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.
You could spend an entire lifetime photographing the San Francisco Bay Area and still not capture it all. It is one of those rare gems – packed full of scenic vistas and perspectives that can keep the passionate photographer endlessly inspired. It certainly keeps me visually interested and coming back, year after year. I still continue to find new vantages that compose nicely in the photographic frame. But what if you are only coming to the city for a weekend, where do you go? I will share with you some of my favorite locations to photograph in San Francisco. Some of them are very iconic, some of them are a bit less widely known. Alternatively, you could join me personally and explore my favorite spots alongside me during one of my SF photo workshops.
GOLDEN GATE SUNRISE San Francisco, California
#1. Battery Spencer This spot is certainly no secret, but regardless, it is one of the most spectacular locations to photograph. And not just in San Francisco, but perhaps the entire country! This is called Battery Spencer. Get up there at sunrise or sunset and be prepared to be blown away! It feels like the Golden Gate bridge is close enough to reach out and touch, which is a very cool feeling. If you can translate some of that feeling photographically, you are likely to make a powerful photograph. You can use wide angle lenses all the way to longer lenses for countless perspectives. Get creative and experiment. For the above photograph, I was in position well before sunrise and prepared when the light started to get sweet. The thick fog helped keep the composition simple and clean – making it all about the light, color and atmosphere.
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!
While working with a Maui Photo Workshop participant recently, I was asked a good question: how do you find your compositions? It hasn’t been a common question among my students, even while discussing the many facets to composing mindful and compelling images, but I think it is a good question. Of course, there is no one way I find my compositions, but there are a number of ways that seem recurrent. Here are 5 ways I find my compositions.
The Jungle. Maui, Hawaii
1. I go where I feel compelled. I explore.
Oftentimes when I go out shooting, I head out with no particular destination in mind, and with no image in my mind’s eye. In these cases, I go where I feel compelled. I often say that landscape photography is all about putting yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right frame of mind. So, where is the “right place”? Anywhere you feel compelled to photograph, and where you can visually arrange the elements into a compelling image. It’s enjoyable to work this way – to go out without expectations or pre-visualizations, guided by your feelings and intuitions, and see what happens.
Pier. La Jolla, California
2. I go to the same spots over and over. I study the scene.
This is another common approach that I take with many of my compositions, and has led to many of my most successful photographs. Once you find a composition that has promise, resonates with you, and is a place that you enjoy spending time, go back time and time again. I have spoke about the importance to studying the subject HERE. Whether working near home or while traveling, this is a strong approach toward making successful and compelling images. Not only does your chances for dynamic light, exciting tidal conditions, or some other interesting element increase, but your relationship with the subject deepens and often comes through the final image, making it more expressive.
Surrendering. Maui, Hawaii
3. I allow the elements within the frame to dictate. I am present and aware.
With landscape photography, it’s best to be present and aware to the conditions around you. When you bring your awareness to the movement of the oceans water, the breeze passing through the trees overhead, the clouds moving through the sky, or the rain in the distance, you will often find that a composition becomes clear. You can work backwards from there. For example, with Surrendering, I noticed how the waves would come ashore, reverse back and collide with the next breaking wave, causing a unique vertical splash in one area. After noticing this within the scene before me, I worked through composing the scene, making an optimal and creative exposure, and then waited for that one extra element that would set the entire scene off – in this case it was the color in the clouds from sunset.
Hoodoo Storm. Near Bryce Canyon, Utah
4. I allow the weather to dictate where I go. I remain flexible while exploring.
Sometimes when you are out exploring to see where you may feel compelled to shoot or heading to a scene that you have shot many times before, the weather is playing a factor and you can’t ignore it. Perhaps you have one thing in mind but it’s down-pouring there, so you have to adjust. Such was the case when I made Hoodoo Storm. I was at Bryce Canyon and was planning on shooting through the sunset light, when a thunderstorm moved in and unleashed a lot of rain. I jumped in the car and headed west, hoping to get to the edge of the storm. 30 minutes later, I made my way out of the rain, found a promising hill to hike up from the road, and discovered a compelling composition directly before me as the sun-setting light lit the underbelly of the clouds, resulting in a dynamic and compelling image.
Moonset. Bandon, Oregon
5. I research and study the landscape before visiting. I use technology to assist.
Although the 4 methods above are my primary approaches to finding my compositions, I do tend to add an element of research online, especially before traveling to a new locale. Google Maps might be one of the most exciting online tools for photographers in researching a shoot to a new locale. Before my last trip to Oregon and Washington, for example, I studied the entire coastline of the two states to determine the sea-stacks I might be most drawn to. Then, I used Google Images to get a visual feel of the surroundings. From there, I was able to pinpoint one particular sea-stack along Oregon’s central coast that I was very drawn to, and a couple months later I was able to commit several days to photographing it, resulting in a series of images titled Rock Study.