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Two rabbis

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

“The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of the course. You do not play a sonata in order to reach the final chord, and if the meaning of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales…” — Alan Watts

Storm light in the Mojave Desert, near Las Vegas Nevada

I once heard a joke about two Jewish rabbis who were having dinner together.  They were close friends and felt they could tell each other anything.  One night they stayed awake very late discussing the existence of God and concluded finally that God did not exist.  A few hours before dawn, they then went off to bed.  In the morning, one of the rabbis got up, looked for his friend all over the house, and not finding him, searched outside.  He found his friend in the garden, absorbed in his ritual morning prayers.

Surprised, he says, “What are you doing?!?”

“You can see what I’m doing, I’m saying my morning prayers.”

“That’s what surprises me!  We almost talked until dawn, decided that God does not exist, and now here you are saying your morning prayers?”

The other rabbi smiled wryly and replied quite simply, “What does God have to do with it?”

The punchline of the joke may not be immediately obvious, but what the second rabbi did not realize, perhaps, is that fidelity to and reverence for ritual was more important than belief in God to the rabbi who went on with his morning prayers.

I can remember one April day early in my photographic career, I saw a large-format photographer standing out at noon on top of the cab of his pickup truck with his camera in Death Valley making images.  From a distance I watched him for a while, and finally concluded that he was crazy because what sort of image could be made at noon?  It was, after all, the only reasonable explanation for his behavior, because it was at least 7 hours until it would be worth pulling the camera out of the bag.

Fast forward more than a decade, and I can see that photographer was not out of his mind.  There are many great articles out there on ways to make images all day long.  However, what’s more–and what I see now–is that it’s not always about only making images of a nuclear sky, but rather fidelity to and reverence for the process of image making.  Like any relationship, knowing the landscape requires time, effort, and–at least in Southwest–a few cactus pricks, scrapes, and bruises.  Repeated visits, and often several failed attempts are necessary to make “that” image, and finally–hopefully–success.  Success, as it were, ultimately may never come, but when your photography is motivated by the place itself, it paradoxically doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

It seems that the most highly praised photography is that which has the most jaw-dropping colors, or the most dramatic light.  It won’t be long and you’ll have an app on your smartphone that can tell you whether the sunset will be worth photographing tonight.  In other words, why waste your time going outdoors unless the sunset is going to be “V+F” worthy?   Don’t get me wrong, I still get very excited for colorful sunsets and dramatic light, but let’s not forget the sheer joy of being outside, making images.  If this is forgotten, it will be a step in the wrong direction for those attempting to make a case for photography as art.

I often wonder if I had approached that photographer in Death Valley years ago to ask him why he was wasting his time in midday light if he would have turned to me, smiled wryly, and asked simply, “What does the sunset have to do with it?”

Coxcomb Mountains in Joshua Tree National Park

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It hardly seems like a year ago I was writing a similar blog post from Zion National Park.  This Thanksgiving, I find myself in Escalante, Utah, a small township located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau.  The weather today was unusually warm for this time of year, and it made hiking extraordinarily pleasant, the perfect St. Martin’s Summer.  My family and I started the day in the northern Mojave Desert, and ended sitting quite alone on a sandstone outcropping admiring the sunset just outside of Escalante township.

Escalante has some of the darkest night skies in the United States; it is far from electricity, out of the grasp of large metropolises, and tonight I am only blinded by one of the darkest night skies you will ever see.  I am thankful places like this still exist.

For my friends in the United States who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, I hope you had a day with your family and friends, celebrating everything in your life that you are thankful for.  With some time in the car today, I was thinking about the things I am thankful for.  I am grateful for a family who is willing to travel with me.  Having stopped in four national parks or monuments today (Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante), I am thankful that the citizens of our country have had the foresight to put land aside, for the well-being of our souls, if nothing else.  Sun-warmed Navajo sandstone is also on my list, as are sunsets that make me smile.

From the bottom of my heart, let me wish you a warm and happy Thanksgiving, whether you are officially celebrating or not.  There is much in life to be thankful for.

Navajo Sandstone aglow

Thanksgiving sunset, November 2012


Two new ‘Wind’ images

Monday, June 25th, 2012

In January, I introduced my wind portfolio, a black and white set focusing on shape and form, and celebrating landscapes that have been created (in part) by wind.  I am happy to add two new images to that portfolio.

View from Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, May 2012

The Grand Canyon is a place that has been shaped by the powerful erosional forces of wind and water for millions of years.  Attracting millions of visitors a year, it is truly one of the seven wonders of the world, and has always captivated me.  At sunrise and sunset, the receding hill layers create depth not only in the landscape, but in the imagination, and it is difficult for me not to imagine John Wesley Powell exploring this canyon for the first time, being completely awed.

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”

–John Wesley Powell

The second image is an intimate landscape from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  If you have been in southern Utah in spring, you know the wind can blow, and you have have even felt sandblasted a time or two.  How do you think the sandstone walls feel?  The walls of this alcove have been shaped by grains of sand being blown against it for hundreds, probably even thousands or tens of thousands of years.  Beautiful cross-bedding patterns have been exposed, creating some very powerful lines.

A sandstone alcove

Sandstone Alcove, June 2012

My Wind Portfolio is special in that 25% of the sales of these prints is donated directly to the Wilderness Society and I offer special pricing when you purchase more than one image from the portfolio.  Please click here to view the entire collection.


Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Today I received in the mail my Summer 2012 issue of Camas, a publication put together by graduate students in the Environmental Studies department at the University of Montana.  Camas celebrates the literature and photography from the West; the theme for the summer issue is ‘Restoration.’

Although not quite made in Montana, an image I made in southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains is featured in the summer issue.  Many of the West’s forests have been devastated by bark beetle infestations, leaving forests of skeletons, rather than trees.  To me, this image communicated the theme of restoration, in that some of the forests in the West are starting to recover from these insects through the use of controlled burns, cutting of infested trees, etc.

Scene in the San Bernardino National Forest

These sorts of university literary publications are common in the West (I’m not sure about other parts of the country); the University of Montana has Camas, and the University of Wyoming has the Owen Wister Review, for example.  I am happy to have my work be a part of this type of publication because they strike me as very grassroots, and are oriented towards a sense of place.  I’ve written before about how I’m proud to be a citizen of the West, and I’m proud to have my work featured in Camas.

Camas is published biannually (summer & winter) and contains literature and photography from the West.  I’m looking forward to digging into my issue.

Camas--The Nature of the West

Camas, Summer 2012

New Portfolio Images

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog this year.  I guess, perhaps, I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block, but I have been enjoying sharing a daily image on Facebook.  I’ll be writing more here on the blog soon.

At the end of 2011, I spent a couple of really enjoyable days at sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, including the Eureka Dunes.  So far this year, I’ve spent a couple of days in southern Nevada at Valley of Fire State Park, as well as the surrounding Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and have been on a few rainy-day hikes at one of my favorite places in southern California.

I’ve uploaded new portfolio images to several of my galleries here on the site; all of these images have resonated with me, for various reasons, and I hope you check them out!  A few (that haven’t already been featured here on the blog) are below.

I hope your 2012 is off to a great start!

Gnarled oaks at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

A Foggy Day, January 2012


Sunrise at Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Elephant & The Moon, January 2012


Late Afternoon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Persistence, November 2011

Birth Day

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Almost four years ago, I watched as my son was born, and have been witness every day since as he’s discovered the world.  Although there are some perceptions of the world we’re born with, we, to a large degree, come into society as a clean slate.  We experiment, learning what works and what doesn’t, we form relationships and opinions.

Yesterday, I celebrated my thirty-third birthday.  I feel fortunate to have a comfortable life, an education, a healthy family, and to have experienced some of the most amazing places on this planet.  Yet, even after thirty three years, I’m surprised at how much I still have to discover about myself.  It seems that the best relationship I continue to form is with myself.  During the course of my life, I’ve known joy, love, and have sadly been confronted with loss.  I guess you could say I’ve lived a full life, and although I still have much to learn, I do know a few things without question.

Some of my most life-shaping decisions have involved not settling for ‘good enough,’ forcing me to go in search of ‘can’t live without.’  Never settle.  Keep looking for it, whatever it is, until you find exactly what you’re looking for.  You’ll know it when you find it.

For me, the wilderness has always been a place to heal, to recover from pain and loss.  For many of us, this is true.  If that’s the nature of loss, what then do we do to confront the loss of nature?  We have to ask ourselves this question seriously, and come up with viable, thoughtful, and long-lasting responses.  With each passing year, our time to provide a lasting legacy grows shorter.

Finally, a contemplative question.  Yesterday on Facebook, someone sent me a birthday wish that really caught my attention: “Don’t know you personally, but know you through your photos. Not much difference, I don’t think.”  I know that in my art, it has become increasingly important for my voice to be heard.  What does your art say about you?

I haven’t always been able to say this, but in my thirty-third year, I rather like the person I’m getting to know.

Colorful Sandstone at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Sandstone Kaleidoscope, January 2012


Braced against the wind

Friday, January 6th, 2012

In Medicine Bow, Wyoming, they say the wind doesn’t blow twenty four hours out of the whole year.  Even in July, the wind is cold, noisy, all-consuming.  One morning, my friend, hiking in the wind near Medicine Bow tripped, and at the last second looked down to see a small prairie rattlesnake strike right between her legs; if she hadn’t stumbled, she would have been bitten.  The wind silenced the snake’s warning rattle.

The wind can be harsh, cold, brutal, and at the same time it can be life-giving, sustaining.  It shapes who we are, and what we have yet to become.  If you’ve lived with it for any period of time, you know what I’m talking about.  It may be much more tangible to see how the wind shapes the landscapes we love so much.  I’m excited to present four new images (See the portfolio here, as well as below) from two of our national parks–Bryce Canyon and Death Valley–that are devoted to the wind that shapes these beautiful, mysterious, and awe-inspiring places.

Bryce Canyon National Park is hugely popular, being part of the “Grand Circle” of the Southwest, and its no wonder why.  Bryce’s hoodoos–formed by the brilliantly colorful Claron Formation–simply glow like no other rock in southern Utah.  In concert with water, the wind shapes the hoodoos into various shapes–from hammers, to broken palaces, to entire cities.  Jagged and raw, Bryce inspires imagination and creativity, and as Ebenezer Bryce pointed out, “its a hell of a place to lose a cow.”

Contrast Bryce’s ruggedness with Death Valley’s seemingly endless sand dunes.  The wind shapes the sand into sensuous, almost erotic, curves that perhaps could be an abstract nude study rather than a grand landscape.  The light plays on the dunes on both a micro and macro scale, providing endless shapes and forms.

Hoodoos in late afternoon light, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon #1, 2011


Hoodoos in late afternoon light, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon #2, 2011


Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley #1, 2011


Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley #2, 2011

These images signify–in part–the forces that have shaped our national parks.  To help with the continued protection of our public lands, I’ll be donating 25% of the profits from the sale of these prints to the Wilderness Society, which works to make visits to our national parks more meaningful and inspiring.  This is not a limited-edition series of prints, and this offer doesn’t expire–I’ll make the donations forever.  Finally, I am offering special pricing for the purchase of all four of these prints, in any size.  Please visit my purchase page, or contact me for more details.

“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”   –Gretel Ehrlich

2011 Favorite Images

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

This time of year always seems to dredge up a lot of nostalgia in me, mostly from the disbelief that the year can’t possibly be over.  It also seems to be the time of year when photographers reflect on their art and the direction its taken over the last twelve months.  For me, its been a very instructive and inspirational year, and I’ve made several images I quite like.

Ansel Adams said, “Twelve significant images in any one year is a good crop.”  I used to think this was ridiculous, but the more I photograph and refine my own style, the more I believe this to be true.  With Adams’ thoughts in mind, I chose what I believe to be my twelve most significant images of the year.  I hope you enjoy them!

Star trails over a hoodoo at the White Pocket

Star trails in northern Arizona, August


Dawn at Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Dawn, northern New Mexico, July


Joshua Tree National Park Scene

Late-day light, Mojave Desert, California, May


Vishnu Temple, Grand Canyon National Park

Greeting the sun, Grand Canyon National Park, May


Waterholes Slot Canyon, Navajo Nation Arizona

Sandstone Seduction, northern Arizona, January


An intimate scene in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Intimate scene, Utah, July


Saguaro Skeleton, near Phoenix Arizona

Saguaro skeleton and moon, Arizona, January


Narrows of the Paria River, in southern Utah

Into the canyon, Utah, April


Factory Butte near Hanksville Utah

Dawn in the desert, Utah, August


Dried mud in the Paria River, Utah

Dried mud, Utah, April


Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Windstorm, California, December


Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Sensuous curves, California, December

Make Your Own Tripod Tracks by David Leland Hyde

Monday, December 19th, 2011

I am really happy to have David Leland Hyde of Landscape Photography Blogger as a guest author today on my blog.  David and I struck up a friendship via our blogs a little over a year ago and I’ve grown to really appreciate his advice and commentary, through his blog posts and emails, on life and photography.  His essay today is inspired by conversations he and I have had over the last several months.  Also, today, I’ve concurrently posted an essay entitled, “Moving Past the Repertoire,” on his blog.

In May 2011, Guy Tal relit the torch on an ongoing controversy over photographers “copying” each other with his blog post, “The Art of Copying.”  Why bring along another photographer’s photograph, seek out his or her exact tripod tracks and steal his exact composition?

Some photographers say they do it to learn. Some photographers do it because they like the photograph and want to make their own print without having to buy it. Some say it is more commercially viable to copycat; others are lazy, or greedy. I ask them and you, the reader if applicable, “Why do you copy other photographers? Do you feel it is ethically OK?”

Is it OK to photograph a similar image, but not exactly the same? How far do you go?

Back in May 2010, I wrote Greg Russell and suggested that his image of Mesa Arch, while well executed, could send people a message about his work inconsistent with his intelligent, experienced perspective on the subjects of place, landscape and wilderness.  Greg has mentioned his own process in photographing Mesa Arch, but did not purposely seek out another photographer’s exact composition. He made a photograph at a location that has been photographed many times and can no longer be claimed by one photographer. Can one photographer claim a location? Not the location, but the composition? Yes, no, maybe? Copyright cases in courts across the land have come to differing conclusions depending on the degree and intent of “copying.”

Plateau Edge, Southern Utah, 1964 © Philip Hyde

Plateau Edge, Southern Utah, 1964 © Philip Hyde (Used with permission)

A magazine years ago beat up Tom Till for photographing Mesa Arch with the sunrise like David Muench had. Now dozens if not hundreds of photographers have produced nearly the same image. A photograph of Mesa Arch at sunrise in a portfolio now says, “I am looking for commercial success more than establishing my own artistic vision.” I wrote to Greg that I hoped he would not take what I said as an attack, but as honest feedback and my own opinion that I did not want to hold back from a friend.

I said that I felt that his photographs of a Death Valley sand dune and of Yosemite Valley were strong, but if placed at the top of his blog with Mesa Arch, the group begins to look like the work of every other landscape photographer from the American West.

“Have you ever tried to sell either the Yosemite or the Death Valley image to magazines?” I asked Greg in my e-mail. “I think you might have a tough time. Not because they are bad photographs, but because they have been done before.” Galen Rowell called it “image maturity,” the concept that regardless of the quality of the image itself, editors may have originally perceived it as unique, but today enough images similar to it have been made that it no longer appears fresh and unusual.

“Look at your own portfolio,” I wrote to Greg, and now to you. “Neither your image of Mesa Arch nor your Yosemite Valley image alone would be damning, but paired together, they give the opposite impression from what readers get who dig just a little and see more of your photographs.”

You might say, “Who in the world is this David Leland Hyde guy to give advice?” You may have grounds for wondering. However, in making selections of my father’s photographs I have been talking to many of the top landscape photographers alive today, as well as some of the best photography galleries and museum curators too. I have learned that for the most part the selection of Dad’s work that will be accepted today is very different than it was 30-40 years ago. Some of his most known icons just don’t appeal today because too many other photographers have copied them since their creation.

I could fight this with a big protest such as the obvious fact that Dad made his images first, that his work is timeless and any number of other arguments, but most of it has to do with Galen Rowell’s concept of image maturity. Certain photographs are no longer as new and compelling as they might have been even 10 years ago. I feel we have done a great job with the Philip Hyde site, though there are a number of images on it now that I look at from time to time and realize that they too will have to be replaced by something more uniquely Philip Hyde. It is a difficult task, even a contradiction of sorts, to take a body of work that helped start it all 50-60 years ago, and only be able to use the images that everybody else did not emulate. Once in a while, sparingly, we will use some of Dad’s signature photographs that people are more likely to remember came first.

If you, as a landscape photographer, completely ignore what I have said here, I understand. You are the artist. Even if you agree with it, I wouldn’t necessarily change everything right away. Mull it over. Let it rumble around for a while. I hope it is helpful to you at some point. The rewards of finding your own great locations, of making your own tripod tracks, are far greater than the few dollars in monetary gain from photographs like many others.

I was relieved and happy that Greg responded with gratitude and appreciation, not because he accepted what I said, but because he took it the way it was intended, as honest feedback from a friend who wanted to help him improve the look and presentation of his blog to be more in line with who he is as a person and photographer.

My father said that finding one’s voice is the most important endeavor of all. He was able to make a full-time living as a landscape photographer, which itself was particularly rare then and perhaps will be again the way the industry is going. Most landscape photographers don’t get rich, though some do through extreme commercialization and the production of cliché. Dad would advise other photographers not to be tempted or to waver from seeking quality and the development of their own vision that comes from who they are and what they feel is important to convey about nature.

Mesas and Boulders on the San Rafael Swell, by David Leland Hyde

Mesas, Boulders, San Rafael Swell Utah, 2009, © David Leland Hyde (Used with permission)

In Colorado and many other states, people have little inherent fine art taste and have been marketed into thinking that mediocre over-promoted pretty pictures are the best photography. A certain top Colorado photographer has very little respect outside Colorado because his work consists of primarily post-card type images. He has a 5,000 square foot showroom in Denver, part of which is devoted to another big name from the Southwest. My father called this other photographer’s work “roadside landmark photography.” Many photographers today look up to this photographer as a role model. This shows how fine art standards have dropped. We need to take back photography from the hucksters. While certain photographer’s work sells like hotcakes in Denver, the nearby Camera Obscura Gallery devoted to the classic photography masters recently went out of business. Unimaginative work sells due to the public’s lack of art education. You can choose to either prey upon this ignorance or do your part to introduce quality. Every cliché photograph adds to the problem, and every image you or anyone else puts out that shows something unique and of artistic merit, helps to raise artistic awareness.

In my blog post on Galen Rowell and developing personal style, there is a bit of discussion on these issues in the comments where I mention the work of one wealthy photographer from Australia. If you look at his website, you will see that his images resemble the typical recognizable photograph from each top location, except that the saturation has been amped up and the drama has been increased. Contrast this work with say that of Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, Michael Kenna, Brett Weston or Carr Clifton. The problem is that many times fine art prints are an impulse purchase rather than an educated purchase.

Any photographer whose website begins to look like they just went around to the “checklist” and checked off various locations will be passed over and dismissed by the best photo editors, serious collectors and the art museums. If your photograph of Mesa Arch is your bestseller, I would ask to whom is it selling? What is the buyer’s knowledge level about art and photography? This is actually a good gauge of your work: what kind of buyer are you attracting? Is your work representing who you are as a photographer, or is it merely what you think people want to buy? Asking these questions and considering your answers carefully can and will completely transform your portfolio and your work. Try it.

Mood and creativity in image processing

Monday, December 12th, 2011

In February, I featured this image as my photo of the month; I took it in Buckskin Gulch, Utah on a cold, icy day.

Ice and sandstone in Buckskin Gulch, Utah

Original Ice Underneath, January 2011

The original scene stopped me because I liked the chilly feeling in the ice, and the way the light was reflecting off the walls of the canyon; the tafoni created an interesting pattern in the flowing rock wall.  In addition, I liked the sensuous line at the rock-ice interface.  However, mostly I liked the contrast between warm and cold tones.

While I was happy with the original edit of the image, I have recently revisited it in an effort to accentuate the feeling the original scene gave me.  With the current state of digital image processing, there are multiple ways to achieve my desired effect.  Guy Tal recently published a great article on understanding white balance; understanding that there can be more than one appropriate white balance within a scene has been immensely valuable to me as my own processing skills have developed.   Ultimately, I chose to use Nik’s Silver Efex Pro to give a slightly cooler color cast to the ice, thus conveying the contrast between warm and cool tones I originally envisioned when I was in the canyon on that cold January day.

Ice and sandstone tafoni in buckskin gulch, utah

Ice Underneath, rework, October 2011

While today’s cameras do an excellent job of capturing the “information” in a scene, there is still work to be done in bringing out the full potential in a scene during post-processing.  What are some of your favorite techniques in doing this?

Incidentally, my friend Guy Tal does have an excellent and in-depth e-book devoted to this subject; you can read more about it at this link.  Note that I’m not a member of his affiliate program, so I get nothing more than good karma if you purchase the e-book.