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.
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?
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: