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Top Ten Photos of 2012

1 Jan

Today marks the beginning of a new year and the end of what was probably the most personally challenging year of my life. Dealing with the advanced stage cancer diagnosis of my best friend has been tough and rewarding, but it definitely slowed down my photography over the summer to say the least. However, I was still fortunate enough to get out several times and I am extremely pleased with the overall body of my work.

Without further adieu, enclosed are my top photos of the year, in my opinion, and account for the preferences of a few close friends and family members. These are presented in chronological order…

Image

Dreaming of Altitude, Colorado, July, 2011

This ten second exposure of Sloan Lake is the only image not captured in 2012. Until recently, it sat dormant on my hard drive, but the positive feedback I received after posting it to my website plus the originality of the shot has propelled it into my Top Ten.

Lost in Forever

Lost in Forever, Wyoming, January

Probably my favorite image of the year, it was captured on a breathtaking and frigid 30 below morning in Yellowstone. I was with a group and didn’t have any say whatsoever as to the location choice, but I certainly made the most out of it.

Thermal Winter

Thermal Winter, Wyoming, January

Another image from Yellowstone, on a lonely night during a clearing storm in the Upper Geyser Basin Area. I was walking around using the ski tracks as a footpath and came upon this scene close to sundown. I wanted to take a lower perspective, but could not as my tripod legs were frozen. I liked these two images so much – I still haven’t yet posted any other images from the entire trip.

Kaleidoscopic Canyon

Kaleidoscopic Canyon, Utah, April

Skull District, Utah, April

A two week trip to Utah in April ended up being my longest adventure of the year. The trip was a fruitful one, although in retrospect, I can’t say any of the images I captured were amongst the most significant of my career. “Kaleidoscopic Canyon” is from a relatively unknown little slot canyon in Central Utah, which required a shuttle hike and some borderline technical skills to access.

While “Skull District” was a particularly memorable capture, it is somewhat bittersweet. I was treated to an incredible light display my last night on that trip, but it abruptly ended when high winds blew over my fully extended tripod destroying my favorite lens and polarizer. This was the last image I captured before that accident . This trip marked the end of all photography excursions until the end of October when I took wonderful trip to the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona.

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

This image is more a personal favorite than anything else. In 2012, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to take more macro type images focusing on repetition and pattern and this is one of the best examples of the year. This was a monster sized century plant, the biggest I have ever seen and I had a wonderful time shooting it from all sides until the light faded completely. This was the last shot that I captured during that session and it was a 30 second exposure with extraordinary luminance. The  colors are perfectly natural and I am not sure if it was a result of that particular plant or also had to do with it changing colors for autumn. The whole plant wasn’t red and this was the most particularly colorful section.

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

This image was captured in the same area the following morning on Halloween.  It was about 20 minutes before sunrise and these peaks were radiating ambient colors of dawn while the full moon set behind it – hence the name “The Balancing Act.”  I purposely left the contrast low to reflect the conditions that I saw at the time.

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

One last image from my Chiricahua trip. This one I literally walked into as a very difficult, high altitude hiking trail went directly through a forest of peak foliage with incredible patterns. I was actually contemplating not bringing my tripod on this hike and I am sure glad I did. While I am not sure if this is one of my ten favorite images of the year, I definitely think it showcases the diversity of my photography and that is why I am including it.

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

The last two images of the year are both from my most recent trip, a five day excursion to New Mexico in the middle of November. Again, it was particularly difficult to limit the selections to a pair, as there are a trio I would have loved to include. In fact, the one that I am not including – found here is one of my three favorite shots of the year!

That being said, “Alien Stronghold” was my first image captured in this very remote and secluded wilderness area in Central New Mexico. The light featured in this image lasted probably less than 75 seconds and it was difficult to achieve the proper depth of field blending necessary to pull off this shot. What I love are the rock formations and drama; those pillars of stone are more than ten feet high.

The last selection of the year is from the same area captured during a long exposure well after sunset during the blue hour. The light, colors, and formation are all beautiful, but this image also is unique in at least two other ways. First, it has foreground elements where movement is not purposely captured – in this case, the reeds are blowing. Normally, this is a big no-no for me, but under circumstances and given the overall image – it doesn’t bother me at all in this particular case.

Secondly, I included the sister image of the same formation taken immediately before on my website. This is unique because normally I just pick the best image of a location and display only that one, but in this case, I think both images stand well on their own. There was some controversy as to which image to include and you can decide which one you like for yourself as the other one is found here.

Well, that concludes my list. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope to share more images and be more active blogging in 2013. I wish you and yours a happy and blessed new year. I would love to hear your feedback as well. Thanks for looking!

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Leaving for Frozen Yellowstone This Week

16 Jan

I am preparing for my first photography trip of 2012 to  Yellowstone National Park. Later this week, I’ll arrive in Bozeman, MT  where I’ll spend nearly a week exploring the frozen tundra of Yellowstone in search of interesting landscapes and wild animals. While I have spent some time in Yellowstone during a snowstorm, it was during the fall and not the frozen heart of winter.

My experience in dealing with sub-freezing temperatures is limited and I am not exactly sure what to expect. Considering that I have lived in Arizona for the past 16 years , I am not used to hardcore winter photography where temperatures can drop below zero.

Just minutes before a huge snowstorm hit Yellowstone Lake

Just minutes before a huge snowstorm hit Yellowstone Lake, captured in early October

Because I’ll be assisting another photographer in leading a large group – I don’t exactly have the autonomy I normally do on a photography excursion by myself.  However, I am still hoping to come away with some quality images. Currently, the weather forecast looks like snow, snow and more snow so I am not sure how that is going to translate into landscape images, which I favor over wildlife scenes.  My goal is to push the bounds of my creativity and hopefully come up with something unique, especially if the light is less than spectacular.

Any suggestions or tips for dealing with the cold weather are greatly appreciated. I have hand and feet warmers, but I am still not sure how equipped or prepared I am in dealing with the frigid temperatures.

Finding Your Creative Vision Part 3 – The Black and White

5 May

“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
— Ansel Adams

Contemporary landscape photography is dominated by digital images of saturated and vibrant color. The popularity of this style is obvious and it oftentimes overshadows the traditional and subtle effectiveness of just using black and white. However, by no means is black and white photography passe. Today, we’ll discuss some of the most important processes involved in capturing and presenting your images in black and white.

Having a Vision

One of the most critical steps for the photographer to think in terms of black and white. What I mean is at the time of capture you should be envisioning a black and white finished product for your photograph. While this doesn’t always have to be the case, it certainly does help. You may be wondering, how does one go about developing this type of mindset?

One key is for the photographer to focus on finding black and white compositions when they are in the field. A prime way of accomplishing this is through the careful examination of subject matter and light. Black and white photography is most effective when there is a full spectrum of tone between white and black with many different shades of grey. Two common means of illustration are the primary colors of the subject and/or the light during the time of capture.

This is an image of Yellowstone Lake taken at the beginning of October as the area’s lovely fall weather was deteriorating into the freezing grip of winter. The water level here was low thus exposing many of the rocks in the lake. During capture, it was very cold and windy and a huge snow storm was moving in. The colors were fairly mute and because it was in the late afternoon and extremely overcast I knew this would lend well to black and white.

Once again, the key with black and white is to offer the viewer the full spectrum of tones so the eye can easily differentiate between the shades. Form is also accentuated in black and white. The effective use of contrast to emphasize form is often a key to the aesthetic success of your image. Here I like the forms of the rocks in the water. I also like the powerful U-shape formed by the exposed bank in the lake.

Styles

Stylistically, several types of prominent landscapes translate well into black and white photography. Here is a short list to keep in mind next time your are in the field: aspen trees, dead trees, raging creeks, sand dunes, barns, and snow capped peaks.

Processing

While this blog post was not designed to get into the specific technical aspects behind black and white processing, I will briefly discuss a couple important factors. How and when you convert your image to black and white is a subjective call. I’ve experimented with it several ways and I don’t particularly have a preference. It can be done at the beginning or end of your work flow and by a number of different ways in the same programs. (There are also third party plug ins that effectively facilitate the conversion too). If you are looking to have a finished product in both color and black and white I suggest just convert and tweak at the end of your work flow, unless you want to completely edit the picture twice.

Finally, the white balance you choose will also affect your image’s final appearance. What color tone do you want? A neutral grey? Blue? Or maybe slightly yellow? Those are subjective calls and a lot depends on personal preference and what you are trying to communicate…
For example, look closely at the image below and then compare to the one above. Notice the difference in the tone? The Yellowstone Lake shot is bluer, while the image beneath is more of a neutral grey.

Hopefully this post provided you with a little creative inspiration and approach to capturing and presenting your images in black and white, until next time have a great weekend!

Finding Your Creative Edge in Landscape Photography Pt.1 – The Grand Scenic

27 Apr

What is the difference between a good landscape photographer and a great one? What separates the top photographers in this genre from the many others trying to emulate them? Is it luck, time in the field, or maybe they have more technical and even physical skills? It couldn’t possibly be their camera equipment could it? Well, what is it?

Today we are starting a new series that I hope will answer these questions and more. My goal is to provide you with a more fundamental understanding of landscape photography and to inspire you to think outside the box to find your own creative advantages.

After several years of regularly studying landscape photographs from an artist’s perspective, I’ve begun to see more clearly the creative nuances many of the top pros use to hone their craft. Before we dive into the creative aspects of the genre, it is important to have a fundamental grasp of the different types of images that are common in this field. I call these sub-genres and we’ll briefly discuss each as it relates to overall understanding of landscape photography. We’ll start with just about everyone’s favorite type of the image – the grand scenic.

If you follow my work at all then you’ve probably seen this image before. Entitled Celestial Alignment, this is probably my favorite grand scenic in my current gallery of images. What exactly is a grand scenic?

Well, I’ll take the definition out of one of my all time favorite photography books entitled “Photographing the Landscape, the Art of Seeing” by John Fielder. This is how Fielder describes this type of image…. "Grand scenics often contain all....(the) photographic toppings, and they employ their use in ways that heighten their impact. Colors are usually complementary, forms are unique and pleasing, the moment clearly transitory, the perspective implies great depth, and the view takes in what is only necessary to make a great composition."

To paraphrase, he is saying a grand scenic normally means a scene with a wide and deep view. This usually includes some type of dramatic sky or at least soft, warm light that compliments and/or accentuates the subject matter. The composition also needs to be precise and well balanced, with strong continuity from side to side and front to back.

Let’s take a look at the image above and examine the foreground elements. There is a definite near to far perspective, with the strongest hoodoos placed in a position that looks out and diagonally across the scene to the sun rising over the horizon. This creates a fluid perspective leading the viewer through the scene, starting in the foreground.

In my opinion, this is also an example of a balanced scene. If you cover up half (any way) of the photograph you’ll see what I mean. No one half is any stronger than the other. If you look at the placement of the sun within the picture, it is classically approximately 1/3rd of the way in from the right and 1/3rd of the way down from the top. In the mid ground, the forest of trees in the canyon breaks up the monotony of the shades of deep oranges and reds produced by the brilliant light reflecting off the natural color of the rocks. Additionally, look at the sides of the image. All the elements are clean, thoughtfully arranged, and cohesive.

Finally, the sky is brilliant and clearly transitory. Anyone who has spent time in the field during the magic hours can surely see this is not a “normal” sunrise. It was highly unusual with the moment lasting approximately three to four minutes.

Capturing a grand scenic is one of the most rewarding experiences in landscape photography because of the rarity of the event. In another sense, the images require a less than average amount of artistic creativity to get them right.

Certainly, in most cases, they require a high level of technical competence having to deal with the high dynamic range of light while executing in the field and in the digital dark room. However, outside of that aspect and the ability to see a strong composition, most of the creative work gets overshadowed by the spectacle of natural phenomena captured.

Well, I’ll wrap this up today and by Thursday we’ll discuss another type of image.

Wild Moments in the Wilderness Close Call #5: Quicksand

9 Jan

During my wilderness travels, there haven’t been too many things more startling than stepping into an area you think is solid, only to instantly sink up to your knees in sand or mud. It’s stepping in quicksand and it has happened to me on several occasions in Zion National Park. The first time I encountered quicksand was during a through hike in the Narrows with a buddy of mine about four and a half years ago. I was aware of the potential hazard, but it is very difficult to perceive where the danger is, meaning you basically have to experience it. When you step in quicksand you are generally taken off-balance because your momentum is stopped cold. So while you think you should be walking, you’re not, resulting in a mild whiplash type of effect. In this instance, I stepped almost up to my thighs and lost one of my boots in the process. Luckily, I was able to retrieve it, regain my composure, and move on.  Make no mistake about it, stepping into quicksand requires quick thinking.

While in Zion this past fall, I had another near miss with quicksand, only this time it was in swift moving water that was almost waist deep. As I was moving slowly into the water to try to set up for a picture,  I could feel the sand give out much too quickly underneath my feet as I lightly stepped into the deeper section to test the current. Immediately I knew it was trouble and backed off. This wasn’t something you could see, as it was actually beneath the water in some fairly deep rapids.  A serious situation in which in an unsuspecting person could have conceivably been seriously injured or drowned.

Dangerous Times - This was the area that had the quicksand. I wanted to get into those rapids, but what lurked beneath made it much too dangerous.

In another instance during the same trip, I was walking through a canyon in Zion’s eastern section near the Checkerboard Mesa, where I carelessly stepped into a shallow patch of quicksand. This instance was quite surreal because I was in a side canyon and was intently searching my surroundings for photo opportunities.  As I walking, the ground looked solid and I was looking up and boom, right up my knees in quicksand!

This time I really banged up my shin and almost ruined my camera which I was carrying on my tripod.  The quicksand caught me so off guard I actually put my camera down in it for a split second, getting dirt and sand in its controls. It took more than a week for my shin to heal, another half hour to clean my camera, and my shoes to this day still stink from that episode.

Bottom line is,  make sure you are educated on the areas where quicksand is a potential hazard. Be aware and mentally prepared for any encounter.  I keep a very level head in the wilderness, but I’ve been caught off guard several  times. If you get stuck, don’t struggle or wiggle to get out. Try to free up one leg at a time or if you are up to your waist, lift yourself out and roll onto the mud.  Remember it’s the first 30 seconds after it happens where you can really get yourself into trouble, especially if you are carrying expensive camera equipment. Be sure to use a hiking stick to probe areas that lock suspicious. Be alert and prepared and have fun! I hope you enjoyed this post, if so, please let me know. I’ll post later this week with number four.

Call in the Relief

10 Nov

Michael returned from his trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks a bit weary and road worn, but with some tremendous new images. While fall colors were somewhat shy of their peak, weather and lighting conditions were quite favorable, allowing him to capture new Narrows images as well as images from the Subway and Kolob Canyon. He and his traveling buddy spent a good deal of time hiking, scouting new locations, and of course, stopping to catch up on the latest sports activities. They also had the good fortune of spending some time with a photographers Michael met through Flickr. It was a personally rewarding trip with a great time had by all.   

 While he was away, Induro, the manufacturer of the tripod Michael uses in his work, had him as the featured artist on their blog. The profile, Michael Greene on Nature’s Trail, provides a brief biography, some details about his photographic style and outlines how he prepares for field work. The blog also showcases several of his best images. It is a great piece, so please check it out.

 Lastly, you may wonder why this blog was not written by Michael. I have the same thought as I wrap it up. We are extremely busy preparing for the Tempe Festival of the Arts. It is one of the largest art festivals held in Arizona and we will have a booth there December 2-4. Stop by if you happen to be in the area! As you can imagine, there is a great deal of work involved in getting ready for a show. We are editing new images, re-editing, having images printed, matted and framed, as well as a myriad of other duties. My “to do” list included updating the blog, so although I am not as gifted an author as Michael, I do hope you enjoy it.

 Joyce

Day Two – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

18 Sep

Today we are going to examine the details behind possibly my best shot of last year called, Celestial Alignment. The title comes from the fact the Lord literally hooked it up that morning and elements all fell into place perfectly for a stunning image.

Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Technical Info: Canon 5D mark 2, 16 – 35 L/2.8, F/22, .8 exposure, ISO 160

Filters:  .9 Singh-Ray GND (Soft), .6 Lee GND (Hard)

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Creative Process:  I captured this image during the one night I spent at Bryce Canyon NP last year. Talk about a blessing! We arrived at the park the day before as storms were moving through the area. The shooting was good during the afternoon as well as for sunset. The following morning we arrived at Sunset Point (better for sunrises IMO) and I began walking and composing images. Because there were no clouds obscuring the horizon, the pre-dawn light was pretty intense, so I stacked a couple of grads on my camera. I knew from my test shots that a single graduated neutral density filter would not be enough to capture the full dynamic range of light, even while bracketing. (For the most, using graduated neutral density filters at Bryce Canyon is straight forward because of the even horizon).  As the light began to change, we continued to move along the rim of the canyon. I generally knew where I wanted to shoot because I had scouted the location the day before. I also had a pretty good idea of where the sun was going to come up at because of the light in the sky. As the sun appeared, I found myself in the right place at the right time well prepared to capture the fleeting scene. All in all, the light lasted maybe 5 minutes and I was able to create plenty of images in that time.

I used an aperture of F/22 to create the sunburst effect as the sun moved over the horizon. I also bracketed my exposures by 1 1/3 stops allowing me plenty of “wiggle room” so when editing I had the full dynamic range of light to properly replicate what I saw in the sky. The hardest part about editing images of Bryce is balancing out the contrast in the red rocks with the contrast in the trees.  Also, not clipping the red channels in the rocks can be problematic. Overall, this image came out extremely and I am fortunate to share this story with you.  I hope you found it useful. If so, please let me know!

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