Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography’

Book Review: A Photographer’s Life, Review by David Cobb

Monday, July 17th, 2017

 

 

“There’s just no such thing as a ‘drive-by shooting’ in landscape photography. In other words, you need to put in the time on the ground.” – Jack Dykinga

 

A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld wrote a posthumous post about comedian George Carlin and his accomplishments with the line “Carlin already did it.” Seinfeld wrote: “And he didn’t just ‘do’ it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian.” You could take that line and replace comedian with photographer, and it would apply to Jack Dykinga. From his images “Saguaro in Bloom” in Saguaro National Park to “Stone Canyon” in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument– the very much alive Dykinga already did it.

In his new book, A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer (2017 Rocky Nook, Inc.) Dykinga reflects on his life after a near-death experience and a lung transplant, and shares with us stories of his successes, failures, faults, and thanks. He thanks those photographers who offered help along the way, including Chuck Scott (photo editor at the Chicago Daily News) to landscape photographers Philip Hyde and John Shaw. He also offers thanks to his comrades-in-arms at the various daily papers in his early career, his photography friends and influences such as Patricio Robles Gil, and the writers who were his friends: Chuck Bowden and Edward Abbey.

His photography is certainly an influence on mine, especially the intimate portraits of plants in the desert southwest. So in this book I enjoyed the stories of how he got the shot. Bringing us behind the scenes for images such as “Sisterhood” and “Saguaro in Bloom” is fascinating, and these photos show his dedication to his craft. I own a few books of Dykinga’s photography, but in this one I found his images from Mexico particularly inspiring. I also appreciated viewing the images which earned him the Pulitzer–their impact has not diminished over time.

A Photographer’s Life covers a lifetime of brilliant photographic work, and the images excel. (One note: the book needed a proofreader to catch a few missing words and typos.) For anyone interested in photography I recommend this book, for this is a life of a great photographer with boots on the ground and a life well-lived. Dykinga’s presentation of his life of photography is ultimately a story of his legacy—a difficult achievement in this field. From his Pulitzer Prize in 1971 to NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 his body of work is of the highest caliber, and it is here through the lens that Jack Dykinga did it all.

Photo Adventures In Arctic Norway

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

 

In 2011 I saw a beautiful time lapse video by Terje Sørgjerd. The entire video is of sunset and twilight scenery in the Arctic islands of Norway. Some of the time lapse segments span five or six hours of time and the light continues throughout. It immediately captured my attention and inspired my imagination.

The Lofoten archipelago has become a popular photography destination since the system of tunnels and bridges traversing the 100 miles of islands was finished in 2009. In the winter it is one of the top destinations for photographing the aurora. In the summer, when the sun never sets, you can hike to mountain lakes and scale peaks too numerous to count. But it was the light that Terje found in the spring, a couple weeks before the midnight sun begins, that really intrigued me. In his video, gorgeous glowing twilight stretches on for five or six hours a time. Photographing for hours in my favorite light surrounded by dramatic and surreal sea-to-summit landscapes seemed like a dream. Six years after seeing Terje’s video I finally was able to make the trip myself.

After researching and talking with other photographers who had been there, I knew that the photography locations would be spread out across many islands and hundreds of miles windy roads, bridges and tunnels.  Here in the western US my trusty Toyota truck and pop-up camper are essential pieces of photography equipment, enabling me to camp close to photography locations and be ready to shoot when the light is good and sleep when it isn’t. I became convinced that this type of “sleep where you shoot” approach would work well in Norway too, so I proceeded to look for rental RV’s above the Arctic Circle and plot my course on Google Maps.

My friend, Paul Imperia, is a guy who isn’t afraid of a little adventure. When I emailed him with some details about the trip his reply only had two words, “I’m in!” So, in late April we flew to the north of Norway and spent a couple weeks road-tripping in our rented Viking RV. We christened it the Gokstad after the famous historic Viking ship. The weather was suitably cold, windy and wet for the Arctic in May and the light did not disappoint. The lighting would begin getting good around 9:00 PM and the sun would set about 11:00 PM. Then gorgeous twilight would continue through the night until about 3:30 or 4:00 AM when the sun would rise. By 6:00 AM we would call it a day. We would usually take a “lunch” break about midnight when the light was lowest. Paul is an excellent cook so these breaks would really be gourmet food events prepared in the Gokstad with plenty of wine and perhaps a bit of Scotch.  Living nocturnal lives meant that we rarely saw people in the villages or cars on the road. It was like being in one of those sci-fi movies where you are the last people on Earth. The upside is that we never got off of West Coast time, so no jet lag going or coming.

What follows are some images and stories from the trip. I hope you enjoy. I’ll include some info and links on the trip logistics at the end of the article. If you are interested in visiting this region of Norway and have questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.

 

“Tidal Ice”


I took this on our first day on the road. We flew into Tromso and picked up the RV, and then waited 24 hours for lost luggage to show up. Mine did, Paul’s didn’t. So we decided to drive all night to get to the Lofoten islands and hope that Paul’s duffle would show up at a local airport in the area eventually. We pulled over at 3:30 in the morning, just before sunrise, for our first photo session. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but it was cold. This ice was a cool phenomenon we saw along many of the fjords. I’m not sure exactly how it occurs, but I think a thin layer of ice forms on the brackish water at high tide. Then, as the tide goes out this thin layer covers the shore like a delicate ice blanket. It was so fragile but great for texture and reflections.

Canon 5D4, 17mm, polarizer. 0.6 seconds, f/14, ISO 100.

 

“Arctic Dreams”


This was one of our favorite locations of the trip and we returned here two or three times. The images I took on each visit have completely different characteristics. I enjoy being able to return to a spot and experience it in different light and weather. For me, it is a good reminder that landscape photography isn’t just about the landscape itself, but also the atmosphere, light, mood and experience you encounter while in the landscape. This is one shot, but I did some perspective work on it. My camera was pointed slightly down so the mountains were leaning outward. I copied the upper 1/3 onto a new layer and transformed it so the mountains and reflections would be vertical as they should be…but without losing the wide angle perspective of the foreground.

Canon 5D4, 24mm, polarizer. 6 seconds, f/16, ISO 100.

 

“70 Degrees North”


This is a second photo from the same location. The Lofoten Islands is a chain of rock teeth that rise from the ocean and stretch more than a hundred miles out into the Norwegian Sea. It was a rare and strange experience to photograph tidepools and jagged granite peaks in such close proximity to each other. This is what the light looked like at 11:00 at night, right before the sun actually set.

Single exposure, Canon 5D4, 16-35mm, polarizer, 0.5 seconds, F/18, ISO 100.

 

“In The Night”


Midnight Twilight overlooking the village of Reine, Olstind Mountain and the Kirkefjord in the Lofoten Islands of Norway.

Three images stitched to create the panorama. Canon 5D4, 70mm, f/11, 10 seconds.

 

“Nordland”


There are some recurring elements in most of the photos I made in Norway: ocean-scapes with mountainous backdrops, moody weather and twilight. But those are the precise elements I went there to see…so mission accomplished from that perspective, I guess. We would stay out until our fingers went numb, then we would duck into Gokstad the Viking RV to warm up. It’s hard to see at screen size, but there is a small village across the fjord dwarfed beneath the mountains.

Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm. Perspective and wave motion blend of three different frames. f/11 and 35mm background, f/22 and 20mm foreground.

 

“Stor Buøya”


A small tree reflecting in a small pond on a small island in a fjord next to the big island of Flakstadøya in Norway. Dreamy light courtesy of all-night arctic twilight. According to Ron Jansen, who lives in Norway, “‘Bu’, or ‘bo’, can mean a little hut or cabin. ‘Øya’ means ‘the island’. Stor means large. So most likely, Stor Buøya refers to a time before the road and bridges were there and this island (the larger of two very small ones) had one or a few little cabins on it.

Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 26mm, polarizer. 3.2 seconds, f/14, ISO 100. Side note: almost all of the images I took on this trip in the 24-35mm range were taken with my16-35mm instead of the 24-70mm I would normally use. On the second day of the trip, I slipped on some slimy rocks and my beloved 24-70 f/2.8 MKII took the full hit, sacrificing it but saving the camera. I spent the rest of the trip getting by with the 16-35 and the 70-200. I’m waiting to hear from Canon if the 24-70 can be resurrected from the dead.

 

“Endless Night”


Endless night is what it felt like we were living after two weeks of photographing through the nights and sleeping during the days in Norway. Paul and I happened on this beach on the Island of Vestvågøy. The maze of fjords, bays and headlands on the islands mean that scenes like this can be found around any corner or through any tunnel. We would look at Google maps to find a particularly jagged shoreline and then see if there was a road that would take us there. Often a long tunnel under a mountain would open onto a remote and windswept landscape like this one. This beach had some cool eroded cauldrons with iridescent algae growing in them. They were fun to work with as foreground elements. Meanwhile, thundershowers moved in from the Norwegian sea, alternately pounding us with wind and hail and exposing small openings in the clouds that would let the late-night light through.

Canon 5D4, 16mm. 8 Seconds, f/18, ISO 100. It has been awesome using the 5D4. The dynamic range capability allows me to capture many scenes like this in a single exposure instead of needing to bracket and blend exposures. I know…Nikon and Sony users have been doing this for years. It’s awesome to now have that as a Canon user.

 

“The Norwegian Sea”


More deep twilight from Norway, but some warmer tones this time. Throughout our all-night photo shoots small breaks in the clouds would let soft twilight filter across the landscape and keep us transfixed. Once the sun set there would be several hours of light like this before the sun would rise again, around 3 AM. So finding the light was just a matter of being patient for an opening in the clouds to come.

Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm at 24mm. Polarizer. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100. Developing included tonal balancing for sky and land, split toning and luminosity/color painting.

 

“North Of The Wall”


It was about 2:00 AM when I took this. I was alone on the island of Senja, north of the Lofoten chain. Paul had left for warmer conditions (in Cuba) a couple days earlier, but I stayed to continue getting schooled in what spring in the Arctic is about. I knew Norway would be colder and stormier than Oregon in May, but the marine air, wind and below-freezing temperatures made it feel like we were “north of the wall”. Paul and I made frequent GoT jokes throughout the trip. When it began snowing at sea level I didn’t worry too much and celebrated the opportunity to photograph snow on the ocean shore. But it kept snowing and began accumulating on the road. The only way through the mountains on Senja is to go under them…one tunnel after another. But when it snows too much the tunnels can be closed by avalanches. The fact that Gokstad the Viking RV didn’t come equipped with chains also gave me some anxiety. I hung out on this fjord for a full day in the snow, but with my flight less than 24 hours away I decided I had to make a run for it. A couple hours of white knuckle driving later I managed to navigate through all the tunnels and arrived at the ferry dock on the other side of the island.

Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 16mm, 30 seconds, f/20, ISO 100. Single exposure worked in Lightroom and then finished in Photoshop. I did quite a bit of contrast and localized luminosity work until I felt I had communicated the mood.

 

“Lunch Break In The Gokstad”

Trip info:

The mid-night sun begins around May 24. The period between the end of April and late May is when the long Arctic twilight happens. The light quality is similar again in late July and August, but then the weather isn’t so dramatic and the snow has melted off the peaks.

We flew to Tromso and picked up the RV there. We rented from Motorhome.no but there are other rental companies in Tromso. It was a 10 or 12-hour drive from Tromso to the very end of the Lofoten Islands. There are airports in the Lofoten chain, but I’m not sure of the availability of RV rentals.

Norway has a general public right, called Freedom To Roam, which means that you can hike and camp just about anywhere as long as you take care of the land. It also means that you can park an RV in just about any pullout along the road. This enabled us to find places to cook and sleep within a few yards of where we wanted to photograph.

Restaurants are expensive and almost non-existent way out in the islands. We stocked up on groceries in larger towns and cooked almost every meal in the RV.

The temperatures ranged from the low 20s to the low 40s, Fahrenheit, but the wind and damp ocean air made it feel much colder. I wore several insulating layers including down, a Gore-tex shell, hat and gloves. I decided to pack a pair of Boggs neoprene waterproof boots and they proved critical for keeping my feet warm and dry.

 

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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Photograph Light, not “Things”

Monday, May 29th, 2017

 

When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.

In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.

A spot-lit deer in Joseph, Oregon. spring. USA. Wild

I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.

A barn in the Palouse region of Washington after harvest time. USA.

A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.

Light and shadow on tables and chairs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. USA

I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.

The last of the rim light on a glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Chile.

Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.

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