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Season’s Greetings!

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

The end of another year is upon us, and I stand in awe of how quickly time flies.  Hopefully your holiday season is filled with happiness and satisfaction when you look back on 2011.  Our house is filled with family right now, and a 3-year-old who is very excited about having Grandma and Grandpa here for a visit, so I’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog until after the new year.  Looking back, though, I am very grateful for this blog, because of all the repeated visitors who have become good friends, and the new visitors, who I hope will become friends in 2012.

Some posts on this blog generated some great discussion in 2011:

To end 2011 on a very happy note, I received word the other day that one of my images (below) was accepted to Yosemite Renaissance 27, a juried exhibit that will be on display in Yosemite Valley from February 24-May 6.  Mine was one of 48 pieces selected for the exhibit out of almost 700 entries–I’m very proud and happy to have my work displayed in this exhibit.

Reflection of a mountain peak in the John Muir Wilderness, California

High Sierra Reflection, September 2010

I sincerely hope you have a great holiday season, and a wonderful start to 2012!  I am looking forward to seeing where the new year takes us…


Intimate Zion

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I remember my first visit to Zion National Park as a teenager, on spring break, with my parents.  It was one of the only trips we took as a family that was a vacation for vacation’s sake.  All other car trips to that point had been to visit family in Wyoming or Nebraska.  I have to admit it felt odd to be on a vacation with my parents!  But, the massive sandstone cliffs and buttresses left me nothing less than floored, making me quickly forget about the awkwardness of “being seen” with my parents.

Since then, I’ve returned to Zion several times; I’ve hiked the entire length of the Narrows, the classic Virgin River hike, and I’ve been through many of the technical slot canyons in the park.  I feel privileged to have seen parts of the park that <1% of its visitors get to experience.  Most recently, I’ve returned to Zion with my own family, sharing its serenity and sanctuary with them.

Like all heavily photographed areas, Zion has its own repertoire of icons: the Towers of the Virgin, the Narrows, Court of the Patriarchs, the Subway.  Moving past these locations, though, I have consistently found it very difficult to make a compelling image in the midst of the breathtaking beauty.  I should qualify that statement: I find it difficult to make an image that makes me stop and say, “Wow, that’s awesome!”

On our most recent trip to the park, I focused on the intimate details.  Autumn is in its final throes in Zion Canyon right now, with most of the cottonwoods and maples half-naked, ready for their hibernation.  Three weeks ago, this place was crawling with photographers, I’m sure, now these trees have been all but forgotten about.  Still, I find a certain beauty in these vestiges of fall.

Fremont cottonwoods in autumn foliage, Zion National Park, Utah

Autumn's final vestiges, November 2011

Big leaf maple, Zion National Park, Utah

Hanging on, November 2011

Early morning is my favorite time to be in Zion Canyon; deer are peacefully grazing, turkey are out, and the chill is still in the air because the sun hasn’t penetrated the depths of the canyon yet.  There’s often a breeze blowing, almost as if the canyon is starting fresh every day.  As the cliffs begin to greet the sun, the light reflects on to the river, giving it a wonderful tonality.

Virgin River cascade

Cascade, November 2011

I welcomed Zion into my heart and mind years ago.  The fight I have with the place is that I haven’t–until recently–let it drive my creativity.  I’ve been trying to force the park to reveal itself to me in ways it isn’t ready to do.  Letting go of the notions I held on to let me see in a different way, making images I never expected to make, but am happy with.   I will continue making my yearly pilgrimages to the park; I look forward to seeing how the canyon reveals itself to me next time…and I’m grateful my son is years away from that stage of not wanting to be seen with me.  🙂

Photo(s) of the Month–November

Friday, November 4th, 2011

I think this is the first time since beginning this blog I’ve broken from my Photo of the Month tradition.  Its not really for lack of wanting.  The truth is, I have had trouble deciding on just one image.

Instead I’ve decided to share a few new images that I’ve been working on, all with a common theme:  long exposure.   In the right situation, a long exposure provides extra time for either the camera to move, or elements within the frame to move (like clouds or water), adding unique drama to a scene.

First, I recently purchased an 8-stop neutral density filter.   I’ve wanted one for quite a while, after seeing some great long exposure work from other photographers.  Mac Danzig has a great tutorial/informational blog post on them here.  I waited for a stormy morning with dramatic skies to try it out at a local beach, with some great rock formations.  The rock in the second image reminds me of a molar from a Pleistocene-epoch carnivore…

Stormy morning at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

Stormy morning, November 2011

A clearing storm at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

The sea's jaws, November 2011

In addition to letting the scene move, interesting effects can also be achieved by moving the camera while the shutter is open.  Zoom blurs have become more popular over the last few years, but I added another element.  In addition to zooming the lens during the exposure, I also rotated the camera.  The subject I chose to try this out on is California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum); I have always loved the fall color palette of this plant, but haven’t been able to make an image of I like.  Finally, with this technique–although it won’t appeal to everyone–I feel like I’ve gotten the colors to blend in a way that’s appealing to me.

An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination I, October 2011


An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination II, October 2011

Looking out my window, I think autumn may have finally come to southern California!  I hope you have a great November; in the U.S. its a time we give thanks for many things–what are you thankful for this month?


An Honest Silence

Friday, March 4th, 2011

In my blog post, “Topophilia,” an essay about the value of the desert southwest, particularly southern Utah, I wrote that I, “feel connected with the land in a way that words cannot describe.”

Indeed I do.  Some people may contend that the wild canyons and plateaus are dangerous; yes, Mother Nature can be treacherous–violently so.  However, despite that, I find sanctuary in the sandstone, a place of refuge and rejuvenation, of clarity and healing.  How can I find words to describe this place?  I may not ever be able to do it justice.

Canyon and cedar snag in the grand staircase escalante national monument, utah

Cedar Snag, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, August 2009

Last week, I met Ann Marie Whittaker through her blog, “Age Old Tree,”  and discovered her prose about why she loves her Red Rock Wilderness.  In a brief email exchange, I could sense a profound sense of place and love in her voice for this beautiful slickrock desert so many people fall in love with.  We need more people like Ann Marie in this world; I hope you go to her blog and read the post over and over (make sure to check out part two as well).  You’ll be inspired; I am, and I learned that its actually okay to embrace an honest silence about a place.

I’m still not sure what I want to say about southern Utah, but I’m very happy its there, and that its loved by so many.

beautiful and colorful sandstone formation, with calcite, southern utah

Sandstone Kaleidoscope, January 2011

Ice Abstracts

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Several years ago, Ernest Atencio wrote an essay called “Little Wild Places”  in which he talked about wild places–even the smallest ones surrounded by city–as locations where we can rekindle our relationship with the natural world.

On our recent visit to Wyoming, I was lucky to have a creek to walk near several times.  Deer visit the creek daily; raccoons, pronghorn antelope, grouse, several small rodents, and other birds are not infrequent visitors.  One afternoon on my walk, the abstract patterns of the ice struck me and I attempted to make some abstract images of it.

abstract image of ice on a creek in winter

Ice Abstract I, December 2010

While making these images, I looked up, briefly, and saw one of the creek’s residents–a small mouse–bolting back into the underbrush.  I think it must have been as surprised as I was–what a strange being it encountered on the side of *its* creek!

abstract image of ice on a creek in winter

Ice Abstract II, December 2010

If you’re interested, there was quite a bit of technique that went into making these images.  Each one is a composite of 9 separate RAW files.  I wanted to maximize depth of field, so I focused at three separate planes through each image.  Each of these was then combined in Photoshop to maximize depth of field (I’ve blogged about this technique in the past).  At each plane of focus, I bracketed the exposure to maximize the dynamic range that was captured in the scene.  Finally, I converted the image to monochrome using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, and added a slight silver-blue tone to convey the sense of a chilled winter day.  So, I guess these are HDR, focus-bracketed ice abstracts.  Whew…what a mouthful.  I hope you just think they’re pretty.

I was thankful to have this little wild place to not only rekindle my connection with nature, but also to foster some creativity in my photography.

How do you use little wild places?

Wave Abstract

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Lately, I’ve been using Nik Software’s plug-ins for Photoshop and have to admit that I’m loving them.  As a result, I’ve been revisiting some old images in an attempt to breathe some new life into them.  One image in particular that I’ve had in mind is this shot of the Pacific Ocean that I took in April on my visit to Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park.

waves in the pacific ocean, channel islands national park

Wave Abstract, April 2010

In this shot, I wanted to accentuate the detail in the waves, as well as the water texture in both the leading and tailing edges of the waves.  By processing the lower lefthand part of the image as monochrome using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro and leaving the upper righthand part of the image in color, I was able to accentuate the difference in these areas of the water.

Incidentally, in my last post on my Channel Islands trip, I talked about how intense the wind was.  For most of the night, we dealt with wind gusts of 50-65 miles per hour, with no vegetative cover.  Equipment takes a beating in that kind of wind, and today I received an image from my friend, whose tent we used that night on Anacapa.  These tent poles used to be straight.

bent tent poles from anacapa island winds

The Wrath of Anacapa

Off to Zion

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Yesterday, I arrived in one of my favorite national parks: Zion.  Nothing screams summer to me quite like splashing through the pools and climbing on the sandstone in this wonderful national park.  I’m meeting some friends in hopes of descending a couple of technical slot canyons, and despite the ropes, harnesses and dry bags, I’m going to try to throw my SLR in as well.  I’m also hoping to take a day to hike up the Narrows of the Virgin River in hopes of getting some shots of the river, red rock walls, and green spring foliage.  However, that part of the plan may be cancelled…

Due to heavy snowfall in the high country all around the west this winter, all of our rivers and streams are flowing higher than normal; the Virgin River is no exception.  As of 6/9, the Virgin River in Zion is flowing at 190 cubic feet per second (cfs); the park service won’t even let people into the Narrows unless the flow is below 120 cfs.  However, the stream flow rate has been dropping steadily, and I’m confident I’ll be able to get into the Narrows.  Also, please don’t get me wrong; I’d much rather have to scrap a photo trip than have no water in the park.  The drought is far from over in the western US, but every little bit does help.

So, here’s to the Virgin River.  Have a fantastic weekend!

Virgin River abstract image, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion National Park, January 2010

To see all of my images from Zion National Park, click here.