Wukoki Ruin built by the ancient Pueblo People beautifully photographed at sunset. The Ruin is located in Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona.
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.
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.
Wukoki Ruin built by the ancient Pueblo People beautifully photographed at sunset. The Ruin is located in Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When photographing a landscape or a building or some other location you ask yourself: what is the thing about that place that makes it that place. A place that isn’t any other place.
While driving aimlessly in San Diego last month, I came across an open spot in the Torry Pines Hills. It provided a view looking out over the beach at La Jolla. An impressive view at that.
I also noticed there was nearby parking. Parking had been a challenge all day so that made an impression.
I decided to come back closer to sunset and see what the conditions would be like.
Late that afternoon I set up the camera on my tripod at the viewpoint and waited. And waited. And waited.
I never did get the conditions I was hoping for but, as usual, I took about a hundred photos as the light changed through all it’s gradations as the sun went down.
I ended up with two photos of La Jolla that seemed to me to be fairly representational. The one above is the one I would choose to represent the place. It invokes for me the feeling I had when I was there.
The second photo (below) is more true-to-life. The first image is more photoshopped than the second. Even so, to me it says “California sunset at La Jolla” more than the other one.
why? I’m not sure. Maybe you know? Maybe you disagree?
Everybody takes an evening skyline photograph of San Diego from the exact same place. There’s no option — there isn’t any other good place you can shoot a skyline of San Diego from in the evening.
So I shot it from the same place as everyone else. You may say why bother? Fair question.
It’s hard to shoot some places without doing the same photograph everyone has. After all, how many shots are there of every square inch of the Grand Canyon?
It used to bother me to shoot something that has already been, pardon the pun, over-exposed. Then I realized something. When you go and shoot the same location that so many others have already shot, you learn a lot. You have to.
When you make your photo, you are hoping to bring something to the shot that no one else thought of. Sometimes you are fortunate and it happens. Most of the time you only wish you were so lucky. Either way, you learn a lot just from the mental exercise.
On the other hand, you always get the chance to compare what you are doing with what someone else did. You might say to yourself, “hey why can’t I get that color in the sky like so-and-so did?” Dozens of questions like that crop up as you work. They trigger new ideas for angles, settings, lenses, etc. that you take with you to the next shoot and the next..
So, go ahead and shoot the Grand Canyon just like everyone else. Maybe you’ll hit paydirt and come up with something completely new. Either way, I guarantee you’ll learn something.
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.
The animals have claws or venomous fangs. The plants have vicious needles and thorns. Some, like the Sacred Datura hide poisons with beautiful blossoms that entice thrill seekers to take a strange and deadly psychic trip. Temperatures soar to heights that can kill in minutes and claim the lives of unwary tourists.
Is it strange to find that alluring?
I grew up in the high deserts of Utah. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found my way into the low, hot deserts of Arizona. Now, I’ve lived in them for more than half my life. Even though the high deserts of Utah will always call to me, the deserts of Arizona have become my second home.
Here’s a very old photograph of mine. I think it’s held up surprisingly well even though my skill as a photographer and my personal style have changed a lot since this image was shot. I think part of that is that it represents how harsh this second home of mine can be and why that is a beautiful thing.
A print of this photo was purchased by the company I work for and hangs in our office. It’s a popular topic of conversation. I’ll bet you’d find it to be the same if you ordered a print here for your home or office.
Here’s a quick tip for you…turn around.
Several years ago I was shooting a landscape image with a nice sunset. I was fully fixated on the sunset because, as I’ve mentioned before, the light changes very fast at that time of day and you need to keep shooting until it’s over because you can’t predict what’s going to happen moment-by-moment.
However, at some point I dropped something and when I turned around to pick it up I noticed that the scene behind me was much more impressive than the scene I had been shooting.
Ever since that day, I remember to tell myself, “turn around”.
When I was shooting the Green River Overlook (see “Shooting in Canyonlands Part 2”) I had my tripod set up and my lens and camera very carefully adjusted for the scene I was shooting. However, I did remember to look around and, although it was not behind me, I did notice that I could shoot this beautiful version of the overlook picture if I moved my tripod and turned my camera.
So I did, and I’m happy that I did, even though it was a pain to get the original shot set back up after I took this one. Although I don’t personally think this image is quite as spectacular as the other one, I do think it has a beauty of it’s own.
So once again, remember to turn around.
I almost always shoot ISO 100 to keep the noise and grain very low which is especially important in low light images like this. In this case I wanted good depth of field to bring out the waves and the shore line but still keep the sun in sharp focus. That meant I had to use the smallest aperture I could at ISO 100 while still keeping a fairly fast shutter speed because I was hand holding.
I ended up selecting an aperture of f16) and a shutter speed of 1/80 s. When I framed up the shot I wanted, the focal length was 107 mm leaving me with a shutter speed that was a bit too low for the focal length (you may recall that your shutter speed should be at least 1 over the focal length of your lens in order to get a sharp image — in this case I should have used at least 1/125 s but then I couldn’t get as small an aperture as I wanted).
However, I have Image Stabilization on the lens I was using. It really helps in some situations. So I very carefully held the camera as steady as I could and tripped the shutter.
I only got one shot at it because as soon as I had made the capture, the color faded. As it turned out, one capture was enough. I got the amazing colors I wanted with nice sharpness and a deep focus.
People love this photo. I have it hanging up in my studio and it always gets comments. If you’d like a print for your home, you can order it here: