Everything looks better in Black-and-White

Digital photography brings a wide range of advantages over film photography. (It took me a long time to accept that, but now I’m firmly in the digital camp, even with the apparent increase in interest in film that’s flickering in the world today.)

With film photography, depending on the camera system you were using, you could find yourself ‘locked out’ of a good photograph. With a 35mm camera, the film that was loaded was pretty much what you had to use. Sure, there were ways of rewinding film, taking it out and replacing it, then reinserting it and hoping you advanced the film far enough to avoid double exposures on already-photographed spaces on the film. It became more convenient to carry two bodies, each loaded with a different kind of film (usually color and Black-and-White), just to be able to capture the image in the way your vision dictated.

Cameras larger than 35mm usually offered the opportunity for the photographer to change film backs or film holders loaded with the ‘right’ kind of film for the image. That’s why I carried a 5×7 Deardorff view camera into the field: The camera used film holders, and a large assortment of color transparency and B&W negative film could be carried. At a cost. The view camera, a sufficient tripod to mount it on, 20 or so film holders and a wide assortment of lenses and filters made for a heavy backpack. Being a landscape photographer required a lot of labor, but it was a labor of love.

Then came digital. With increasingly capable processing programs, digital imaging has become a photographer’s dream.

We don’t have to send our color film off for processing and wait for its return. We don’t have to carefully mix batches of potentially toxic chemicals to process black-and-white film in order to make negatives we can print. We don’t have to make prints (color or black-and-white), which also require a batches of potentially toxic chemicals to develop.

No, we just upload the digital images to the computer, open the processing program of our choice and process the image to match our visualization. And we have a significant advantage over the film days when we do that. Would an image look better in Black-and-White? (They all do.) No problem we convert them to monochrome using a plug-in or any of a number of different methods and we have a beautiful black-and-white image. Is the color a little drab? No problem, we simply bump the saturation or ‘fiddle’ with the color balance and there you have it: a finished image that represents our vision with no processing delays, no wrinkled fingers from soaking them in developer, no toxic chemicals. Digital photography is a great move forward.

Of course, there’s one thing we really can’t do and that’s take infrared photographs with our standard digital cameras. Manufacturers place filters over camera sensors to block infrared light because allowing IR to come through onto the sensors would make images difficult to process.

The problem is that it was fun to occasionally load a roll of IR film into a 35mm camera and see what we could come up with. Some of us like to do that to this day.

Luckily there are a couple of companies that will take your camera apart, remove the IR blocking filter and add filters that pass certain bandwidths of light in the IR spectrum. I got an old camera converted to IR a couple years back and I really like the results I get from it.

Here are a couple of examples: We were at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for sunrise. The colors didn’t seem to be what I expect for sunrise images, so I took out my IR camera and fired away. IR gives a nice, strong contrast to an image and catches sunlight reflecting off rocks and things very nicely.

Here are a few views of a sunrise with IR. See what you think.

 

Wotans Throne is the most commanding geologic formation at Cape Royal, so it becomes the most-photographed scene:

 

 

Sunris, Wotans Throne, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

Sunris, Wotans Throne, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

 

Sunrise #2, Wotans Throne, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

Sunrise #2, Wotans Throne, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

 

But we’re always told to look around and sure enough we find other images that work, too.

 

Sunrise Shadows, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

Sunrise Shadows, Caper Royal, Grand Canyon NP

 

Sunrise, Cape Royal #1

Sunrise, Cape Royal #1

 

 

Yes, indeed, sunrise in Black-and-White certainly works.

 

 

More to follow,

Bob

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A Delicately Tough Tree

I’ve committed to trying to post at least once a week now that I’m retired and have set a project of going through the 32,000 plus images on my hard drive. That’s a noble objective, to be sure, but things do get in the way.

Things like going out in the field and getting more images and practicing photography techniques that I need to work on.

Last week at the Grand Canyon I was reminded how much I love Aspens. There’s something very attractive about these trees. Sure, the white bark and quaking leaves are attractive, but there’s something more. Something that I’m still trying to figure out.

Much of it comes from the aspen forest being not individual trees, but a living organism, with many trees connected through a series of underground runners. The saying in the nursery business that I’ve heard is that you don’t buy an aspen, you buy an aspen grove. I’ve seen this with captive aspens in my yards. There are always shoots coming up in the least convenient places. Yes, a grove of aspens is the way Ma Nature intended it, so we should let them grow that way where they’re most comfortable, I guess.

Aspens do some cool things.

In the fall they turn a sparkling, brilliant yellow. Mostly. Some of them for some reason turn to a lovely orange. This orange interspersed with the yellow adds visual interest and makes you think about what could cause that.

In the spring, the electric green of freshly-sprouted aspen leaves is a thrill to observe. In the right light it looks like the forest is alive with green flame.

Aspens are tough, too. They can take a lot of punishment and survive. I’ve seen aspens with trunks twisted in a circle by snow and wind, then continuing to grow toward the sky. Some show the lifelong marks of thoughtless people, people who see the aspens as perfect candidates for scratch pads, carving their names or initials in the bark. Years later, those scars remain and show who passed before (and who didn’t treat these stately trees with respect). Once in a while you’ll find a real artist has attacked an aspen. I found a carving of someone’s horse in a tree a while back. Interesting.

Even when they die and fall to the ground, aspens are interesting. Some host lichens, some host critters, but they decay in stately and interesting ways that draw one’s attention.

Aspens are the first trees to recover after a wildfire. As we traveled through areas at the North Rim where a wildfire had destroyed thousands of acres, we saw thickets of six-foot-tall aspens, already starting the process of reforestation.

I’m toying with the idea of doing an aspen portfolio, a series of photographs of one of my favorite trees. If I do so, I’ll make it into a downloadable e-book you can grab if you want it. It will take me a while to get this done because I’d like to use all new images. I’ll get it done, but it will take a while. So stand by and keep reading. Here are some aspens I saw last week:

 

There are a surprising number of multiple trees growing from the same or near the same root system. These twins were framing a pinyon pine and I thought I’d capture that view. (As always, click to see the full size image.)

Twins Stack

Twin Aspens

 

 

This is the orange we see far too rarely with aspens in the fall.

Orange Aspens

Orange Aspens

 

Fallen aspens offer life support for lichen, critters, etc.

Lichen Stack

Lichen Stack

 

Those who came before left their marks.

Who has passed before?

Who has passed before?

 

 

Aspen Horse

Aspen Horse

 

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Work, work, work(shop)

I’ve attended two workshops in the last month. Both were wonderful, but for different reasons.

The first was called “Lens and Pens” conducted by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Guy Tal. The idea behind the workshop was to help photographers who want to hone their writing skills. There was photography involved, too, so we got to chase both of our muses during the five days.

The second was the 30th Annual Grand Canyon Workshop led by my dear old friend Rodger Newbold and a newer friend, Matt Rich. We stayed at Jacob Lake Inn and traveled from there to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Paria Plateau and the Kaibab National Forest. This was all photography all the time, so my writing muse got to rest for awhile.

Both workshops were great. Lens and Pens because I got to meet a lot of fine writers and learn from experts at publishing their words. The Grand Canyon gig rocked because I got to spend time with old friends and to see a lot of the desert (and forest) that I love.

I even got a chance to be contemplative once or twice during these busy, busy events. Guy assigned a couple of contemplation experiments that helped me to see, really see, what was around me. At the Grand, there were chances to step off a few meters and feel totally alone and just think about what was out there.

The Grand Canyon is hard to photograph. It’s a big hole in the ground. A hole with rugged edges and distances that boggle the mind. The light is challenging, with highlighted high ground and black shadows in the depths. Add to that the constant haze that comes from Los Angeles or a nearby power plant (one that the developers promised would not put out visible pollutants) and you have some major challenges with photography.

I discovered that my infrared camera would cut through that haze, however, and went nuts capturing images without the hard-to-breathe fog of civilization evident. Add to that that I process my IR images in black-and-white, my favorite medium, and I got some photographs that I was happy with.

Both workshops fed my need for the social aspect of photography. It’s always fun and rewarding to go out into the field with other photographers. The meretricious persiflage, banter and joshing, along with the philosophical discussions of photography are helpful. Just being with others of like mind, whether talking or not, makes the event worthwhile.

Generally, I’m a loner when it comes to pursuing photographs, and too many people can be annoying, at least too many non-photographers can be: I found a nice isolated spot at the Grand Canyon to sit and think. It was soon invaded by a family that couldn’t stop talking. It was as if they were afraid to be quiet, lest Sasquatch would stumble upon them. The parents were teaching their kids to scream in the cathedral where I was recharging my spirit, and it was most distracting. Apparently my not-so-welcoming glare convinced them that they could find another place to desecrate nature with noise and they took their nattering elsewhere fairly quickly, allowing me to get back to contemplating the beauty and making some notes.

I managed to slip away a few other times and enjoy getting intimate with a grove of aspens, doing macro photography, my favorite, and then return to the group for more fun and fellowship.

Yes, the workshops were fine experiences and I recommend either of them to you. Heck, I might even go back next year.

Oh, here are some images from the Grand Canyon. Click to see them full size and in the proper color rendition. All were taken at sunrise at Point Imperial on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mount Hayden figures prominently in all of them.

 

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #2 Infrared Image

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #2 Infrared Image

 

 

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #4

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #4

 

 

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #3

Mount Hayden, Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP #3

 

 

Point Imperial Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP Infrared Image

Point Imperial Sunrise, Grand Canyon NP Infrared Image

 

 

More to follow

Bob

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Ma Nature Comes Through

I’m the kind of guy who thinks that if I get up in the morning, especially early, the whole world owes me something. I just hate getting up. Add that to the fact that I sleep a lot lighter as I ripen and you’ll understand that I have a lot of mornings where I’m kind of growly.

This was one of those days when I set the alarm for 4:30 in order to be awake, coherent and pleasant (at least as pleasant as I can get) by the time the group left for a sunrise photo shoot.

Well, the group was small: five of us. We set our for the Lonely Dell Ranch by Lee’s Ferry to see what the sunrise would bring.

There was a lot of promise. Photographers love to see some clouds in the sky at sunrise, as long as those clouds aren’t low on the East horizon. A few clouds promise a little warm color to offset the otherwise bald blue of a clear sky. Another plus: the color in the sky will often match the color of the earthly features as they get lit by the early sun’s warm light as the rays get refracted by the atmosphere.

But early in the day on this trip the clouds were not only overhead but also along the Eastern horizon, so we were kind of skunked. Not to worry, Brian serenaded us with his ukulele while we watched the sunrise do not too much.

I made the first image during the concert. Not much color but some interesting light on the mesa to the North and a spectacular sky.

We packed up and headed out only to find that a few miles up the road, conditions were more conducive to sunrise color. To our right, the cliffs were lighting up like crazy with early morning light. We stopped, grabbed our gear and started photographing. The scene was just too wide for one image, so I captured about a nine-image panorama. Then, when I stitched the frames together and did a little cropping, I ended up with this rather nice sunrise view.

 

Here’s a look at sunrise when the colors just aren’t there (You know, click on the images):

 

Sunrise #1, Lonely Dell

Sunrise #1, Lonely Dell

 

And here’s that panorama:

 

Sunrise Pano, Lonely Dell

Sunrise Pano, Lonely Dell

 

Yes, the world owes me something if I get up in the morning, and Ma Nature certainly came through on this day. Thanks, Ma!

More to follow

Bob

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A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow

I’ve hinted that I love the mystery and lack of mystery of the desert. Perhaps no place in Southern Utah looks quite as mysterious as Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce is a visual treat, a photographer’s dream. A high erosion rate has left hoodoos standing watch, dressed in colors ranging from deep red to near white. It’s these spires that have resisted erosion that capture the eye of the viewer. It is reputed that one of the early settlers in the area said the canyon is a hell of a place to lose a cow (I’ve heard that about other places in Southern Utah, too). I’ll go along with that, but I’ll also say it’s a hell of a place to find a photograph.

You’ll see many images of the grand landscape at Bryce. To try to include the whole vista is a true challenge, but the myriad hoodoos and wide range of color seem to demand that we share the whole place. And, of course, with stunning colors in the canyon, the ‘serious’ photographer will be sure to get there at sunrise to catch the amazing light show.

But as with so much in the desert, it’s the details that count for me: the Intimate Landscape, it’s been called. It’s these details that add up to a strange and wonderful desert landscape that draws me back time and again. At Bryce, the temptation to capture the grand landscape is nearly overwhelming. But then, as I look and marvel, I realize it’s the details that make the scene and I start homing in on less and less, and in that way show you more and more.

Yes, the grand landscape is spectacular, but it’s the details that make the grand grand. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

Here are a couple grand shots of Bryce Canyon: The first one is the obligatory sunrise shot, the second taken shortly thereafter with the lighting a little bit better controlled. (I probably don’t have to remind you to click on the images, but I will anyway: Click on the images for a full view.)

 

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

But it’s the details that add up to the spectacular. Here are a couple images that show it’s the component parts that make Bryce (and pretty much every other desert scene) so spectacular in the aggregate:

 

Bryce Canyon Detail #1, Utah

Bryce Canyon Detail #1, Utah

 

Bryce Canyon Detail #2 Utah

Bryce Canyon Detail #2 Utah

 

More to follow

Bob

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A mysterious lack of mystery

Last post I talked about the desert and how I came to believe it is my soul’s home. There are several reasons for that feeling, I suppose, and I’ll list a couple here.

First the desert has no mystery. It’s nothing more than rocks and sand and scrubby plants that can barely survive the harsh climate. Juniper trees that are hundreds of years old form beautiful shapes that testify to their struggle for life. Cactus protect their internally-held water with spines that will make you wish you’d never touched them. There are poisonous critters throughout the area: scorpions, rattlesnakes and all-terrain vehicles. The desert will kill you as readily as it will tolerate you, so you’d better come prepared for the worst if you visit the desert.

Second, the desert has great mysteries. I’ll share a few examples today.

Long ago—estimates suggest 1,000+ years—there were thriving civilizations in the desert. I say civilizations, plural, because archaeological evidence suggests that there were actually several different periods of occupation over the centuries.

The first European-descended settlers in the area named them “Anasazi,” a term they picked up from Navajos. The disappearance of the Anasazi became a great mystery and was ballyhooed around the region in an attempt to lure tourists in to spend their dollars. Problem is, Anasazi is an insult to the people who lived here way back then. According to interpretations of the term that I’ve seen it means “Enemies of Our Ancestors.” Not a very nice name for the ancient ones.

Craig Childs, in his book House of Rain, explores several sites and reports conversations with archaeologists who, he says, reports that the “Anasazi” were actually Pueblo people who were nomadic and ranged from the Cedar Mesa areas of Utah all the way into Mexico, finally staying in New Mexico after the European invasion. A guide at Navajo National Monument, a place with great examples of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings told the story of Monument staff bringing some Pueblo elders to the site of the Betatakin ruin in the Monument. The elders read some of the rock art and pointed out where the springs were, where the kivas were and accurately described some of the features of the ruin without having ever been there. A pretty good indication that they know who the inhabitants were.

Another sign the mysterious inhabitants of the area left behind was rock art. I just love petroglyphs and pictographs that are found in the area. They are truly mysterious. Sure, there are representations of desert bighorn sheep and elk or deer, clearly an indication of the source of food in the area, but there are other far more indecipherable figures. What looks like people, or maybe space aliens, footprints that may indicate a clan association or what to look out for, plants and possible crops and wondrous birds. Maybe. It’s impossible to tell. Few today really know what they’re all about and they aren’t telling because it’s none of our business. So we look at the art and speculate and wonder and enjoy the mystery.

Here are a few examples of some fine rock art (As usual, click on the images to see them full-size).

 

 

There are several panels in Capitol Reef National Park. One is labeled and easily accessed. The art seems to come from the ancients named the Fremont People.

 

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

 

As you approach the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you go by a fascinating Utah State Historical Monument, Newspaper Rock. The site was so named because of the incredible display of rock art. Here is a look at the whole panel:

 

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

 

And here are some detail shots:

 

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

 

 

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

 

I’ll share more rock art captures as time goes on. There are so many examples, all so mysterious. It’s a great treat to stumble across an ancient drawing, especially one that hasn’t been trashed by some more recent arrival. Some of the finest panels have bullet holes from high-powered rifles marring the art. But the art has outlasted the defilers. Good.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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You CAN go home, I guess

I’ve been pretty inactive with my blog and I guess I could claim that it was work that was getting in my way.

OK, so I’ll make that claim.

But now that I’ve retired from my ‘day job,’ I’ve got time on my hands and I can’t think of a better way to use that time than to revisit old images to see if I was right in hanging on to them ‘just in case’ I learned a little more in Photoshop or if Lightroom ever advanced to the point that I’d like to use it most of the time. And if my ability with the processing software has indeed improved, the resulting images would be no good if they’re not shared, so I’ll try to post at least weekly.

The best way to start is to go through old files and see what I can find. I’ll share the results with you and tell you a few stories along the way. (I’ve always thought I should put more into the blog posts, so here is my first attempt.)

The best way, I think, to go through a project like this is to go in a somewhat chronological order, so I’ve started with a file that’s appropriately labeled “Soul Search 2006.” That was really the first serious attempt I made to capture images with a digital camera and not knowing the medium and not being particularly familiar with the processing software left me with a lot of captures to finish today in ways I could not have a decade ago.

For the fotos included with this post, however, the images aren’t as important as the reason I went.

It had been at least 20years since I’d been in the desert. I missed it, but I didn’t realize quite how much. Knowing that I had to go, I made plans for a two-week trip, visiting Arches, Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks and in the interim, Hovenweep and Navajo National Monuments and a few state parks to boot.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but everything worked out just fine in the long run.

I finally realized how much I missed the desert when I dropped into my last stop, Capitol Reef National Park. As I entered from the west, I saw the cliffs and domes and burst into tears, saying to no one in particular, “I’m home.” It was that stop that made me realize that the desert, and especially Capitol Reef is my soul’s home. I had abandoned it for two decades, but it called me back and I answered that call. I’m glad I did, because that put me in a mind to move back to Utah in order to have more access to the desert and upon retirement I have done so.

What came out of that soul search? Quite a bit, actually. Most important is the knowledge that the desert is my home, of course. The images are of secondary importance to the self-knowledge  I gained, but I’ll share a couple fotos from that trip today and from subsequent visits home as I process them. For today’s post,  I’ve got a couple that rather frame the trip (first stop and last stop) and I’m ready to share, so take a look (As always, click on the images to see the whole thing):

 

First stop: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch and the Lasalle Mountains, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch and the Lasalle Mountains, Arches National Park

 

Final stop: Capitol Reef National Park (luckily in bad weather)

 

Storm, Capitol Reef National Park

Storm, Capitol Reef National Park

 

More to follow,

 

Bob

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DC at night

Some might claim that Washington, DC, is in a permanent state of night following the last month’s odd goings on, but this is a little different.

I attended a conference in DC in November and my friend Phil came down for a couple days of sightseeing and photography after the conference.

When I go to DC I always go to The Wall and pay my respects to a few friends and shipmates. After that I wander The Mall and then head back to the hotel. Phil wanted to do some night photography and that sounded like a good idea. Since this is a big city, we weren’t about to see many stars, so that left the monuments and the surprising crowd around them, even in the dark. I had a little Platypod, a small metal plate that serves as a tripod substitute if I’m too lazy to carry the real thing. From that I got a couple interesting images. With a tripod I might have had a few different angles, but what I got worked pretty well.

There was a young man on a bicycle with multicolored lights at the ends of the spokes, so, of course, a longish exposure might just capture some interesting motion. I suppose if I had kept the shutter open even longer, the streak of color would have been wider, but this is not too bad (click on the images for a better view):

 

Lights on the spokes

Lights on the spokes

 

I just read an article that reported on a survey done of political science professors in having them rate the Presidents of the United States based on several different factors. Of course, the top two were Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. It makes sense, therefore, that they have monuments built to them on the Mall and that they are well-lit and well-visited at night. Here they are:

 

Lincoln Memorial:

 

Lincoln Memorial at night

Lincoln Memorial at night

 

Washington Monument:

 

Washington Monument at night

Washington Monument at night

 

Yes, our Nation’s Capitol is quite a treat even at night.

More to follow

Bob

 

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Caught in the Act!

I took a hike today down by the Yellowstone River. Under a highway bridge I found some interesting icicles. The photo conditions weren’t very conducive to photography, but when I noticed there was water dripping off the icicles, I decided I had to try to capture a drop.

After several tries, I guess I got my timing OK. While it would have been better to have a faster shutter speed, the drop was changing shape as it fell, so the squashing is probably pretty natural.

Here it is (click on the image to enlarge):

Icicle

Icicle caught in mid-drip, Yellowstone River, Billings, Montana.

 

A little way down the trail, I met a woman who expressed some disappointment that she couldn’t find any Cedar Waxwings. All I had seen so far was a Magpie, so I wished her well and headed back to the car. Soon I was in the middle of a flock of Waxwings. Here’s one:

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

 

Quite a handsome bird!

Moret to follow,

Bob

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Can he make a comeback?

Wow, has it been that long? I’ve been thinking that it’s been too long since I posted to my blog, but the reality is shocking. Since the last post was a couple years ago following a trip to the Oregon Coast, I figured a good re-start would be to post an image of a Lighthouse from the Maine Coast. You know, coast-to-coast vacation or some such thing.

In addition, I thought I had let my domain lapse, but apparently I misread a communication from my host about that. In fact, I just got another renewal notice from them after a very long time, so I figured, ‘what the heck’ I may as well see if I can get back at this.

A lot has happened since that Oregon trip and I’ve got a lot more miles on me, but as I contemplate retirement in the next year, maybe blogging will be my way of assuring that I stay active.

We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s my take on an image that you’ve undoubtedly seen by other photographers before. It’s the Bass Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park. My friend Gary and I and about 100 other people (some were nice, some were jerks) stopped by for a sunset look at the lighthouse and the bay. Not bad, even for a cliché shot. (click on the image for a full-screen view)

 

Bass Head Lighthouse

Bass Head Lighthouse, Acadia National Park, sunset

 

More to follow?

Bob

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