Photo Journal: Making of Desert Light, Utah

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Olympus E-M1, 1/8000 sec @f/4, ISO 200, no filters

Seeing is as much about what you see with your eyes as it is about what you feel with your heart. That’s a cliche for sure, but it’s the best way I can describe why I made this image.  We all see and experience the world differently, and becoming aware of what you respond to in any given moment is really important. I look for scenes that resonate with me—that make me aware of something inside that I didn’t feel the moment before I saw it.

A sense of mystery, of wonder, of gratitude.

I was driving along the Colorado River during a rare thunderstorm in Utah, and as I crested a hill, light suddenly filled the sky in front of me. Luckily it was easy to pull off the road, so I immediately parked, grabbed my bag and tripod and walked along the road to find the best vantage point.

You have to imagine that all around me the sky is grey and very ominous, but in this relatively small area, clouds were parting to let some light shine through. This added lots of depth and drama to the sky, a sort of energy that attracted me in a visceral way.

This scene is backlit, meaning the direction of light is towards the viewer, and this makes the outlines of the canyons and mesas very graphic. The shapes and layers of the different mesas are what I wanted to balance with the bright clouds in the sky so that each depends on the other for the composition to work. It’s this tension that I saw and felt originally and wanted to try and capture.

Whether I’ll succeed is always a question that lingers in my mind, but over time I have found that the less I worry about that and focus on reacting to the scene in front of me, the more rewarding photography becomes. Let me phrase that another way; the mere noticing of both the scene and how I reacted is the whole point of photography for me. I had found something to interpret, to try and capture in a way that told the story of it and how I experienced it.

Another thing that I reacted to was that while this landscape is usually dominated by the color red (it’s a desert after all), here that familiar red is missing, replaced by cool shades of blue. It was a departure from the expected, the norm. Mystery can be an essential component of a photograph, and I’m always on the lookout for anything that shifts the viewer’s expectations.

The final key to this image was simplifying it to the essential components. In other words, how much can I remove yet still retain the drama of the moment?

I used an Olympus 40–150mm f/2.8 lens on my Olympus E-M1 and tried to isolate just what was most visually attractive. That’s when I noticed a yin-yang design to the frame; highlights on the left sweeping down and darkness on the bottom right sweeping up, with a punctuation on either side – the single cloud pointing down and left to the corner of the Butte on the right. There are also implied diagonals starting from the bottom left and right, and that provides the visual anchor that leads the viewer up the to sky where the drama and energy are.

One I locked down on the composition, it was a matter of getting the best exposure. I exposed for the highlights, simply because that’s the most important detail in the image. The shadows aren’t nearly as important from a detail perspective because they move the viewer up using the shapes and tones to the clouds where the energy is. The shadows make the highlights all the more important and dramatic. As usual, a few minutes later the light softened until it was gone and it started to rain. And it felt so good.

From Skitch
Red lines indicate the lines and shapes that create the tension between the dark and bright areas of the image. Yellow is where the shadows/shapes help lead the viewer into the image and to the areas of “energy.” The orange lines indicate the implied diagonals. Notice how all the points and lines in the foreground balance with the points and shapes in the sky 9red lines.) That creates the “yin-yang” design I mentioned above. 

I hope these explanations are useful to you from the perspective of how I think about making images. The tools are important, but the process of not only composing an image, but discovering an image is much more important in my opinion, and more rewarding creatively.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I am always eager hear from you and help others continue to expand and grow as creative photographers. Thanks for reading!

New Large Print at Bank Square Coffee in Beacon

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A few months ago I was approached by the owners of my favorite coffee shop, Bank Square Coffeehouse in Beacon, for a new print to hang in their main entrance. I’ve been fortunate to have several murals installed there for a few years, and after their recent renovation, they wanted something new.

I proposed that instead of another mural, which is printed on a wallpaper like material, we use actual fine art paper. This would create a much better looking print with more detail, contrast, and depth. It would be smaller that a mural but the visual appearance would be more dramatic. We decided on a size of 45” x 68” based on the wall space and environment. The challenge would be how to mount and hang it.

For a fine art paper, Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310gm was the best choice for several reasons. First, the non-reflective surface of a mat paper would eliminate any glare and allow the print to look good from any viewing angle. Second, it’s super smooth surface would complement the detail in the image, especially the foreground texture which is very close to the viewer. And finally, Rag Photographique has great black density for a mat paper which means the print doesn’t lose its contrast, but at the same time has a beautiful fine art feel.

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Getting ready to mount onto 1″ Gatorfoam.

I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to frame the print traditionally because I wanted a borderless presentation without glass. So after making the print on my Canon iPF8400, I carefully mounted it to 1” Gatorfoam using photo mounting spray. Then I mounted the entire piece into a wood canvas floater frame that is usually used for canvas prints. This creates a nice finish, adds more strength and rigidity and complements the look and feel of the coffee shop. (Here’s a youtube video about using gatorfoam for smaller prints.)

Mounting and hanging a print this way does compromise its longevity and archival properties – it has no protection of any kind. We decided on this approach for several reasons. First, the visual presentation was the primary focus, and there’s no question printing and mounting this way looks great. Second, none of us are concerned about relative longevity. We’ll probably replace it in a few years, so the tradeoffs are well worth it. It also doesn’t receive any direct sunlight, so UV is not a big problem.

If you’re ever in Beacon, stop by Bank Square for the best coffee in town and check out the piece as well. It’s always a great privilege and honor to have my work displayed publicly, and for that I am grateful to Leonard and Katy for their constant support. (They also have a great outdoor shop as well!)

Thanks for reading!

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Anyone Can Be A Photographer

I overheard a conversation the other day where one person said to the other, “Anyone can be a photographer today!” He went on to explain how in the film days you really needed to know your stuff. Film limited how many images you could make, and the darkroom required technical skill to achieve good results. Now anyone with a digital camera can shoot thousands of images and choose the best ones from the bunch, apply some presets in Photoshop, and presto, great results.

But is it really that simple or easy? And more importantly is that the point of photography? To make great images regardless of how you achieve the results? How do we define “great,” the most popular? The highest number of likes on Facebook or Flickr? Is great more important than original or personal?

There are those that say original images are all but impossible to make today. I have two thoughts on that.

First, I think that’s a way to avoid the fear of failure, the very real possibility that the images you make may not work. Or others won’t like them and let you know they don’t. It’s the equivalent of being booed off the stage, and who likes that.

Second, I think the question is meaningless and distracts from the real question. Do you have something to say, to contribute, to add to the world that will deliver value or make a difference, regardless of how small? Surely that can’t be measured and as long as we retain our individuality, there will always be original images.

But to have any chance of making original images, you must consider why you photograph and what it is you want to convey. Maybe that’s simply a beautiful vista. Or perhaps it’s a unique and dramatic moment in nature. Or perhaps the way the ocean moves you emotionally to consider the meaning of life and what your purpose is.

Whichever of those it is, rapid-fire shooting and presets is not going to get you there. That’s not to say you won’t get lucky and make a meaningful image that way. But the only way to achieve success and move yourself forward as a photographer is by careful consideration of composition, image design, light, and a keen sense of awareness, both of the environment and your response to it.

These are all skills that have to be learned, practiced, and used with sensitivity. When do you break the rules? When you know that breaking them makes a better image. That also takes lots of practice, and failure.

I love Seth Godin’s recent post about bouncing forward. We often get too focused on recovering from failure, but Seth suggests that instead of bouncing back, we bounce forward. That puts us on a better path than the one we started on.
None of this is predicated on the equipment or software we use, or how easy technology allows us to make a good exposure.

It’s about the creative path you choose to follow. Sure, anyone can do that, as long as you commit to being yourself instead of following others.

Smelling the Fresh Air

Olympus E-M1, f/8@ 1/60 sec, 57mm, ISO 200

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” – Erich Fromm

July 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper – Dragonfly Canyon, Utah

The July 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper is now available for download. While Dragonfly Canyon is almost always dry, a quick decision to visit after a rare thunderstorm provided me with a beautiful experience of sight and sound – definitely worth the wet clothes!

As always, come closer to nature in the southwest.

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1920 x 1200

1920 x 1080

1680 x 1050

1280 x 800

Instructions:

First determine your screen size. Your Current Resolution Is:

Then click on the link for the correct size. When the image opens in a new browser window, right click on the image and select “Set as Wallpaper” (on a Mac, select “Use Image as Desktop Picture”).