Archive for category Photography Philosophy

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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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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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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Sometimes it Rains

I remember parts of a song we used to sing when we floated the Green River a few decades ago:

Sometimes it rains, and 
Sometimes it rains, and
Sometimes it rains…

We also used to say uncomplimentary things about Ma Nature at the time. I won’t repeat them here, but they’re still true.

If you follow the blog, you know I had a few days off a while back and went to the Oregon coast looking for a geological and spiritual feature my friend Rick Sammon told me about: Minor White’s Wall.

It was a sort of pilgrimage, because White was a mystic as well as photographer and wrote some interesting thoughts on photography. Some of his ideas really strike home with me and because of that, I have a lot of respect for Minor. One of my favorite quotes from White regards the obsessive need some photographers have to document everything about making an image. Minor said, “For technical detail, the camera was faithfully used.” That’s enough for me. Besides, my camera records all the data anyway. Back in the olden days, I wrote down f/stop, shutter speed, film type, processing information and sometimes even some ideas about how to print the image (no blogs in those days). I guess I’ve gotten lazy in my old age, and Minor’s statement suited me to a tee.

A couple more quotes from Minor: [The ecstasy in photography is the] “Insight, vision, moments of revelation. During those rare moments something  overtakes the man and he becomes the tool of a greater Force; the servant of, willing or unwilling depending on the degree of awakeness. The photograph, then, is a message more than a mirror, and the man a messenger who happens to be a photographer.”  He added, “I believe, that, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, with the camera one comes so close to the real that one goes beyond it and into the reality of the dream.”

I’ve read a little about psychologist Carl Jung, too. He had the idea that every human being shares common memories. Memories buried so deep that we can’t call them up willingly. They’re buried in our unconscious (note, he doesn’t use the Freudian terminology, “subconscious”). That means we have a shared unconscious or, as Jung named it, the Collective Unconscious. American philosopher John Dewey said that artists (and, yes, photographers are artists) are popular and important because their images remind the viewer of something. That must be something deep, something buried in the unconscious. Something mystical (see, I got back around to Minor!).

Pretty heady stuff, and awfully deep. What I take from all that is that photography is more than just tripping the shutter and uploading the image. Much more. Minor gives us a hint when he tells us that when we photographers look at a subject, we should look until we see what else it is. That ‘what else’ is what makes a great photograph. I don’t mean dressing a cat up in an Abe Lincoln hat and posing him in a big chair in a memorial. I mean that there’s a lot more in nature than appears on the surface. And it’s the photographer’s duty so find that ‘what else.’ And to be able to show it.

So I traveled through the rain to do homage to Minor. Finally found Minor White’s Wall and in a brief respite between the storms, I found some features that were worthy of capturing. Are they the ‘what else?’ I’ll let you decide.

Click on the images to see the true colors and proper lighting (there’s something mystical about the way you have to take a second look, I suppose).

See if you can see the “What else?”.

 

Eroded Sandstone, Minor White Wall

Eroded Sandstone, Minor White Wall

 

Erosion Pattern 2, Minor White Wall

Erosion Pattern 2, Minor White Wall

 

Sandstone inclusion, Minor White Wall

Sandstone inclusion, Minor White Wall

 

I originally titled these with the “what else,” but then decided not to guide you to a conclusion. After all, it’s in our collective unconscious, so you should be able to see what they are.

More to follow,

Bob

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Toeing the line

OK, lame title. Acknowledged.

Our local photo club has a contest this month called “Leading Lines.” I saw some lines on Simpson Beach at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon and decided to record them. I was moving off the beach because it was starting to rain, but the first set of lines caught my attention and I had to record the lead. It looked a lot to me like a dinosaur was just surfacing from under the sand, but being soaked may have had an effect on my judgment. Still, I like what I saw.

Leading Lines:

Leading Line

Leading Line

 

And lines that leas somewhere, I’m sure:

Lines

Lines

I’m still going to tell you about Minor White’s Wall, so stay with me.

More to follow,

Bob

 

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Everything still looks better in black-and-white

I’ve disappeared from blogging for a while. As I understand it, I have just gotten over the worst sinus infection that any human being has ever survived. At least that’s what I think I heard from the PA who looked at my ears, nose and throat and started laughing. Or maybe it was from me.

I decided to share a couple black-and-white images that I just printed and, of course, this title, a line from the old Simon and Garfunkel hit, “Kodachrome” came to me. Actually, they used the line in the Central Park concert, not the original recording, but who’s counting? As I typed the title, I thought I was experiencing a little deja vu, so checked back on old posts and found that I had, indeed, used the title before. And, interestingly enough (to me, anyway), just after I had gotten over the worst case of flu any human ever had and survived.

At any rate, here are the photos:

Fallen Roof Ruin

Fallen Roof Ruin

Fallen Roof Ruin is something of a cliché photo. It’s a beautiful place with interesting geology around it, so it gets a lot of photographer traffic. Most of the images I’ve seen, however, are in color. Well, why not? The redrock country is beautiful in color and when the sun is at the right angle, the rock simply glows. But there’s something about black-and-white.

 

Here’s another:

Cold Spring Ruin

Cold Spring Ruin

I’m not sure how this one will come across, but you will probably have to look at the full size image to get the detail that’s in there. Just click on the image and you’ll see the full size version of each.

My thinking here was to make the ruin look as mystical and mysterious as I usually feel the ruins are, so going with a low-key exposure was by design, not by accident. This is the Cold Spring Ruin, I think. I thought for a long time that this was the Monarch Cave Ruin, but then stumbled on the real Monarch ruin, so I’m kind of making an educated guess here.

Why black-and-white? Good question. When I started photography a millennium or so ago, I started with color slides and printed them on an especially attractive paper, which made the images seem to glow. Nothing wrong with that, of course, my images were well-accepted and I had a pretty good eye for color.

But I could never get a decent black-and-white image. I studied with the best: Chris Rainier, Cole Weston, my old friends Rodger Newbold and Mike Adams come to mind as mentors. With talent like that in teaching roles, I should have figured it out. And, I did finally start making some progress. I remember one monochrome print in particular that I was finally happy with. It was in the enlarger nearly 20 minutes, what with all the dodging, burning, exposure gimmicks and all, but it made a fine print that I was happy to show.

Well, I still love black-and-white photos, and I think these subjects are particularly good for that presentation. The Fallen Roof Ruin looks interesting in monochrome because that presentation seems to fit in with the antiquity of the ruin. Additionally, it’s possible to ‘pop’ the contrast a little and accent the white alkali that has leached into the top of the alcove. I think the Cold Spring ruin image cried for a monochrome treatment, too. The rich blacks add to the mystery of what’s inside a ruin and why they are ruins, while the light areas give a sense of the outside world. I’m hoping that your monitor will show that there is some detail in the dark areas that shows the texture and construction of the ruin, but at least there’s no color to get in the way. You’ll have to add that on your own.

More to follow.

Bob

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Another day in Paradise

I’ve been coming to Arches National Park for decades. It was the first place I visited in the desert, and before he’d bring me, my friend Pete required that I read Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang to set the context for the place.

Then there was a sort of hiatus from photography and the desert (people do dumb things, sometimes). A few years ago, my friend Nick gave me a copy of Doug Peacock’s Walking it Off. Peacock was Ed Abbey’s model for George Washington Hayduke, the primary character in The Monkey Wrench Gang. That read was all it took to get me to take a desert pilgrimage, and, of course, I had to start at Arches.

Sort of coming back home, although all the people in the park broke my heart. There must have been a million noisy, obnoxious, irreverent tourists at Arches. My pilgrimage took me to Canyonlands (more people shouting in the cathedral that is the desert), Hovenweep, Betatakin, Zion, Bryce Canyon and then Capitol Reef National Park. I had some problems with bronchitis on that trip, but when I dropped into Capitol Reef, I had the oddest experience. I burst into tears and said, “I’m home.” That’s all. I’ve been coming to the red rock country as often as possible since then and start getting the shakes and hives if I have to go through desert withdrawal.

Anyway, here’s what I saw at Arches the other day:

The backlighting, or rimlighting, as the pros call it, made these hills stand out. With a little work, this might just turn into a nice black-and-white print.

Rimlit hills, Arches NP

Rimlit hills, Arches NP

Snow does a lot for the desert, as you can readily see.

Snow on the fins

Snow on the fins

And, of course, there’s the icon of Arches (or is it Delicate Arch? Dunno), Landscape Arch:

Landscape Arch, Arches NP

Landscape Arch, Arches NP

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Wei wu wei

Got up at 5 a.m. today to go to a sunrise site. 6 below zero on the thermometer. Roads were good until I got up on top, then they turned to yuck. I was traveling so slowly, that I couldn’t make the hike to the photography point in time for sunrise. I guess I should have known  better and started earlier, but that’s just the way I am. I came back to Moab for breakfast and to figure out what I should do. Went back to Arches for another beautiful hike. On the trail I met another foreigner (well, a Canadian–they’re foreign, aren’t they?) and had a nice chat about Taoism, Ma Nature and climate change.

Taoism is one of my favorite study areas. When I was in China, I visited the Dong Shan monastery, where Lau Tzu is said to have written the Tao te Ching (Daodejing in Pinyin, the current Chinese transliteration method). It was a magical place, as one would expect, and it deepened my interest in the discipline. At some point in our conversation, it dawned on us that we were witnessing the principles of the Tao at work. Wei wu wei, or effortless effort, or work without effort, is a guiding principle of the Tao. Lao Tzu’s primary example is water. Water is soft, yet water can do amazing things just by following its nature. We saw some fine examples of that.

Oh, this isn’t the Canadian I met, nor is it water at work, but I found him and decided to include him in this post. (Don’t forget to click on the images to enlarge them.)

Desert Bighorn

Desert Bighorn

Then there’s the water at work in Arches:

Juniper and Icefall, Arches NP

Juniper and Icefall, Arches NP

And

Icefall, Windows, Arches NP

Icefall, Windows, Arches NP

And, there’s one more thing water does quite nicely: reflect.

Reflections, Colorado River

Reflections, Colorado River

More to follow.

Bob

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A philosophotographer

Moose Peterson, one of my favorite photographers and bloggers, is at it again. Sometimes on his blog he gets downright philosophical and that’s what he’s done today.

Socrates said that the more he came to know, the more he realized what he didn’t know.

It looks like Moose is finding the same phenomenon. Today’s blog post is a great read and poses a significant question: (to paraphrase) How can I know when I find the answer if I don’t even know the question and will I recognize the question when I see it?

Give it a read: Philosophical Moose

Now I gotta go look for that dad-blasted question.

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“There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Right. That’s what Father Flannigan said in the movie “Boy’s Town” about James Cagney. Somehow that quote came to mind while I was photographing wildflowers in the ‘badlands’ today. Badlands. Hmmmm, what might that mean? They do evil things? Well, the land just stands there and holds up the rocks, flowers, etc., so it can’t do anything, really. Soul full of badness? Well, not really. Very few spiritual traditions give credit to the land for having a soul. It’s an inanimate object, after all. Bad for agriculture? Ah, we’re on to something. The desert and the badlands aren’t good for growing cash crops, that’s for sure. But does that qualify the land for the value judgment ‘bad?’ I don’t think so.

Ed Abbey, in Desert Solitaire disagreed with the idea that the desert was barren (another reference to cash crops, undoubtedly). He pointed out that like all land, the desert sustains life at 100% of its capacity. Usually, that means a few spare and sparse plants here and there. But this spring, it’s a riot of flowers and color. You’ll see the images of the desert alight with yellow flowers in two of the images below, then you’ll se the desert as it is usually perceived, and finally, a color photo of, well, not much. In my eyes, all of this is beautiful.

In my eyes, the desert is always good land. Hot, arid, inhospitable, treacherous to those who do stupid things, but beautiful and good. Here it is through my eyes:

A display of fecundity seldom seen in the desert. Thanks for a wet spring, Ma Nature!

Badlands with yellow flowers

"Badlands" with a riot of yellow

Factory Butte is one of my favorite land masses. It dominates the landscape and can be seen from miles away in all directions, sometimes surprisingly. It sits in the middle of a barren waste of dried mud and a few pathetic plants. Until this spring. Wow! Best view I’ve ever seen there.

Factory Butte

Factory Butte with a rare yellow surround.

On to the Temple of the Sun in northern Capitol Reef National Park. This foto presents a view of the desert that’s more along the lines of what one would expect.

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

The picture below is of a dried up puddle in a dry wash near Factory Butte. It’s color, not black and white, or desaturated. This is the way it looks. This sort of cool scene can be found again and again in slot canyons. Just don’t go looking for them when it’s going to rain.

Mud cracks, dry wash

Mud cracks, dry wash

More to follow.

Bob

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