gear, tripods, duffel bags, sleeping bags, snowshoes and plenty of tortillas and refried beans, we hit Interstate 5 south with the Louis CK Pandora station playing and scarcely a clue where we were going. The next seven days on the road took us to Yosemite National Park, where thousands were photographing the famous Horsetail Falls “firefall” but we opted to shoot in solitude along the Merced River instead, then to Joshua Tree in the rain, a couple of days in Death Valley and finally up the east side of the Sierra Nevada along the Owens River Valley.

"Tangerine Dream" - Twilight at Badwater, Death Valley.

“Tangerine Dream” – Twilight at Badwater, Death Valley.

"Red Racer" -Light painting Sailing Stones on the Racetrack under the stars. Death Valley.

“Red Racer” -Light painting Sailing Stones on the Racetrack under the stars. Death Valley.

Along the way and per usual we told bad jokes, ate junk food at truck stops, listened to audio books, solved the world’s problems and held snoring competitions sleeping in the Falcon’s tight quarters. The photography conditions were good but not great, but what we lacked in light we compensated for by regaling each other with tall tales of epic photo sessions of the past. We did manage to bring home a few passable images as well. At the end of the trip, I scraped together the images and video we had taken with our phones, added in some aerial footage I took while learning to fly my new drone, and put it together into the short behind the scenes video you’ll find at the beginning of this article. I think the video will give you a fun view into the spirit of this trip.  I hope you enjoy it.

We all photograph for different goals, reasons and rewards. We aren’t all cut out to be social photographers, at least not all the time. But if you do enjoy photo tripping with others consider contributing a thought, an experience, a road trip tip or a favorite route in the comments below. If you haven’t road tripped but want to and are just lacking companions, I would suggest joining your local photography club, becoming active in online photography communities such as Flickr or Facebook groups or signing up for photography workshops or photography tours.

"Sierra Sunset" - Last light on the Owens River.

“Sierra Sunset” – Last light on the Owens River.

Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

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Book Review: Treasured Lands by QT Luong

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

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Over 20 years and 300 visits, photographer and author, QT Luong, explored each of America’s 59 national parks. His decades-long project culminated in his book, Treasured Lands, A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Both an art book and a guidebook in one, it is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to our most treasured landscapes. Released in the summer of 2016 in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, it now is even more important and timely in light of the recent political environment which could put our national parks and other public lands at risk.

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Reviewing books is not part of my typical skill set, but this book has made such an impression on me that I am honored to share it. Unfortunately, there may not be much value I can add considering the New York Times already declared it to be the “most glorious” book to come out of the centennial of the National Park Service and the accolades of Ken Burns already grace its cover.

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I first became familiar with Luong’s photography while researching photo locations in the Western United States and Mexico more than a decade ago. Time and again, the most comprehensive photographic coverage and the most inspiring photos I found were in his collection. It seemed he had been everywhere and always under the most favorable conditions for photography. Later I had the pleasure of meeting Luong and attending one of his presentations at a North American Nature Photography Association summit. Over time we have corresponded on a variety of photography topics. His eye for light and composition is inspiring, his determination for finding exciting vantage points is remarkable and his appreciation and knowledge of our planet is heartening. However, nothing could be a more fitting testament to his artistry and tenacity as an explorer, scientist and photographer than this book. At over 450 pages, 500+ images, 130,000 words and 60 maps, it is definitive in its scope, content, and beauty.

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The mind has a hard time grasping the enormity of such a project. To merely visit all 59 national parks in one’s lifetime would be an accomplishment to take note of. To spend the time, over multiple visits, to find and photograph so many locations in so many nuances of light, weather and season is remarkable. To do it with such quality, attention to detail and obvious admiration and love for the land is exceptional. The layout of this large format book is gorgeous. It is printed on heavy art paper with great attention to color and image quality. Each chapter begins with an overview of the particular park, followed by several stunning page-filling images, completely unfettered by text. At the end of each park’s chapter is additional information about the park as well as details for each image, a map, seasonal tips, locations, and suggestions for photography.

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Tuan’s photography showcased in this format combined with the historical and ecological information, maps, visitor suggestions and photography tips truly make this an art book and a guidebook in one. But who is going to lug a seven-pound book along with them on their explorations of the parks? In order to make Treasured Lands “more useful than a coffee-table book, and more inspiring than a guidebook”, he has also created a companion e-book that is formatted specifically for mobile devices. This makes it possible to bring the guide aspect of the book along with you in your pocket. For a nominal price, book owners can access the e-book from a link found on page 13. If you only want the e-book version you can purchase it separately on the Treasured Lands website.

A sign of the times, purchasing large art books isn’t as common these days as it once was. But if there ever was an art book to have as your own or give to someone else, this would be the one. It is an important book on many levels; as a tribute to our national parks, as a tribute to a 20-year project of passion, as a monumental body of artwork, as inspiration to enjoy, admire and take care of our public lands, as a photography resource and a travel guide and perhaps most importantly as a reminder of what a treasure our National Parks are and how important it is that we fight to keep them safe.

You can find the book Treasured Lands at treasuredlandsbook.com.

QT Luong is a full-time photographer from California, known for being the first to photograph all 59 US National Parks – in large format. Ken Burns featured him in “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009). His photographs, published in dozens of countries around the world, have been the subject several magazine profiles, solo gallery and museum exhibits. You can see more of his work at www.terragalleria.com.

Sean Bagshaw is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

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For the Love of Ghost Towns

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Ghost Town Overview

There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.

Tinder Box

The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.

I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.

Brookman Cabin

Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.

Bottles & Blades

Wash Basin

Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.

Heart Car

American Rust

Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.

Spectral Hall

Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.

In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.

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2016 Favorite Locations To Photograph Wildflowers On Mount Rainier- Kevin McNeal

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Images from Grand Park in Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Every year since I began photography, my summer days are spent hiking on Mt Rainier looking for wildflowers. After scouting several places on the mountain this year,  I have compiled a list of some of my favorite places to find wildflowers on Mt Rainier. Everywhere I look, there are all sorts of arrangements including Indian paintbrush, lupine, asters, and lilies just to mention a few. Trying to recommend one place to go would be impossible but I am going to try to highlight a few places I think should not be missed. Every wildflower season I begin my journey on Mt Rainier on the Sunrise side near the visitor center and generally the wildflowers always start peaking here first. This is an easy location to drive to when looking for wildflowers without much hiking. This year for some reason there are no flowers in the vicinity of the Sunrise area.

Images from Emmons Glacier and Silver Forest Trail near Sunrise Visitor Center on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State But if you park your car at the Sunrise visitor center there are many trails that branch off from the visitor center if you don’t mind hiking. I like to hike the Sourdough trail working my way to Berkley Park and Grand Park. This is usually for my first trip of the year when photographing on Mt Rainier. Park at the Sunrise Visitor center and make your way up along the Sourdough Trail.

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Look for flowers on the slopes with Rainier in the background; just be careful not to fall on the rocks. While hiking this gorgeous trail take in the view. It is one of the best on the mountain. As you continue you make your way by Frozen Lake. Take note of the color of the water – unbelievable! To make it to Berkeley Park keep going roughly 2-3 miles to witness without a doubt the most wildflowers in the park. Even though you do not get a view of the mountain from this park it is worth the hike. As you hike here you will pass a creek that follows you throughout the park.

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This is a great opportunity to shoot Lewis Monkey flowers (the pink ones that grow next to streams). Do not be afraid to get your feet wet to get the best compositions here, as there is opportunity everywhere. To get more views of the mountain keep going on the trail to Grand Park as you are met with an open meadow that goes on forever.

Images from Grand Park in Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

On the return to the visitor center makes sure to head down the trail when you hit Frozen Lake to go by Shadow Lake, which is a great place to relax and have a picnic. This is the lake you can see from the Sourdough Trail when you look down into the valley. Now keep along this trail and you will get back to the Sunrise visitor center.

For a sunrise if you are situated on the Sunrise Visitor Center side, I would highly recommend a visit to Tipsoo Lakes which is looking very good this year with a variety of wildflowers. Tipsoo Lake is a short drive back down the mountain from the Sunrise Visitor Center. It offers great reflections of the mountain and wildflowers together. Make sure to hike the hill behind the lake to even get better views of the mountain.

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Now if you are heading to the Paradise side, which is always a fan favorite for wildflowers, it offers great views as well. I always begin my journey on Paradise side with a sunrise shot from the Dead Horse Creek Trail.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

You cannot go wrong from here as long as get high enough to unobstructed views of the mountain. There are plenty of wildflowers along this trail and a great place to get sidelight on Rainier. Follow this trail all the way up to High Skyline Trail to get closer then you could ever imagine to the mountain. The treat this year is the wildflowers are higher then they have ever been and you can get some very close up views of the mountain with great foregrounds of wildflowers. To get there make sure to keep going all the way to the top so you are heading in the direction of Muir Camp. Once up top you will have a completely unobstructed view of the mountain and wildflowers. After this continue along the High Skyline trail until he heads back down to Paradise area.

You will make your way for about two miles before you get to the meadows worth shooting again.Warning: this place is filled with people and hard to get pictures without people in them. If you are lucky enough to get the place to yourself make sure to stop at the bridge and get a few shots of Edith Creek and the surrounding wildflowers with Rainier as your backdrop. Make sure though to include the S-Curve that leads up and around to the mountain for a great shot.While there get a shot of Myrtle Falls with Rainier in the distance.

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Just past the bridge continuing up the hill you find great meadows of wildflowers and views of the Tatoosh Range if you look the opposite way of the mountain.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

This year the meadows are abundant with lupine. You can never go wrong with this image for stock purposes. If time allows I always like to make my way over to Mazama Ridge as this place rarely fails for good compositions of the mountain and wildflowers.

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There are great patches of wildflowers along the trail on the switchbacks up to Mazama Ridge that look great with views of the mountain from the Mazama side. While here also don’t forget to look the other way and photograph wildflowers with the Tatoosh Range. A favorite place to photograph the mountain is Reflection Lakes. This is a great place to photograph for sunrise when you are looking to get somewhere quick. Because you can drive right up to it is very popular and usually has a lot of photographers there but it is easy to find room to shoot especially at either of the far ends.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Reflections Lakes on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Well these are some of the stunning locations to shoot on Mt Rainier this year if you get a chance to visit. Remember every year it changes when and where to find the wildflowers so always do your homework before coming to make sure you plan everything correct to time the wildflowers!

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Hold Still Sally Mann Cover

 

Book Review by David Cobb

“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann

Sally Mann photographed what she loved: her land, her husband, her children, herself; but where does her creativity come from?  In her new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015 Little, Brown, and Company) Mann gives us insights into this world by exploring her life, family, friends, death, and sense of place. She never writes directly about her creativity in this memoir, but it exudes from the pages; like the oppressive humidity from one of her summer Virginia landscapes.

 

In the chapter ‘Hold Still,” Mann goes through the process by which she photographed her children, from the mundane to the disturbing. Her likes, dislikes, successes, and failures are all there to see. The images from this time period brought her celebrity status and with it controversy, and that fame and contention added a creative temperance to her psych. She sums up this thinking with a quote from writer Adam Gopnik, “When we hit pay dirt, we often find quicksand beneath it.”

 

Mann seems to credit her mother’s side of the family for not only her work ethic, but also her romanticism of the land, her love of place, and the land which she inhabits. If it’s her family and her own life on the land which built a foundation for her landscape images, perhaps it’s photographer Michael Miley and her artist friend Cy Twombly who helped shape and inspire her landscapes. She photographed Cy Twombly’s art studio in her early years and noticed by doing so her work “changed from documentary to evocative.” Mann’s landscapes aren’t the usual fare you might be used to seeing on the internet—they can be dark, moody, and claustrophobic, while also being timeless or by hearkening back to a bygone era.

 

Maybe her landscape images changed because of her father’s influence. His life-long fascination with death and his own stoic demise appears to influence her last chapter of creative energy. After a death on her land, she wondered how the land had changed for her with that incident and set about capturing it with images. She writes that “It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it.” For me, her photography at this time goes to another level. Before my workshop in Florida this year at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, a professor sent me an email question about “how to capture kami (spirits) of the garden?” I could now point him to the ending chapters of this book as a guideline.

 

From the death on her own land, she travels to Civil War battlefields such as Antietam to represent the landscape and death that took place there over 150 years earlier. These chapters are well-covered in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. The film also mentions the irony of her collodion process in the creation of these prints, and that collodion was also used to hold wounds together for the injured on the Civil War battlefield.

 

Her work changes from the metaphorical to the literal, as she photographs at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility known as the Body Farm. The program records decomposition and decay of the human corpse. Her work here for the New York Times Magazine added to her closing chapters and furthered her creative exploration of death.

 

Overall, Sally Mann’s Hold Still is an outstanding book on many levels. Intellectually interesting, whimsical, and humorous; and at times it carries the shock value of a who-done-it novel. Ultimately for me this memoir is about creativity, and it’s a look into the soul of an artist. By taking a page from Sally Mann, I wondered how those around me and the land I hold dear influences me and contribute to my artistic process–and that’s the kind of thinking that can help artistic creativity and growth.

 

 

Easter Island: Photographing The Last Place On Earth

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua, might be considered the last place on Earth for a number of reasons. For example, it is one of the points of land on the planet furthest from any other point of land. Other than New Zealand and Antarctica, it was also one of the last places on Earth to be inhabited by humans. Once the Rapa Nui people had lived on Easter Island for several hundred years without any visitors and without ever making it back to other islands or continents themselves, they began to wonder if the rest of the world sank leaving them stranded on literally the last place on Earth. Finally, Easter Island is one of the last places on Earth I ever imagined having the opportunity to visit and photograph.

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In my last article I shared photos and a trip report from the photography tour I helped lead in Patagonia with Christian and Regula Heeb, owners of the Cascade Center of Photography. Christian is one of the world’s most published and prolific travel photographers and there are few places he has not visited, but Easter Island was one of them. At the end of the Patagonia tour the Heebs scheduled an extension trip to Rapa Nui. Six of our group, including myself, continued on from Santiago, Chile to spend several days exploring and photographing there. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia and Easter Island trips on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

It is fair to say that Easter Island is probably not a location most landscape photographers would prioritize. It is expensive and difficult to get to and it is small and windswept. If tropical seascapes and landscapes are your photography goal, there are certainly more beautiful, larger, more diverse and easier to reach islands and tropical regions. For me, the culture, folklore, history and ecology of the island made it an intriguing place to visit and the imposing visual of the moai standing watch around the island were alluring to me photographically.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

Easter Island, so named because the first European explorer arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722, is best known for the massive stone moai statues the Rapa Nui carved and placed in multiple locations all around the island, but the history, culture and eventual plight of the Rapa Nui people make the tiny island all the more fascinating. The island itself is very small, just 13 miles long and as little as two miles wide in some places. From the highest points you can see all the way across the island in any direction. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 1300 miles away and the nearest continental land is central South America, 2200 miles away.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Polynesian people most likely arrived on the island between 900 and 1300 years ago and created a thriving society. Easter Island was forested and had a stable ecosystem at that time so natural resources, farming and fishing enabled a comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately it seems that overpopulation, over harvesting and the introduction of the Polynesian rat eventually led to deforestation, extinction of the native birds and damage to the ecosystem. The population of the island could have been as high as 15,000 in the 1600s, but by the time the first Europeans visited in 1722 it had declined to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people. By the late 1800s disease and Peruvian slave traders had reduced the population to just 111.

Tongariki

Tongariki

The statues were created as part of the clan based society with one clan wielding power over the other clans through a high chief, the eldest descendant of the island’s legendary founder, Hotu Matu’a. There are 887 moai on the island, some of them standing, but many were knocked over, toppled in transport or were never completed and are still in place in the main quarry.

Toppled moai with partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

A Toppled moai with the partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

According to National Geographic, “Most scholars suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other important personages.” For hundreds of years the creation of the statues was believed to be a way for the living to connect with dead ancestors and for the ancestors to provide for the needs of the living, including power and wealth. Rapa Nui villages were mostly located near the coastline with groups of statues standing nearby with their backs to the ocean, watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

The ancestor cult that worshiped the moai statues eventually faded, however. Warriors known as matatoa gained more power as the island became overpopulated and resources diminished. In the late 1700s the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Bird Man Cult. Beverly Haun wrote, “The concept of mana invested in hereditary leaders was recast into the person of the birdman, apparently beginning circa 1540, and coinciding with the final vestiges of the moai period.” This cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer statues, but human beings chosen through a competition. This competition was held each year and required the matatoa to climb down high cliffs to the ocean, swim through shark infested waters to a small off shore island and wait there for migrating sooty turns to arrive and begin nesting. The first matatoa to find a turn egg, swim back to the main island and scale the cliffs without falling or breaking the egg was the winner. The title and power of the birdman was then bestowed upon the warrior, or more commonly a wealthy older chief who had hired him to be his representative champion.

Lone statue with top ornament replaced and eyes whitened in the way they would have been.

Lone statue with head ornament (probably representing a hair style) and eyes whitened as they would have been.

Another ramification of deforestation and dwindling resources was fighting among the clans and toppling of each others statues. The European explorers who came to Easter Island in the earlier 1700s reported seeing many statues standing all along the coastline. In 1774, British explorer, James Cook, reported noticing that some of the statues had been knocked over. In 1825 the British ship HMS Blossom arrived and reported seeing no standing statues. The only statues still standing were the ones located on the side of the crater below the rock the quarry where they were carved. This was due to the fact that soil erosion on the steep slope had caused the moai to be partially buried over time, making them topple proof. The toppled statues remained in this state until 1956, when the first statues were re-erected. To date about 50 statues have been put back in their upright positions.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

During our five days on the island we photographed most of the main moai sites that have standing statues, some of them multiple times and at different times of day. Since I had previously seen many documentary and archaeological images of the moai, my goal was to create photographs that were unique, dramatic and gave a sense of the statues in their environment. All of the statues are protected and part of the national park system. It is prohibited to touch them or access certain areas, some of the sites are only open during the day and the most popular sites can be crowded during the day and at sunset, so there are some challenges to finding the right composition and not having people in the photos.

For me this was a wonderful life experience. I am happy with the photos I was able to capture, especially the long exposure image of the Tongariki moai group under a full moon. Mostly I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit such a remote spot on the planet and one with such an interesting and storied history and culture.

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Tongariki moai under a full moon…on my birthday no less!

 

Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

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Wildlife as Part of the Landscape

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Above it All

I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.

Prairie Dog Kiss

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.

Sow E

As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.

Virginia Rail

When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.

Big Horn Sheep

Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.

Black-browed Albatross Chicks

Spotlit Deer

 

 

 

Renewing Your Passion In Photography by Kevin McNeal

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon

Ever since I began my photography interest in 2006, I fell in love with the notion of capturing incredible scenes with all the right conditions. As photographers have come to know, this is not easy. It means that you have to return to the same location several times until all the elements combine for the perfect scene. I began this labor of love ever since i picked up a camera and I was obsessed with capturing the best image I could. In the process of doing this, I learned a lot of things about myself, good and bad.
Images are from Spray Park on Mount Rainier National Park in Washington
The most important thing I learned about myself is that if I was determined to capture something I would never give up no matter how many times it took. I was persistent to a fault. But I also changed within myself in ways that I wish I could have seen better. In the pursuit of getting the best images I could get I lost my enthusiasm and passion for getting outdoors. I could not enjoy just being out in nature and love combining it with my photography passion.
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I wish I could look back at tell you there was a moment when I realized this but the process was slow and I had lost myself in it. Its hard to say each time you go out and shoot that you are just going to have fun. Somewhere along the line in the act of shooting I seem to switch modes into this person who bases his happiness on how good the photo outing went. I knew if I was going to choose this for a career long term something had to change.
Images from around Texas during wildflower spring season
Like other photographers I would spend countless hours on photo forums continuously analyzing each image to see how I could be better.  Every waking moment was used to dream of ways to capture certain scenes better. What could I do to raise the bar on a scene that had not been done before? What could I do that no one had done before? How could I make this an image worthy of remembering?
I never stopped to think if I was happy with the image. Was it something that I was personally satisfied with. The thought process was always how would social media and the viewers like the image? Had I done enough to make viewers remember the image? I know when I look back it should have been the experiences of that particular outing and not the results of that outing. Over the next few years I continued this philosophy and would press harder and harder to get better images. The result was one of never being satisfied and looking outwards for approval rather than within myself.
I knew I had to change things up in my outlook towards photography and find the source of what makes my happy. I had do some soul searching to really get back to basics and forget about what everyone else thinks and really look to myself for happiness. This was going to be hard because it meant stepping back and reanalyzing what it is that makes photography so enjoyable for me.
Today, I work hard on myself and try to focus more internally. Occasionally, I still find myself being pulled into the direction of social media and what constitutes success. Its hard to determine worth in photography based on your own values, but necessary if one is to find long term success and enjoyment and not just short term.
If you have a similar experience with your time in photography would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
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Patagonia: A Photography Adventure of a Lifetime

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

In March of this year I had the unforgettable opportunity to participate in a photography tour of Patagonia with my friend and fellow photographer, Christian Heeb. This article is a brief account of that trip in words and images. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia trip on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.

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Christian and his wife, Regula, planned and organized the trip through their company, The Cascade Center of Photography, which offers photography tours, workshops and classes, both in the western US and to exotic locations around the world. The Heebs have been traveling and photographing all corners of the planet for nearly three decades and Christian has published over 150 books of his travel photography. I was along on the trip as a co-leader to provide photography instruction and to help drive endless miles of gravel roads. The southern Andes mountains of Patagonia have been a mythical place to me since I was 19, when I first read about the terrifying mid-20th century climbs of Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the Towers of Paine. Later, in the early 1990s, Galen Rowell’s photos of the Cuernos del Paine and Fitz Roy rooted the mystique of Patagonia firmly in my imagination. After almost 30 years of dreaming I finally made it there. Traveling with us were nine clients from the United States and Switzerland, all talented and adventurous photographers as well as wonderful travel companions.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of  the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

If you aren’t familiar with Patagonia, it is a region that covers the southern portion of South America and includes parts of both Chile and Argentina. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón used by the explorer Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people who his expedition claimed to be giants. It is now believed that the people he called the Patagons were the Tehuelches, who tended to be taller than Europeans of the time, but certainly not giants.

The 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

The 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

The Andes mountains reach south through Patagonia, with Chile to the west and Argentina to the east. West of the Andes is wetter with many lakes and fjords. East of the Andes is dryer and consists of desert, plains and grasslands.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Mount Fitz Roy.

Mount Fitz Roy.

Much of the higher Andes range in Patagonia is covered by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous extrapolar icefield after the Greenland icefield. The icefield feeds dozens of glaciers that flow down out of the mountains, including the Grey and Perito Moreno Glaciers which we photographed.

The ice at the tongue of the Gray Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

The ice at the tongue of the Grey Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

Our trip began in the Chilean port town of Punta Arenas in the Strait of Magellan. We spent two weeks driving north, up to Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay) National Park and then along Ruta 40 in Argentina, eventually crossing back into Chile and ending at Puerto Montt.

The idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

The idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

The direct driving distance from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt is about 1,200 miles, but our circuitous route totalled more than 3,000 miles. Ruta 40 parallels the Andes mountains and spans Argentina from north to south. It is one of the longest roads in the world. The southern part of the route that we traveled is largely unpaved through sparsely populated territory. It has become a well-known adventure tourism journey, although there are now plans to pave it.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to "smoking mountain". Fitting.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to “smoking mountain”. Fitting.

Hats off to Christian and Regula for overcoming the substantial logistical challenges of organizing a trip of this magnitude. Every detail of the trip was meticulously planned, from the rental SUVs and border crossings to plotting our route and fueling points to finding great locations, lodging and food even in remote villages, like the one we stayed in near Lago Posadas in the Santa Cruz Province.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

As I mentioned, Patagonia first entered my imagination as a land of unlikely rock spires and ferocious weather which vanquished even the strongest and most cunning alpinists. Later, the photographs of Galen Rowell made me yearn to explore the region with a camera. In recent years Patagonia has become a sought after destination for landscape photographers around the world.

The Cuernos del Paine or Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue.

Los Cuernos del Paine or the Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue, which probably refers to the glacial lakes and not the towers themselves.

But what makes the region so enticing to photographers? Certainly Torres del Paine National Park and the Mount Fitz Roy range are among the most striking mountain landscapes in the world.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

Beyond that is the remote and rugged nature of the land, the endless expanse of plains, fjords, glaciers, lakes and rivers, the abundance of wildlife and the dramatic weather and light. The proximity to the ocean, the strength of the winds and the abruptness of the mountain range cause the weather to be unsettled and rapidly changing, creating a continuous show of visually captivating cloud formations and atmospheric conditions. In this way it is not unlike the weather and light common to the Eastern Sierra Nevada in California.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

We were fortunate to have great conditions for photography almost every day. However, I am aware that the weather can also be extremely harsh. Like Alaska, the mountains can be hidden in clouds for weeks at a time and the winds can be powerful enough to blow the water right out of the lakes.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

For me this was a journey of a lifetime, both as a travel adventure and as a photography experience. It was made even better by all the wonderful people who joined us. I only wish that I could go back to Patagonia with Christian again next year. He and David Cobb will be leading a similar trip to the region, but it will be timed for fall color and will also explore more of the Chilean side of the Andes. Don’t pass it up if you have the chance. If you are interested you can find out more here.

After two weeks in Patagonia half of our group continued on to Easter Island. I’ll follow up with images and stories from that adventure soon.

If you have any questions about traveling and photographing in Patagonia, or a Patagonian experience of your own you would like to share, you can leave me a note in the comment section below.

At least half the journey is about the people and the experiences. The following gallery shares some behind the scenes images from the trip (taken by Christian or Regula Heeb). Enjoy!

Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

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Telephoto Lenses and Landscape Photography by David Cobb

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Blossom Quilt

Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.

Little Buffalo River

A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:

• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.

Buttermilk Creek Cascade 2

When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.

I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.

Lavender in Layers

Palouse Hill Country