Posts in Category: Arizona

Life in Scottsdale

I fell in love with the idea of living in Scottsdale way back in about 1983.  I was working in Northern Arizona and had come down to “the Valley” (as Arizonans call the metro Phoenix area). I found myself in Scottsdale during the annual city-sponsored Culinary Arts festival.  It was March so it was still cold in the northern desert (and back home in Castle Dale as well) but it was warm in Scottsdale.  There was green grass, music, friendly people and amazing food everywhere.

That’s when I decided I would come back someday and see if living in Scottsdale was as great as it seemed it would be.  After finishing a University education, obtaining a wife and fathering a first child the opportunity came to move to Scottsdale.  I’ve never regretted it.

If you have to live in a large city (and I do because of my profession) I can’t imagine a better one.  This photograph of Marguerite Lake is from last summer’s Monsoon season.  As you can see from the photo, we live in an urban environment but it’s a beautiful one.  The skies during the Monsoon season can take your breath away – particularly at sunset.  Hope you enjoy the photo.

Where’s The Subject? I Don’t Care.

Landscape photographs are supposed to have a clear and obvious subject. In addition, they should have a strongly identifiable foreground, middle ground and background. These are rules I always think about that when I compose a landscape photograph.
However, I wasn’t thinking about any of that when this image was taken.

I had spent hours shooting the ancient ruins at Wupatki National Monument. Now the sun was going down and I felt done for the day. I wanted to sit quietly and soak up that peace that comes over the Southwest just as the sun dips below the horizon and the evening breeze picks up.

There’s nothing like that moment – it’s as if the desert has been holding its breath all day and now it takes its long delayed and relaxing exhale.

While I was sitting there, with my wife Marla by my side, as that feeling of deep relaxation enfolded us and the breath of a breeze stirred on our skin, the colors in the sky and in the foliage around me suddenly seemed to pop into a level vibrancy that hadn’t been there an instant before. My camera was sitting next to me on its tripod and I simply reached over and clicked the shutter button. This image is the result.

If you critique this photograph as a photographer you’ll likely ask, “where’s the subject.” I understand what you mean. In reply I might try to make an argument that the clouds in the sky are the subject or perhaps the San Francisco Peaks far off in the distance. But really these are middle ground and background interest rather than a strong subject.

Then I guess you’d say it’s not a great landscape photograph from the perspective of the traditional rules of composition. For me, the image captures perfectly what it was like to be in that moment. Exhaling with the desert. Connecting with the desert. Feeling my love seated next to me joining in. For me that’s want counts. If you want to say it’s not a great photograph go ahead—you’re not wrong — but I don’t care

If you don’t care either and see something in this photograph as I do, imagine how it would look printed large and hanging in your family room.  Go here if you’d like to order it.

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.

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.

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.

Why Black and White?

It’s been possible to shoot photographs in color for almost 100 years. Ever wonder why photographers still shoot photos in black and white? More importantly, why is black and white often seen as a more artistic realm than color photography?

Color photography is usually more realistic. It tends to represent a scene in a more documentary and precise fashion. Color also makes an image more complex; perhaps in a distracting way.

Black and white photography does not represent reality – it represents an interpretation of reality.

As a photographer, one can use this interpretive capability to one’s advantage. I can set a mood to convey an idea in a subtle fashion that is out of my reach in color.

Here’s an example of a black and white image I created to deliberately represent a specific idea. I doubt that the image will convey this idea directly to you at a conscious level. This photograph is more subtle than that. None the less, I believe the idea will be conveyed to you at some level.

That is why I believe this image is one of my most successful.

If the image means something to you too, why not order a print from me here?

Making Cathedral Rocks Rock

As I walk around the park looking at Cathedral Rocks from various viewpoints I’m thinking: how can I make my photo different?

Everyone has pictures of Cathedral Rock. I shot it last year myself and came away with some nice pictures but nothing that stood out from the crowd.

This time I was determined to make a portfolio piece. I wanted a photo that was different from everyone else’s but still reflective of what it feels like to be in that place.

Well, the conditions were mediocre. Very little contrast in the sky. The usual overly dark shadows and overly bright highlights that generally comes with afternoon sunlight.

I wanted something that was contrasty but without blown highlights or clipped shadows. I decided to wait.

We put a picnic blanket under a nearby tree and took a nap until evening fell.

I set up my camera and tripod as the sun went down and started shooting. A bunch of other photographers set up in the same spot and shot as well.

We were probably all getting more or less the same photo. Even so, none of us were really getting what we wanted.  The golden hour passed.  Then the blue hour passed.  As the sky got darker the other photographers packed up one by one. Soon I was alone but still shooting.  The other photographers probably thought I was crazy to stay but that’s when it happened.

With the sun completely down but the slightly brighter sky behind me still reflecting on the rocks I saw the light I wanted. At the same time, the few remaining clouds in the sky picked up a glow that came out perfectly in my long exposure. Bang! I had just what I was looking for.

The photo has the lighting, colors and contrast I wanted.  It’s not like any other photo of Cathedral Rocks I’ve seen.  Most importantly, it feels just like it felt to be there at that time.

The moon was always an integral part of the photograph. When you shoot the moon in a photograph you are almost always disappointed because your brain plays tricks on you. You will see the moon larger in your mind than it really is. Consequently, when you see it in your picture it will be much smaller than you remembered.

In this case, I decided to use Photoshop to replace the tiny partially full moon in the picture with a larger, full moon I had shot a year or so ago. You may say that the unnaturally large moon I put in the picture makes it something other than a photograph. To me it makes the image more about what I felt I saw that evening.  It’s a faithful reflection of the experience if not a faithful reproduction of it.

Anyway, I like it. Hope you do too.

Say, wouldn’t you like a nice print of this exclusive image for your living room? The only place you can get this image is here.

Hunt’s Tomb and Full Moon

Here’s one of my favorite photos…

It’s a picture of Hunt’s Tomb at Papago Park in Tempe, Arizona.

Hunt was the first Governor of Arizona and he was interred in this pyramid with his wife, mother-in-law and, I believe, one of his wife’ sisters.

I love this image both because it’s a good night shot which is something I always enjoy but also because the image has certain memories associated with it. There’s a personal connection for me with the image. Having an emotional connection to an image is something that doesn’t always happen but when it does, it always make the image more than just a technical exercise in composition, exposure, focus and lighting.

I confess to a certain degree of photoshop manipulation in the image. It’s impossible to expose for both the moon and the pyramid together. If one single exposure was taken that exposed for the pyramid, the moon would be all washed out. If the moon was properly exposed, the pyramid would be much too dark.

For this image I took two exposures (using a tripod of course). One exposed for the moon and one for the pyramid. Then I combined them in photoshop into a single, properly exposed image.

If you like this photograph as much as I do, you can order prints here.