I have announced an “immersive” photo workshop that will be held in San Francisco this summer, August 10th and 11th, 2013. San Francisco is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I am excited for this unique opportunity to work with 2-3 participants during an exciting photography-filled weekend. We will focus our efforts on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, dramatic cityscape images, city night images, and more. More information is HERE.
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!
It has been on my wishlist for quite a long time to view and photograph the lava flowing into the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, but for the past few years, the flow has not really been doing much. A couple of months ago, it finally broke through and is now providing surface activity and ocean entry where visitors can get close and witness this amazing spectacle. From the National Park side, it is a 6-8 mile hike each way across lava fields, which pretty much rules that option out. From the Kalapana side, it is approximately 2 miles hike each way, but this side is private property and there is a certain amount of state and landowner control, preventing people from simply walking in on their own to view the lava. So what is one to do? Here on Maui, I heard through the “coconut wireless” about a travel company called Poke-A-Stick Tours, that took people out to the lava. I called and spoke with Cheryl, owner/guide/host extraordinaire, and planned a couple of days with her afternoon sunset hikes out to the lava flow.
HOUSE OF INFINITY Maui, Hawaii 2012
The St. Joseph Church in Kaupo, Maui, Hawaii is the oldest church on Maui and was established in 1862.
This image essentially took me over two years to successfully complete and was seen in my mind’s eye long before I could show it to you here in a photograph. There is only a small window of time each year in which the Milky Way is in an optimal position above this old church. Kaupo is over 2 hours drive from my house in Lahaina and is located in the most rustic part of Maui where there isn’t even a proper road. The final challenge was with the painting-of-light that I used to illuminate the church. Using a small flashlight it was much too easy to give too little, too much, or not even-enough light which resulted in many failed attempts before capturing this powerful and ethereal scene.
I had initially planned on being “sick and tired” for Halloween, or maybe a zombie, but as the evening neared, I had a bit of an itch to shoot some pics of the eve, so I ended up being a battered war photographer – this allowed me to carry a camera and shoot the night. Between the many beers and shots of Fireball (yummy, delicious and dangerous!) and the fact that most of these were shot in-the-dark, I had a HELLUVA time focusing, so forgive me the blurriness. Here are some images of friends and family from the night…
I was heading out 4 or 5 nights a week into the dark cool evenings of the La Jolla night and photographing with little or no light. On this particular occasion, I was heading down the street and saw three divers having just loaded on all of their wetsuit and scuba gear, heading for the water’s edge. I was curious to see what I might be able to capture. Continue reading
It seems nearly every time I go out shooting, I find myself in a stunning location at the magic hour to enjoy the clouds passing by and the sounds of the ocean, and if I’m lucky, the chance to get a sweet shot in my camera. Continue reading
1. Be willing to miss Happy Hour and dinner at a popular dinnertime.
- Most people seem to eat dinner around sunset. If you’re an outdoor landscape photographer, you’re not sitting at this table. Happy Hour…fuhgeddaboudit! Dinner and drinks both have to come later, after dark, and after the nights shooting.
2. Be willing to wake up earlier than you’d ever consider otherwise.
Most peopleI personally prefer to sleep in to reasonable hours like 7 or 8am (or, even 9am on occasion), but when you are driven to get dynamic images with Sweet Light, there are times when you have to get up at 0′ Dark Early – times that begin with a 4 !?! Yes, I know…it sounds inhumane, but all is soon forgotten when the magical morning light begins – mixed with your 1/2 sleep stupor, a feeling of harmonious bliss can take you over for a righteous and pure morning Happy Hour that leaves you feeling peachy all day. (Afternoon nap may be required.)
3. Be willing to struggle, suffer, and otherwise torture yourself.
- Unless you find satisfaction in only making images alongside the edge of the road or parking lot, the same images anyone else can easily make, then as an outdoor landscape photographer, you’re going to have to suffer at the hand of nature. You will have to spend many hours in the elements, hiking and climbing and waiting in the hot or the cold or the wet, all the while quieting your mind which can get extremely noisy during these uncomfortable times. Fortunately, most of us who choose this photographic path do so because we love nature, whether punishing or not. I always feel that the more one pushes up against the comfort zones of the ego, the more of a gem there is to be found – especially while in the stillness of nature.
This past weekend, myself and a couple of friends decided to push up against these comfort zones and hike from close to sea-level to 8,000 feet over a course of 17 miles and 48 hours – UP! the Kaupo Gap and through the Haleakala Crater of Maui. I carried 50 pounds of weight which in addition to all my camping gear, included my camera and lens, filters and a tripod, with hopes of being able to make an image or two along the way. As it turned out, not much success in the way of an image for my limited edition collection on this journey, but there was still a gem there to be found, shining amongst the struggles and efforts required to make it through this demanding hike.
Here is a video/slideshow I made of the trip:
A couple nights back, I was just about to go to bed when I glanced out over the ocean and saw a full moonbow! “Holy shit! Becca! Come quick!” I blurted out without hesitation…or thought as to how this reaction might sound from her end. She bolted out of the bedroom wondering what the hell was going on, relieved to see that I was losing it over a moonbow. (Gets her back a bit for all the times she freaks over a mouse, cockroach, or some other little critter – at least once a month, she screams from another room for me to “come quick”, giving me a partial heart attack. Of course, once my heart is back on pace, I always secretly find this extremely cute.)
Even here on Maui, you don’t see moonbows all that often, especially not full ones from end to end. I rush to get my camera bag and tripod and in the 13 seconds this takes me, half of the moonbow has already dissipated. I jam to get setup and only have time to take 4 frames before it’s totally gone. Dealing with a new camera and lens, a loving relationship hasn’t yet formed and the first 3 frames are totally out-of-focus. I recognize this just in time to make this one last exposure. Yeah…I know the composition and overall scene leaves little to be desired, but it is my first moonbow captured-by-camera…so, it’s a start.
Have you captured a moonbow with your camera? Any stories? Come on, let’s hear ‘em.
- FIELD NOTES
- ISO: 1600 @ 30 Seconds
- 35mm F/1.4 @ f/5.6
“In order to obtain pictures by means of the camera it is well to choose your subject, and carefully study the lines and lighting. After having determined upon these, watch and await the moment in which everything is in balance; that is, satisfied your eye. This often means hours of patient waiting. Of course, the result contains an element of chance, as one might have stood there for hours without succeeding in getting the desired pictures.” Alfred Stieglitz – “The Hand Camera” (1897)
This is my most common approach to the art of landscape photography – the studying of subject. I find compositions that I am drawn to and that resonate with me, and then I return to them a number of times during the landscape photographer’s working hours.
- landscape photographer working hours:
•an hour before sunrise to an hour after
•an hour before sunset to an hour after
•during the night
•during banker hours (only while stormy and tempestuous)
With these above working hours, you really don’t have a lot of time to study the subject – in optimal light anyways. Therefore, you’re likely gonna have to return a bunch of times to get something special. Now, if you’re lazy, terribly busy, or otherwise lacking the passion involved to drive dynamic work, you might not like the sound of this. But, if you are driven to get dynamic images, then this is great news! Essentially, once you find a strong composition that resonates with you and you know works, then it’s just a matter of time before you get a successful image. Get your ass back there time after time – sunrise, sunset, full moon, new moon. Wake up early, miss dinner, stay out late. Work the subject. Study the subject. With this style of work, you begin to know the subject. You begin to see how the light falls on the subject at different times, you learn the tidal conditions in relation to the subject, when people frequent the location and how that may or may not affect you, and many other little nuances of the scene. Through learning these nuances of the subject, you form a relationship, and like any relationship, depth begins to form. It’s in this depth that you begin to breathe life into your work, and it is this life that makes the work more dynamic and resonate more strongly with viewers.
“The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author’s success in translating into photographic terms his own emotional response to the subject.” Eliot Porter
This style of work may breathe new life into your photographs. It certainly did for me. While living in La Jolla, California for a several years, I started working this way and my work became much stronger. I wrote about it here, and again here.
While this style of work can obviously help tremendously while photographing at home, I often take the same approach while traveling. Take the images in this post from Bandon, Oregon as example. I was traveling for 23 days through parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. I had researched extensively before leaving home and had been very drawn to these sea stacks along the coast Oregon and Washington coasts. I explored online all the images I could find of these many rock formations stretching along the entire west coast, as well as studying these coastline details on Google Maps – an invaluable tool for photographers! The features and shape of this pointy rock in Bandon resonated with me so much and I knew I had to spend some time there exploring it in-person with my camera.
I decided on a place right on the beach, with some of the sea stacks directly out the back door! My stay was 2 nights and 3 days. My first afternoon, I walked the beach until I found the pointy rock that I was drawn to. Sure enough, it was my favorite rock along the beach. Not to say it wasn’t all impressive! Bandon is absolutely stunning and I could certainly stay there for longer than a few days, and I could certainly photograph much of the scenery. But, I wasn’t there for too long and time being limited, I decided to study the subject, and focus my efforts on this particular rock. This would better ensure that I’d get a keeper for my gallery collection of works. So, during the couple sunsets, sunrises, and the one clear night I had, I was out photographing this rock…getting to know her.
You’ll often find that when you approach the work this way, that you end up with a number of dynamic images that you like, making it more challenging to edit the work down to just one or two top images for a collection. This is a good problem! It is much better to have 6 strong images and have trouble narrowing it down to 1 or 2, than trying to pick an image to represent the place that falls short. Besides, you can still use the not-quite-collection-worthy images, I often call them “book shots”. They are good enough for showing in a book, but not quite strong enough to be a part of a limited edition collection. Your gallery collection should be your absolute strongest and tightly edited works.
If you haven’t approached your work this way yet, then I encourage you to do it. Find something near your home that you are drawn to visually, and dedicate a month to it. Go back often in the landscape photographer working hours. Go often! Immerse yourself in the scene. If you get some good shots, don’t stop. Keep going. Go during the different moon phases, sunrise, sunset. Go at least a dozen times in a month, and see what you end up with. Still not satisfied? Then keep going. It’s not meant to be easy! If it were, everybody would have great collections of photographs. It’s a lot of work! Enjoy it. It’s great being outside, in the elements, away from the TV! It’s healthy for the spirit. And, if you still don’t like it, then go do something else – this isn’t for you. This is for the passionate photographers and artists who want to create more dynamic work. This is for you. Embrace the place, form relationships of depth with your subject matter. Love the scene. When you love it, you want to visit it often, and you do so with an open heart. When you approach the work in this way, good things will happen, I promise. You may find that even the “mistakes” are pretty cool…
…and the successful ones – they are gems that stay with you forever.