Posts in Category: Landscapes

Zion Sunrise

In the past I have wanted to take photographs that toyed with having the sun in the frame producing sun burst and lens flare effects.  You can add these in photoshop but they never look very natural so I have wanted to shoot them in-camera.

However, it’s a monumentally bad idea to look into the sun through a camera viewfinder.  You can seriously damage your vision.

Fortunately most current DSLRs have live-view.  You can compose the photograph by looking at the LCD display on the back of the camera rather than looking through the viewfinder.  Live-view has it’s drawbacks but it does make it possible to compose an image with the sun directly in it.  Viewing the sun on an LCD screen can’t hurt your eyes.

So, lately I have been experimenting more and more with that type of composition and this image as a great example.

This was shot as the sun climbed over the canyon wall at Zion National Park during our last visit.  I ended up with a nearly perfect sun-burst effect. I really like the way the back-lit leaves make a border around much of the photo while the parts of the forest that are not lit up provide contrast and depth.

First Zion National Park Photo

Here’s the first photo I processed from the trip to Zion National Park last month.  It was my first visit and although we spent only 3 days there, they were fully packed days.  Photographically speaking this trip was mostly a scouting trip.  I didn’t expect to take many great photos in the park.  Mostly I was just looking to familiarize myself with the park, it’s locations and how the light worked so that future trips I could plan carefully.  Even so, I believe I managed to get a few photos from the trip that are worthy of the permanent portfolio.

The park is so photogenic you can get nice images even when you aren’t trying very hard.

Based on what I saw, I really believe you could spend an entire lifetime photographing Zion.  At the entrance to the park are several small photo galleries who’s owners have done just that. Their work is extraordinary.  I envy them the opportunity.

Anyway, please enjoy this first image from the trip…


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.

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.

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.

The Light of the Real Hawaii

As a photographer, you get to a point where you are very conscious of subtle variations in light. Experience a place deeply, as you will if you are looking at it with a photographer’s eye, and you will know it in a way that others never will. A lot of that deep experience is related to the quality of the light in that place.

I really believe that if you could transport me to Los Angeles I could, with no other frame of reference except the light, tell you that I was in LA. Similarly, I could tell Los Angeles from San Diego or Seattle just from the light. As Pacific coastal cities, you’d think they’d all be the same but I have experienced the subtle differences in the light in each place.

As I travelled the Road to Hana on Maui I likewise became acquainted with the texture, feel and weight of the light. It’s very different from the light along the North East coast of Maui where we were staying. This light felt cinematic to me, like something from a Steve Spielberg movie. No wonder so many movies and television programs are filmed in Hawaii.

Here’s another waterfall photo from along the Road to Hana that I think illustrates this quality of the light. Capturing the light was a challenge but I think I was successful and, as a result, produced a successful photograph.

If you like the cinematic quality of the light in this photograph, you can order a print of your very own here.

The Real Hawaii

After spending some time in Waikiki on Oahu, it was time for us to go looking for the real Hawaii. We found it on Maui.

Driving the road to Hana is certainly an experience. Not one for the faint-of-heart, though. The road to Hana winds through 40 miles of primeval coastal wilderness along the windward side of Maui. The road is narrow, often just a single lane in places, but there are occasional pull-outs where you can park and get off the road.

It was on one of these pullouts that we found (after a difficult climb and some boulder scrambling) this almost iconic waterfall and plung pool hidden in the forest.

For me, this was the real Hawaii — or at least one aspect of it.

If you like this image as much as I do, you can order a print from me here.

Expect the Unexpected 2

As I said in my previous post, I wasn’t expecting to take night cityscape photographs on my trip to Hawaii. But then I did!

Here’s a second night-time cityscape from Waikiki. This one is from a little earlier in the evening so I’m still getting a little of that “blue hour” sky. I only shot these night cityscapes on one night while we were in Oahu. Since I wasn’t expecting to shoot them, I didn’t plan ahead so it’s only by luck that I managed to catch part of the blue hour sky.

If you like the image, consider ordering a print.

Expect the Unexpected

When I went to Hawaii, I went expecting to take mostly landscape photographs with maybe a few cultural-type photos of people and events. It didn’t occur to me at all that I might be taking night photographs of any type and especially cityscapes.

Oahu Island is very developed.  It’s very much a big city. I guess I hadn’t thought about that when leaving for Hawaii but when I got there I realized there was a real opportunity to shoot some unusual cityscapes. It’s not often you can shoot a big city and a beautiful beach in the same exposure.

Anyway, if you follow my photography you know that night photography is something of a specialty of mine. I took this photograph on the beach at Waikiki near the famous Duke’s restaurant. It was a bit of a challenge to get an image that  captured the amazing blue-green color of the ocean while also properly exposing for the city lights. I think this photo balances the two very well.

If you think so as well, consider ordering a print. You can do so by clicking here.

Every Picture Tells A Story, Don’t It?

Ansel Adams once said: “There is nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy subject.”

Ansel, of course, is famous for his incredible black and white landscape photographs of the west. But what story does a landscape photo tell?

What is the subject exposited upon by a photograph of Yosemite Valley? Isn’t it just a pretty picture you can hang above your sofa?

Some art is just a pretty picture that looks good hanging above your sofa. On the other hand some art is so ugly you probably wouldn’t want it in your living room but it does say something to you. Something you think is important.

In my opinion, the best art does both at the same time. Ansel Adam’s photograph of Yosemite Valley does have a story to tell – at least it speaks to me.

The point is that it’s not easy to take a landscape photograph that is more than a pretty picture. This is especially true of standard subjects like sunsets (I have lots of sunset photos that are pretty but that are mostly mute when it comes to a story).

In this case, I think I have succeeded in capturing a pretty sunset that is also a story. This image is from our trip to Hawaii and shows the sunset from Waikiki. It’s pretty. The story comes from the sailboats you can see silhouetted on the sea. As the sun is setting, they are all heading the same way – presumably to port. The day is over, it’s time to leave the sea and return to the land. It’s a story of a long day at sea in the sun and the wind.  That day is over now.  The picture is both a sharp image and a sharp subject.

What do you think? Does this image have a story to tell? Does it speak to you? If it does, consider ordering a print from me here. It’ll look good hanging over your sofa – I promise.

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.

Seriously, You Gotta Remember to Turn Around!

I posted previously about how important it is to look around when shooting landscapes. I shot this image when I was shooting the La Jolla beach overlook images I blogged about last week.

I was focused intently on shooting La Jolla and almost forgot to look around me as the sun was setting. In spite of my fixation I glanced around at one point and noticed this view of the sun setting over the ocean. The colors were intense, the light perfect and the sillhouetting tree branches added drama and foreground interest.

For a minute I debated moving the camera because I had it dialed in nicely for the beach overlook shot. Then I remmebered another lesson I have learned over the years: you don’t regret the shots you take, only the ones you don’t.

So I lined up to shoot this image and it’s a good thing I did. I love this shot. The conditions only lasted 30 or 40 seconds so if I had dithered for even a minute I would have missed it.

You can see the full sized image and order a print if you wish in my on-line print store.