Posts By desertsolitaire

New Workshop Annoucement: Photographing Your Artwork

Artists often find themselves needing photographs of their work. Maybe it’s for a portfolio, a catalog, on-line advertising, print reproduction, documentation, copyright registration, etc. Hiring a professional photographer can prove an expensive proposition. Hiring an amateur who happens to have a nice camera can be even worse because shooting artwork is a specialty that is very different from other kinds of photography. However, with a little training, you can learn to produce professional quality images of your art objects for yourself.

For more information visit my workshop announcement page.

Great Scout!

Over the years I have learned that scouting locations is an important part of landscape photography. It’s seldom that you arrive at some landmark or great location when the conditions (light, clouds, crowds, etc.) are just right.

However, over time you can train yourself to imagine in your mind what the conditions at a given location will be at another time (sunset, for instance).

In those cases it helps to know exactly where the sun is going to be in the sky at a given time. I use an App on my smartphone (Sun Surveyor) for that. With the App I know exactly where the sun will be (how high in the sky and on what compass point) at a given time of any day for that location.

This means I can picture how the lighting will be in the scene at any time or date in the future.

By scouting out these locations you can plan your day or your trip so that you are at the location when conditions are likely to be optimal.
That’s exactly what I did for this image. I scouted the location in the morning, used my App to figure out when the sun would go down and to spot where it would be on the horizon.

I also knew what the atmospheric conditions would be at that time from a Weather App. Using my imagination to compose the picture in my mind with the expected atmospheric conditions, I decided what time I would return to the location to shoot the photograph.

My companion and I returned to town, had a nice early dinner and returned to the site just a little early to allow time to find the exact spot I wanted to shoot from and set up the camera

I hope you enjoy this image of Wukoki Ruin in the Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. Why not order a print of your very own by clicking here.

Chaos Theory

The human mind is a pattern recognizing machine.

It sees patterns in everything, even when they are not there. An evolutionary legacy, science tell us, of a time when spotting a pattern in the grass meant the difference between being some carnivore’s dinner and surviving for another day. There was no penalty for seeing patterns that weren’t there – you still survived to pass those traits on to your children – but missing a pattern that was there made the passing on of your genes highly unlikely.

Photographers learn how to use the human mind’s pattern recognition tools to great effect when composing images. Even so, it’s difficult to make a photograph of a chaotic scene that is satisfactory to both the viewer and the photographer.

I have been enamored lately of taking photographs of stormy skies (it’s been a very good monsoon season here in Arizona so there have been a lot of opportunities).  Such images are, by definition, photographs of chaos.

It’s been surprisingly challenging to get photographs of storm clouds that have enough structure in them to please the pattern recognition functions of my mind and still convey that sense of natural chaos inherent in the subject.

Here’s a photo that I think succeeds in striking that balance between structure and chaos.

BTW: This photo would look great printed large and hung in your office. If you’d like to do that, click here to find it in my on-line store. Actually, there’s a few there if you’d like to see some variations. They’d make a great grouping if you ordered three or four.

New Workshop Announcement: Better Portraits with Any Camera

I’m offering my popular “Better Portraits with Any Camera” workshop on October 8th at 4:00 PM in Scottsdale.  It’s only $35 for two hours with plenty of hands-on practice and instruction.  To sign up go to my workshop page here:

Hondu Arch

I once heard that you could picture the landscape in Utah by imagining that someone had turned Dr. Seuss loose with a backhoe. That remark has stayed with me because it is so apt.

I left the family farm in Emery County, Utah about 35 years ago and it’s funny but I still get homesick.  In spite of occasional visits and in spite of the fact that Arizona has also certainly become a home for me, I still miss the deserts of that part of Utah.  Something about the place gets under your skin.  You can never really leave it (or perhaps it will never really leave you).

Here is one of my landscape photographs from the last visit in July.  In this photo I set out to capture the place in a way that represents how I relate to it.  That’s why it’s a Panoramic – wide format is the only way to express the sheer scope of the place.

One of most striking things about that part of Utah is the diversity of color in the landscape.  I don’t know of any place with so many colors.  This location is especially blessed because it’s dominated by layers of rock with the names like Curtis Sandstone, Kayenta Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Chinle Formation, Ferron Formation Cedar Mountain Formation and more.  Each layer is a completely different color: buff, white, deep red, pink, purple grey, blue.  The photograph was taken so as to show off the colors as they appear under a bright mid-day sun when they are especially saturated.

The location is Hondu Arch and McKay Flat in the San Rafael Swell.  It’s at the end of a long, rough jeep trail somewhere to the south of Interstate 70.  It’s more or less equidistant from the towns of Emery, Green River and Hanksville, Utah.

Imagine how this colorful photograph would look hanging on your wall.  It’s a panorama and it can be printed in huge sizes.  Click here to go to my store.

Homage to Flaming June

Someone who means a great deal to me loves the painting “Flaming June” by Frederick Lord Leighton (1830-1896).  Here’s the original painting:


I always wanted to do a photographic homage to the painting in honor of that special someone.  At the time I had hoped to use her as the model, making it something special we would share.

At the time that I first started thinking about it, I didn’t have the skills or the tools to do justice to the painting.  After time went by I gained the skills and tools I felt I needed.  Sadly, during the time of waiting as so often happens, the special person with whom I wanted to make the photograph with ceased to be part of my life.

Even so, it was a challenge I wanted to take on and a concept I really liked.  So with that motivation and out of love, longing and heartache I hired a model and proceeded.

This is the resulting image.  I feel like it does homage to the painting without copying it.  In particular, this image is constructed using conventions from photography that you probably wouldn’t see in a painting.  Also, there are differences in textures and lighting that I was not able to address so I used my own creativity in those areas.

This turned out to be much harder than I expected.  I’ve seen other photographic homages to classic paintings (and to this one as well) that succeed to varying degrees.  I think mine succeeded but perhaps not as fully as I had hoped.  I’m not sure I would want to regularly do interpretations of classical paintings as some photographers do.  In this case I was motivated in a way that would not normally apply so this may be the only time that I do something like that.

Model credit: Chelsea Claire


They Serve Also…

I believe Winston Churchill once said that “They serve also, who stand and wait”.  He meant that those who stayed home and waited for the return of soldiers from WWII were also serving their country.

Well, photography is not a war (usually) but there is a lot of standing, waiting, supporting and patience involved.

I’m talking about my wife and companion who is often with me when I am taking photographs.  The photograph here was taken on our vacation over the week of the last Fourth of July.  Together we explored and photographed many spectacular sights in Utah’s Arches National Monument.

To take this photograph in particular, we had to be up well before dawn to strike camp and drive to to the park hours before the sun was up (it’s almost impossible to camp in Arches in the summer – you have to reserve months in advance).  Then we went to the location I had scouted out days before to wait for the light.

I spend a lot of time waiting for the light.  I stand by my tripod looking at what the sun is doing as it rises (or sets).  I think about the shadows and the colors and wait for that one second when everything just works together perfectly.  Then I’ll take a photo and then wait some more for the next perfect instant to appear.  I’ll be completely engrossed in this for hours at a time.  My patient wife waits quietly for me while I wait quietly for the light.  Then we move on to the next location.

Not the way I suspect most people like to spend their vacations.

So without my patient and kind companion this photograph (and many others like it) would not exist.  I am fortunate beyond all measure to have such a willing and uncomplaining companion.  Of course it has rewards for both of us.  Together we have spent quiet time, thoroughly immersed in beauty, for hours.  Hopefully you can see that in this image.

If you’d like to hang your very own copy of this beautiful panoramic in you home or at your office, you can find it here.

Revisiting Double Arch

I’m just getting started processing the 1400+ images I came back with from Utah after my 4th of July trip.  On the trip, my love and I spent the nights camped along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.  The mornings and evenings we spent in Arches National Monument.  We spent four days that way before moving on to Emery County to visit the old family farm and my Mother.

I’ve wanted to get back to Arches for well over a decade.  The last time I was in Arches my exploration of photography was still in its infancy.  I had managed to buy my first more-or-less serious digital camera (with a whopping 3 megapixels!) and felt I was ready for big-time success shooting in the park.

While at Double Arch in the Monument, I spent quite a bit of time climbing around looking for the right spot to shoot and taking mediocre photo after photo.  I did take one that I thought (at the time) was pretty good.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had sunscreen on the lens and part of the image was fuzzy.  The whole thing turned into an exercise in frustration.

I still have a print of that photo in my library.  When I printed it, I thought it was an OK image (or at least the best I had taken) if you could ignore sunscreen smudge.  Now I just cringe and try to see it as an example of how far I’ve come.

In any event, on this trip it was important to me to shoot Double Arch at a number of different times of day and under different conditions with the hope of having at least some success while learning how to really photograph the arch.  Hence, I have quite a few photos of Double Arch I’m still working through.  In the mean time I wanted to share one from the set that I’ve finished so far.

In this case, I used HDR to compensate for the fact that the Arch was very backlit at the time I was shooting—not ideal conditions by any means.  The HDR technique made it possible for me to get this starburst image as the sun went down behind the arch.  I could not have realistically taken the photo in any other way—the dynamic range of the scene was just too wide for a camera to capture.

Comparing this image to the print I have from over a decade ago, I feel like I haven’t completely wasted my time.

If you like this version, check it out on my website.  You can order a print of your own here.

I Just Want to Rock and Roll All Night

I have always looked up to the iconic rock and roll photographers of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Artists like Jim Marshall, Pennie Smith and Bob Gruen defined a generation of rock photographers and a style that still defines the genre. Even if you don’t know who they are, you know their photographs.
These photogs had unprecedented access and, unlike current artists, had the respect and trust of the musicians. They shot concerts, backstage, on the road – basically everywhere. Often they became friends of the band and partied with them or even hung out with their families. This access made for iconic photos that define the Rock and Roll era and documented it’s history.
As in so many other things in photography, this type of access and the ability to make such iconic photographs has largely passed away. Today musicians (or more accurately their managers and labels) control access to musicians and even copyrights to images taken back stage or at concerts.  Hanging with the band otherwise is virtually unheard of.
Recently controversy swirled around Taylor Swift when she stood up to Apple on behalf of recording artists while at the same time exploiting photographers. The photography community called her a hypocrite (Here’s an article on the subject).  The controversy illustrates how the music industry has “managed” rock and roll photography nearly to death.
Consequently it’s almost impossible to get the kind of access required to shoot iconic rock images like those from previous eras. Or at least it is for famous bands with recording contracts.
Fortunately there are still local venues hosting local artists where anyone can shoot photos. I’ll often go to a local outdoor concert or a show at a local club and spend a little time living out the fantasy of being the Jim Marshall of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Here I’ve posted a sampling of shots I took at a recent outdoor concert in Scottsdale. It’s a local band called Georgia Chrome.  My intent was to capture photos in the style of the famous rock and roll photographers of the 60s and 70s.

Almost Worth It

Every now and then, I get a day or two off from the day job.  When that happens I get out a map, look for a place I’ve never been before and go there.

For the Memorial Day holiday I had Monday off for a three day weekend; long enough for an in-state road trip.  So I got out my map and realized the only place left in Arizona that I’ve never visited was Bisbee in the South East part of the state.

I made grand plans – the town itself is quaint and packed with historic buildings and architecture.  The surrounding area has any number of interesting and picturesque back roads and 4 wheel drive trails.  I planned a number of side expeditions for photography and exploration.

I serviced my Jeep, settled my love into the seat beside me and filled the back with 4-wheeling, hiking and camera gear.  We rolled down the highway, top down, blasted by the hot Arizona wind at 80 miles per hour and without a care in the world.

Two hours later, pulling into Bisbee I stopped and began to back into a parking spot.  A loud and rather final-sounding clunk came from the rear of the Jeep.  I changed my mind about backing up and tried pulling forward and was rewarded with loud, agonizing grinding noises.

Long story short– there wasn’t an open shop within a hundred miles we could get the jeep’s brakes looked at.  Every place was closed for the holiday and even AAA premium service couldn’t really help get us back home in time for work on Tuesday.

So, we left the Jeep parked and stayed in town for the next couple days.  No adventuring in the outback– just walking, exploring quirky art galleries and experimenting with small desert town cuisine.

However, as we walked around what proved to be an historic but also quaint and quirky Arizona town, I saw sights that held potential for evening architectural photography.  That evening, as the sun set, I set up my tripod and captured the image featured above.

To me this photo is reminiscent of a scene from a John Steinbeck novel.   You almost can’t tell it wasn’t taken 100 years ago except for the fact that it’s in color.

We drove the jeep home on Monday, serenaded all the way by a constant, painful grinding noise. This photo almost makes the trip and the $1000 in repairs to my Jeep worthwhile.  Almost.

Why not help me make the trip worth it in spite of the Jeep repairs?  Why not purchase a beautiful print of this photo from me here?  Think of it as a charitable act.

Li with Balloons

I have posted previously about how I have been working to evolve my personal style in both my landscape photography and my studio work.

Here’s another example of my evolving style in studio work. This image is different from what I normally have done in the past in that I’m trying to evoke a mood and let the image tell a story.

One of the ways in which this image is different from what I might have shot a year or two ago is in the use of props to set a stage and create a narrative. Another is in the processing where I have used intentionally desaturated colors and a surrealistic backdrop (composited in) to set a specific mood.

I hope the image instills you with a certain moodiness and the general drift of a story.

In any event, I feel this image is an excellent example of where I want to go with my studio work. It’s certainly a new and significant addition to my portfolio.

New Seminar: A Taste of Wine and Photography

I’m holding another evening of wine and photography at my studio. Check out the workshop announcement for details…

The Blue Hour at Skysong

If you follow my photography much at all you know that evening and night architecture shots are among my favorite.

There’s an Arizona State University research and technology center a few blocks from my home called Skysong. When Skysong was being built, community meetings showed the new campus buildings featuring a huge canopy (or giant spider as some of the local residents called it). Most of the people from my neighborhood hated it. Most still do.

Personally I am of mixed emotions. I’m glad to see South Scottsdale getting new developments with architectural significance. I’m not sure putting up a mammoth shade structure that dominates the campus around it really qualifies but it’s an attractive landmark – at least at night.

In any event, here’s a photograph from under the Skysong canopy shot during the blue hour. I love the colors in this photo – it’s what I strive for when shooting evening photographs.

How to use On Line Images and Not Get Sued

Years ago I quit counting the number of times I’ve found one of my images stolen and used on line, violating my copyright.  It sucks.  I put time, effort and money into making my photos.  I have a legal and ethical right to control their use and profit from them.  But instead of sending me a couple bucks to use one of my images people persist in just taking them.

Anyway, here’s a nice succinct article about how to use on line images without violating copyrights.


Silly Mountain or only Mildly Amusing?

As always, sunsets are something of a cliché but they can be very pretty.  This one is definitely a cliché Arizona sunset but I think it is pretty.

The photo is taken looking East (kind of  hard to take a sunset picture looking west) towards Phoenix from Silly Mountain State Park.

I noticed that the name of the road the park is on is now something other than Silly Mountain (I forget exactly what).  I guess the state isn’t amused by the name “Silly Mountain”.

Anyway, I know the photo looks like it’s an HDR but it’s not an HDR. In order to get the sky and the foreground balanced in exposure I did a two-image composite. That is, I shot a photograph with the sky properly exposed (which left the foreground dark) and then a second with the foreground properly exposed (which left the sky blown out). This was done on a tripod to make sure both images were perfectly aligned.

Then, I used Photoshop to composite the two images. I started with the sky picture as the background image, brought in the foreground picture as a layer and then masked out the foreground picture’s over-exposed sky.

When shooting something like a sunset with a very bright region and a very dark region a photographer will often have to do some sort of this kind of trickery. That’s because your eye is an amazing thing–It can see detail across somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 stops (a stop is a measurement of the intensity of light)  of light.  This is also known as dynamic range.  Unlike your eye, a camera can only make out detail in 6 or 7 stops of dynamic range.  That means to faithfully reproduce a scene the photographer has to find a way to capture more dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure or they have to find a way to compress the dynamic range of the scene down to something the camera is capable of capturing.

That’s why HDR is becoming so popular. It lets you capture more stops of light by taking multiple images. This image also uses this trick but not so extensively and only using two exposures.

The old school solution would have been to use a graduated neutral density filter.  This kind of filter allows you to block out some of the light from part of the picture (the bright sky, for example). That reduces the total dynamic range of the scene because the high intensity light is reduced in intensity.  That helps balance the exposure. The drawback with this solution is that you don’t capture more dynamic range–you lose some of the light. I prefer methods that capture more dynamic range.