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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Landscape photography is a great way to learn things about places you wouldn’t otherwise learn. Often, when I photograph a place and then return home, I’ll see something in a photo that makes me curious and encourages me to do some homework.
When I was a kid, I wandered all over Southern Utah (as I still do whenever I have the chance). On one of those wanderings many years ago I saw Church Rock on the highway between Moab and Monticello for the first time.
The rock is picturesque on it’s own but I noticed from the first time I saw it that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to begin cutting an entryway into the stone. If you look at the base of the rock in the picture you’ll see the small black rectangle at the base.
I was always curious about that hole. I couldn’t imagine that the rock itself would hold a significant amount of any valuable mineral that could interest a miner. Perhaps someone was creating a home for themselves (like the Hole in the Rock home nearby). In any event, prior to the internet, it remained a mystery.
When I took this picture of Church Rock a few years ago I remembered the mystery of the doorway. I realized that with the internet I might be able to find some answers. I did some searching on line and found out that the site was once the home of a strange cult called the “Home of Truth”.
The cult was founded by Marie Ogden, a charismatic spiritualist. Ogden lead her followers from Newark, New Jersey to this empty part of the Utah desert to found a Utopian spiritualist community. The community had as many as 100 members at its peak who gave all their assets to the community and were expected to work (mostly by farming) to support it.
The cult eventually fell apart when an attempt by Ogden to raise a member from the dead failed. The event cast doubts on the spiritual power of the leader and also lead to problems with the local authorities. After that, the remains of the cult fell on hard times.
The story is that the cult had intended Church Rock to eventually become their Cathedral. Only the 16 by 24 foot opening was ever completed. If it had come to be, the supposed Cathedral would have been impressive.
Unfortunately, the story that the rock was to be used by the cult is apocryphal. The opening was created by a local rancher to store salt and feed for his cattle.
However, reading about the cult lead me in a new direction. The cult actually built three settlements in the area which they named the Inner, Outer and Middle Portals. The Inner Portal was where Marie Ogden, her daughter and her closest followers lived. According to Ogden, the Inner Portal was the exact center of the Earth’s Axis and only those who lived there would survive the coming calamities of the Last Days.
The Outer Portal was made up of a communal house and dormitory while the Middle Portal, the largest, had numerous buildings, dormitories, storage units and would have been the home to the cult’s chapel, had it ever been completed.
Today, it turns out that the Outer Portal is completely gone. The Inner Portal, over looking the valley from a few miles away was occupied as late as the 1970s. Although most of the buildings of the Inner Portal still exist, the site is fenced and marked “No Tresspassing”.
The Middle Portal is in the valley just to the west of Highway 191 and to the south of Highway 211. Highway 211 is the route to the entrance of Canyonlands Needles district.
In any event, the Middle Portal was accessible. So, on our last trip to Canyonlands this spring we drove out to the site and explored the ruins of the Middle Portal.
In upcoming posts I’ll show some of the photos I took exploring the Middle Portal. Stay tuned.
BTW: should you want to order a print of Church Rock, you will find it in my on-line store here.
Here’s an image from my Canyonlands trip that I consider to be portfolio quality work. It’s from the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands overlooking the Green River.
I had actually shot this same overlook two years ago when I was last at Canyonlands but the conditions where terrible that day (lots of wind blown dust and haze in the air). So when I went back this time, I was hoping for a better opportunity.
I had learned a couple lessons from my previous visit that I applied this time. First, I would shoot as the sun was setting but not yet set because the sun, as it sank in the sky, would shine on the tops of ridges in the valley while leaving lower areas in shadow. That would emphasize the terrain, adding depth and color. Second, it would be good to add some foreground interest into the composition.
So I went early, giving my self at least two hours before I expected the time to be right and scouted out the location I wanted. I found this spot that had an old gnarled juniper tree providing just the kind of foreground interest I was looking for.
There were also rock walls and a stone ledge to help frame the composition.
It’s a good thing I arrived early because after I had set up, another photographer came by who had obviously intended to shoot at that same exact location. He hung around for a while hemming and hawing but finally realized I wasn’t going anywhere and moved on.
Anyway, I shot a bracketed exposure (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2) every few minutes for almost two hours. Each one was just a little different but when I got them home and looked at them, this particular exposure just popped in a way none of the others did.
When it comes to shooting landscapes at dusk, you need to take a bunch of exposures because the light changes very fast and has unpredictable effects on the image. If you don’t shoot a number of exposures you will likely miss out on the perfect image.
You can order a print of the image here (without watermarks):
I also very much like the black and white version of this image which you can find here:
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: