Am I the shadow?
The caster of the shadow?
Or, the light?
Who am I?
• • •
I am the shadow.
The caster of the shadow.
And, the light.
Am I the shadow?
The caster of the shadow?
Or, the light?
Who am I?
• • •
I am the shadow.
The caster of the shadow.
And, the light.
In my last post, I mentioned having a workshop on the next day with big waves – and it did not disappoint! Jackie and I had worked together the last two years and this year we decided to do a two day photo workshop, allowing us more time to get to some of the further out spots of Maui and the Hana side. The first day, Jaws was breaking BIG – like, 40+ feet – so after a quick sunrise shoot at Ho’okipa Point, we made our way down the road to Pe’ahi.
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, we both shot many frames of these incredible surfers riding these beautiful epic waves.
We have had a number of large swells this winter here in Hawaii that has produced waves up to 30 feet and beyond – mostly on the North and West facing shores. It sounds like the largest swell of the season is happening right now and waves are expected to get to over 40 feet! I’ve got Big Maui Surf on My Mind!
A few weeks ago I made my way to Ho’okipa Point at sunrise to shoot this series of photographs in this post. I assigned myself a mini-project so I sat down today, edited the images, developed them, and here they are!
SILVERSWORD Maui, Hawaii 2015
The sun lowers into the ocean and the sapphire blue sky soon revises itself, deepening in shade first to lapis, then navy, and furthermore to an indigo blue with a deep purple influence. By this time, my focus was no longer on the atmosphere above, but rather on the volcanic cinder underfoot. My descent into the depths of the dormant volcano, the Haleakala crater of Maui, was underway. Beginning from the summit, an elevation of over 10,000 feet, my attention was now solely focused on the few feet of area ahead, being lit by my headlamp. Of course there was still some attention lingering with the atmosphere, but now it was focused on the cool, dry, crispness moving in and out of my lungs. “That’s reason enough to hike on a mountain – it results in further attention to breath,” I think to myself, as I navigate my way further down the crater interior, nearly 3,000 feet below.
If you were interested in learning about long exposure photography techniques and were to do a Google search: “how to long exposure photography”, you would find 32,300,000 search results giving you 1000 lives worth of information, tips, pointers, techniques and more. Over 32 million! Long exposure photography is obviously a very popular topic, and one you could study forever. However, studying the topic of photography technique is not nearly as exciting as actually going out and photographing, so let’s tweak the question and ask “why”. Why make long exposures? Asking “how to” activates something in the thinking-mind that wants to research, study, and gain knowledge. Curiously asking “why” is born out of a different part of our self and activates something else entirely – the inner creative. When activated, the inner creative is more inclined to go out and photograph life and experiment with different techniques – not just sit at home and read about them. When you understand the why, the how to comes quite naturally.
There are countless reasons why to make long exposure photographs. Let’s look at some of them and you will begin to not only see the endless possibilities, but likely begin to feel sparks of inspiration that with some focused attention, will allow you to go out and make fire with your photographs.
You can create a hint of movement in the water, as seen here with a 1/15 second exposure of a wave exploding against the rocks. Why? Because you don’t want your photos to look like the guy who jumped off the tour bus and took a quick snap. And, it lends itself more to the feeling that the wave is blowing up into the sky.
INTERSECT Maui, Hawaii
If you close your eyes and visualize your living room and the various elements within the room, what do you see? A sofa, a coffee table, an entertainment center, a TV, art, and probably quite a number of other elements. Now, let me ask you – which element is the largest in the room?
If you are like most people, your response might be – the sofa, the TV, or the entertainment center. If you think a bit more cleverly, you might say – the walls. What most people don’t recognize is, there is much more “space” than anything else, by far. Physicists tell us that 99.999% of the universe is space – no-thingness. Oddly, science can be so much more bizarre than science fiction! If you removed all the empty space from the entire human race, leaving only electrons and the other subatomic particles, all seven billion human bodies would fit in the space of a sugar cube. That’s just mind boggling stuff, right? But that gives you a sense of how much space there is in relation to form – yet we rarely bring our attention to the space.
With the living room exercise, it points out how we as people are living primarily form-based. That is to say, our attention is always going from one form to the next to the next – whether it be the external forms of the world, or the hyper-active thought-forms continuously flowing through our minds seemingly on auto-pilot. We are form-conscious beings, but is this our natural state? Isn’t it odd that 99.999% of everything is space yet we hardly bring our attention to it?
There we were on Shell Beach in Southern California’s “Jewel” – La Jolla. If you consider shorts, t-shirt and flip flops ideal attire, then the mid-August weather was just perfect. The sweet morning light was just beginning to show herself to those of us eager enough to be awake, which on this morning included myself and seven photography workshop participants who were joining me for one of my California workshops. Shell Beach seemed like an ideal location to take seven passionate photographers for a sunrise – it’s small and intimate, yet contains many elements that can be arranged well for a diverse style of seeing photographic compositions. It’s only as wide as a football field, yet both sides lead upward to steep cliffs that stretch out toward the sea, undercut with partial caves on the sides and a scattering of rocks throughout the beach, with a couple large rocks just offshore where pelicans and cormorants linger about. Having photographed this spot many times before, I knew good compositional arrangements could be made, but of course, it is also quite easy to include too much or too little and fall short of success as well. So, an ideal setting to place students – a place where they can make it work, or not, and then discuss the why’s and why not’s as to what is working and what is not working in real time.
One of my favorite things is to hike down Sliding Sands Trail in the Haleakala National Park, the night before the full moon, during sunset time. It gives me a chance to get down inside the crater, one of my favorite places on the planet, during the time of optimal-sweet light. With or without camera, I recognize this as an incredible life-experience – one that I always try and make time for, at least a few times a year. Last night, I was able to share this experience with a Maui photo workshop participant who was looking for an adventurous photographic expedition during his island vacation to Maui. It so happened that on this particular day, the moonrise was the most dramatic of the year! With the sun perfectly opposite the moon, the light and size of the moon appeared to be 14% larger and 30% brighter than normal! It only made sense for us to venture into the crater from atop the 10,023 foot peak, and put ourselves in an epic and otherworldly place (inside a volcanic crater) for this special moonrise! As good fortune would have it, we were graced with an insane sunset and the light was so sweet.
The Big Island was clearly visible, seemingly close enough to touch, as the large and brilliant moon arose above it. Me – as much as I was ooh’ing and aah’ing the moonrise to the right of this scene, I couldn’t resist focusing my photographic efforts on the sweet, brilliant, and colorful light that presented itself to my lens in this composition. Here, in Hawaii, being much closer to the equator, this period of sweet-light does not last long. It is fleeting. Ephemeral. You put yourself in in the right place, at the right time, and hope for the best. Last night, I found myself at the right place at the right time – very cool to be able to share the experience with another passionate photographer!
PAINTED FOREST Maui, Hawaii 2013
A number of years ago, I decided I wanted to make a successful image or two of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. I am aware of a few small groves of these trees here on Maui, and I had my sights on one of them in particular. These trees are extraordinary. Beautiful. Perhaps the most stunning tree on the planet! Well, no matter – one of the most stunning anyways. Really, they look as if they were hand-painted by Salvador Dali himself!
As a subject to a successful landscape photograph, this can be very easy to bugger up. How? The most common mistake would be to include too much in the scene, allowing these other elements to take away from the trees. Another aspect that I was hyper-aware of is that these trees have been photographed once or twice before. Okay, many times before. I didn’t want to just go out and do the norm, the expected. I wanted to do something special, something different. So, I waited. I resisted doing the norm and getting the standard shot to include into my portfolio, desiring something more expressive and personal.
A couple of years ago, the vision became clear in my mind’s eye. I visualized a way to capture these trees in a way that was different, personal and of-my-own-style, while bringing the viewers attention solely to the beauty of the trees. I’d shoot them at night! – while introducing my own light source. Now, with the image clearer in my mind, it was just a matter of doing the work.
On a few separate occasions, I recruited a friend to journey to the other side of the island, in the dark of night, to assist me in my attempts to bring vision to expression. On each of those occasions, I came close to my vision. Sometimes very close, making it difficult to decide whether the images were worthy of releasing into my portfolio and to the world, or if I should work harder and try again. Each time, after living with the images for some weeks, I ultimately determined that they did not live up to the vision I had. The work was not done.
My energy waned some, and nearly a year passed before I returned to give it another go, but the idea and vision stayed with me, and I trusted that it was simply a matter of time before it would happen. Early 2013, while driving home from a shoot, I get to thinking about the trees. It’s nighttime. I’m in the neighborhood. I’m feeling motivated. But, I’m alone. The thinking-mind tries to start talking me out of it: It’s totally dark. The shoot will be too tough with no assistance. What if zombies get me. And on it went. As I approached the trees, I was still 50/50 whether to stop or B-line it home: I am kinda hungry. I still have an-hour drive home. A glass of wine would be awesome right now. As the trees neared, the will to shoot won and I pulled the truck over, geared up, and headed out to shoot the trees in the dark of night.
For the next 90 minutes, I worked through the process of making the images, with a goal of making two successful photographs. From my earlier experiences, I already had a good idea of the look that I was after, and how to achieve it with my painting-with-light techniques. Nearby cows roaming about in the surrounding fields sure did sound like zombies coming to get me, but I stayed focused and remained mindful to the myriad aspects that would make this work, or not. Once I felt that I had successfully captured good strong foundations in-camera, I headed home, anxious to see if they would translate to print.
I am happy to say that they do translate well to print, and do represent my initial vision very well!
RAINBOW TREES Maui, Hawaii 2013
I often speak with my Maui photo workshop students about how to make personal-expressive work, and working through “the process”. It is important – recognize the path as a process and do the work. Allowing yourself to have a vision in your mind, and then working backwards from there is an exciting way to work! Vision to expression. Working this way, the process of making photographs is very rewarding and the path is a joyful one.
As the world of photography and image making is proliferating, so is the behavior of seeing-and-repeating. In recognizing and bringing awareness to this, continually look to create work that is more personal, more expressive, and more communicative. Pass on the obvious photographs and delve deeper. Ask continually: What am I feeling? What am I wanting to communicate? What do I want to express? It has been very exciting working with workshop students in regards to this, and bringing it to the forefront of our attention. Activating the right-brain and bringing balance to the overactive thinking-mind. It is important to remember – artwork is feeling based, and it resonates (or not) with people on a feeling level. The more you can approach the work from a personal feeling based place, the more likely you are to communicate that. The more you are able to communicate that, the more compelling your photography is bound to be.
I look forward to delving even deeper into this with workshop participants in a La Jolla photo workshop I have just announced for August!
During one of my Maui Photo Expeditions this week, while working with a cool couple from Orange County, our emphasis turned to the element of “time”. Of course, if you follow my work, you know this is my favorite aspect to photography – especially extending the exposure out to be quite long. Through the use of neutral density filters, or the time of day or night, you as the photographer can control whether your shutter speed is 1/250th of a second, or two minutes, and everything in-between. By using different exposure times, you create different effects and evoke different feels in your image, translating and communicating different messages. So first, get mindful as to how you’re feeling and what it is you want to communicate, simplify, and then determine what shutter speed will best translate what you are feeling.
With this photograph, I used a shutter of 1/2 second. Two minutes would have evoked a serene and peaceful feel, but I wanted the big winter surf to be the focal point and to evoke a sense of Mother Nature’s raw power. The final element that finishes this capture is the warm light from the setting sun, captured moments before it dipped below the horizon to end another beautiful day in paradise.