Saturday, December 17, 2016

Santa Monica Mountain

Lately, I've been learning how to build a house out of Styrofoam. Got your attention? Actually, it's form of foam called ICF (insulated concrete form), interlocking, hollow blocks that feel like Styrofoam and once constructed into a house, are filled with concrete. Makes a pretty sturdy abode, I can tell you.

The project I'm working on is in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu and every (early) morning, I'm treated to incredible ocean air, coastal light and all sorts of other phenomena. Here are some recent shots as I was winding the hill to the job site.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wildflowers, Death Valley

I'm not a big one for taking pictures of wildflowers only because it feels like there's not more I can say about a flower that someone else hasn't already done, often better. But when it comes to flowers in the desert, I can't resist. I think it's the novelty of something so colorful, so delicate in an otherwise barren, often colorless environment. Plus, you know that what you're capturing is only hanging around for a few days, so it's also the rarity of the subject that makes it special. I was never able to nail down exactly what these blooms are which is odd because they were everywhere the day I was shooting in Death Valley National Park toward the end of February. I got down on my knees with the tripod legs spread out and using the widest setting on my lens focused on these beauts just a few inches from the lens' front element. It allowed me to gather in a close-up while at the same showing the surrounding environment.

tech stuff: Canon 5D, 16mm f/2.8 lens set to 16mm, f/13, 1/50, ISO 400

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley

As I've said before, some times you just get lucky. I was in Yosemite for a wet weekend when I stopped at the famous, iconic Tunnel View with no real intention of getting a decent photograph of the valley. And yet . . . The ugly weather started clearing right before my eyes. Another good bit of timing was how the rainy weather had recharged Bridalveil Falls so that it was flowing enough to reflect the light and act as a kind of anchor for the otherwise shadowy right side of the picture. As I immediately recognized whiffs of Ansel Adams' famous "Clearing Winter Storm" shot, oh, about 80 years before, I decided to crank up the resolution by shooting this as a panorama, which worked out to be about eight vertical pictures stitched together in Photoshop. As a further homage to the master, I converted it to black and white with a slight selenium tone. The detail is pretty amazing and one could be forgiven for thinking this was shot on large format film. It looks that good in person.

Canon 5D, 28-70mm lens set to 48mm, 1/100, f/8 at ISO 100, Gitzo tripod with Kirk ballhead

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dewey Point, Yosemite

This is an example of having a wonderful scene but just not getting the photograph right technically. My wife, Gloria, and I had snowshoed out from Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park to Dewey Point in fresh snow from the night before. Above the Point, which was around the corner from our tent site, we hunkered down for the cold night but then I got restless and realized I needed to take a shot of our tent in the moonlight. I can't tell you how hard it is to wiggle out of a warm sleeping bag, put on a parka and boots, and then leave for the freezing night air. No, I'm not trying to demonstrate how dedicated I am . . . okay, maybe I am. In any event, I had figured I might try this composition the day before when I was packing and so I brought a flash and wireless trigger for it. Unfortunately, with Gloria holding the flash inside the tent, the signal from my camera to the trigger just wasn't getting through (or maybe it was too cold). We fiddled with it for awhile and decided that wasn't going to work. So next we got out Gloria's Canon Rebel and put my flash on it. Each time I took a picture with a fairly long exposure, I called her to take a picture inside the tent. First, she pointed the camera toward me but that was way too bright. In fact, we couldn't get the right balance of light and dark with my big, honkin' flash, so tried the pop-up flash on her camera. She pointed it in different directions and finally we nailed it when she directed the flash away from me. I don't know—I probably took 20 or 30 frames during this exercise. Strangely, while we were working out the picture, I didn't feel cold once.
Canon 5DMII, 15-35mm lens set to 23mm, 90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Silver Moccasin Trail

The Silver Moccasin Trail runs 53 miles through the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles and from what I understand it's a rite of passage for many Boy Scouts. I have to admit it's never occurred to me to actually hike the whole thing, a trip that would probably last about four days or less depending on how motivated you are to get back to the city which is only a few miles away. My wife, Gloria, and I took on a few miles of it for a day hike and near the trailhead, I turned around to see this beautiful, late morning light filtering through the trees as she descended the trail. As is often the case, the original RAW file was pretty lackluster so I processed it to match what I saw and the feeling of soft sunlight. So, in Lightroom, I added a little contrast and black, but mainly attacked the image with the radial filter, isolating the splash of light behind Gloria. I softened it by going into minus territory with the clarity slider and added a smidge of white as well. I then added another radial filter, selecting just Gloria and some of the trail in front of her. I lightened this to lead the eye down the trail from the blast of light which grabs your attention first. Finally, in Photoshop, I added a bit of darkening around the corners and brightened her face and legs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cloudburst, Mexico City

A few minutes before this picture was taken, the streets were filled with people. And then without warning, mega-raindrops started splattering in the pavement and on our heads. The pedestrians disappeared as if vaporized. I and my wife hunkered under our umbrella across from this sporting goods store that had the only awning for blocks. While we waited out the rainstorm, I took a few pictures. Converting this one to black and white using Silver Efex Pro seemed to increase the almost claustrophobic feeling at the time without the distractions of color. And after all, it was a gray moment best described by shades of gray. Canon 5D, 16-35mm lens set at 35mm, f/8, 1/60 sec., ISO 400.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Piramide del Sol

I'm always looking for juxtapositions in my images. That is, elements in the composition that contrast with each other in interesting ways. In this case, I was getting ready to photograph Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun), which is located in Teotihuacan near Mexico City, when this woman sat down in front of me with her umbrella cocked to shade her from the sun. Generally speaking, I get a bit annoyed when someone does something like that, but then I have to remind myself she has as much right to the scene as I do and I try to work with what I've got. (As an aside, just because one has a camera doesn't mean they're in charge of crowd logistics. Some photographers have to be reminded of that.)

I quickly saw she had done me a favor. Instead of some straightforward, blah picture of the pyramid with the only saving element being the sky, I got a juxtaposition. In this case, that meant the angular relic from some 2,000 years ago contrasting with the curved shape of a modern umbrella. I didn't think of it at the time, but there's also the notion of an umbrella, used for protecting the woman from the sun, which was pretty hot that day, sitting in front of the Pyramid of the Sun. There's no great cosmic meaning in that, I admit, but it adds to the idea of a juxtaposition, I guess.

That's the thing about photography. Sometimes you don't always see a deeper meaning until after you look at the picture for a few years.

The settings for this were: Canon 5D, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens set to 26mm at f/22, 1/80 at ISO 400. I don't normally shoot with that small of an aperture, but I wanted to make sure I got both foreground and background in focus.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Photographying Death Valley

Sunrise, Ubehebe Crater
For my pixels, I think Death Valley is one of the best places in the west to photograph. It's got huge landscapes, intimate landscapes (especially inside the hundreds of canyons there) and incredible, however fleeting, light. So I wrote an article for SleekLens about some of the most accessible places to photograph while there. Here's the link: "Death Valley: Photographing the Desert in Winter"

Saturday, June 25, 2016

From the Landscape Archives

I was recently "nominated" or challenged—I'm not sure which is more appropriate—to post on Facebook one photo a day of something having to do with nature. So I decided to drag out some old faves that I hadn't seen in awhile, and more to the point, my Facebook had never seen. If nothing else, I was able to prove to myself that I had taken in my lifetime at least seven decent pictures. And here they are:

Cedar, Hoh River Rain Forest, Olympic National Park

Dusy Basin, Sierra Mountains

Garrapita State Park, California

Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Desolation Wilderness, Sierra Mountains

Tehachapi Mountains and Central Valley, California

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Luminous Landscape Article

I have a new article up on the prominent photography website called Luminous Landscape about my canyoneering photography and the lessons I've learned about the genre. Here's the link:

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Gesture in Photography

I just posted a new blog over on SleekLens concerning gesture in photography.

Nerfherder Canyon

Okay, I feel a little silly saying I descended Nerfherder Canyon with my friends. The term sounded familiar to me but I didn't recall that it came from Star Wars and an epithet Princess Leia had hurtled at Luke Skywalker and Han Solo for some perceived stupidity on their part. In any event, Nerfherder Canyon (in the San Gabriel Mountains) was only first descended last January and it indeed felt as if we had entered a place few had explored. Lots of bushwhacking and placing anchors on rappels with none.

I've always worried in an academic sort of way about the possibility that one of us would get injured on a canyon trip and what we would have to do to handle that. Well, it happened. Alan, a newbie to canyoneering (I'm not saying this had anything to do with it), had slid on a wet rock while trying to avoid a deep pool and instead went down in the nasty water up to his waist, which is saying something given Alan is a tall dude. The impact was enough to sprain his left ankle and he decided to bail before we got to the first rappel. Kevin volunteered to escort him back to the top, a trip which was apparently painful and challenging to their route-finding skills.

In the meantime, four of us continued down-canyon crashing through the poison oak-infested undergrowth and fallen logs. Somewhere in there, Annette declared she wasn't returning to this canyon. Once we exited the canyon, we hiked down an abandoned trail to a use trail that took a more or less direct, steep route up a mountainside to our shuttle car sitting along Highway 2. I have to admit that I'm not entirely tempted to do the canyon again, but even for all that, I still say a day in a so-so canyon beats a day binge-watching Netflix.

Annette maneuvering around a burned tree from the Station Fire as we begin the descent off Highway 2 to the canyon.

Mild bushwhacking on the approach. It got a lot worse.

Jerri trying to avoid dunking her shoes into a pool while swinging around a branch.

Annette reacting to her ankles getting wet after she slipped into a pool.

Rich gallantly assisting Annette over a pool.

Kevin stemming over a pool of questionable water.
Alan slipping off the rock an into a deep pool. (It helps to have a camera that shoots 12 frames a second.)

Alan grimacing from the cold water or having twisted his ankle, or both.

Rich makes his way past a pool while Alan tries to decide if he should continue down the canyon.

Jerri on one of the first rappels.

The Smooth Operator device we employed where there weren't any anchors. The last person disengages the caribiners and at the bottom yanks on pull rope to pop loose the knot. Everything just slides down the rappel so we can recover the rope. Leaving no anchors behind is called ghosting a canyon.

Rich finishing up a bushwhacky rappel.

Hauling in the rope is a group effort.
Rich tossing his rope bag past a down-climb.

Annette splashing through a pool.

Jerri on a short rappel.

Jerri leaping over a pool.

Working our way down a series of pools.

Rich backs up an anchor while Jerri tackles a long rappel.

Hiking back to the shuttle car.

First Descent Down Hooter Canyon

Hooter Canyon was named by Scott Swaney about the same time he had led our group of five on the canyon's first descent about a month ago. He had seen an owl flying by and after I pointed out the owl's nest up on the canyon cliffs, Scott seemed pretty sure it was a sign. So, Hooter Canyon (part of the Nopah Range outside of Death Valley). The cliffs were part of the only rappel in the canyon, a more-than 300' drop with an 80' free rappel at the bottom. This shot is of Jason hanging in mid-air with a prominent tower in the background (Scott had named the next canyon over Tower Canyon). The light wasn't great, which is an occupational hazard of photographing canyoneering, but the spectacular surroundings made up for it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Documenting the Passage of Years

Another blog for SleekLens, this time about a project I've been working on for several years where I do quickie portraits of everyone who attends our Christmas party. One of these days it will become a book. One of these days . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Sense of Place

For anyone interested in my rambling thoughts about travel photography, and, in this case, getting images with a "sense of place," here's my latest blog post on SleekLens.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Super Selfie Article

I was recently offered a great opportunity to be a regular blog contributor to a fine photography website called SleekLens. My first effort for them is a piece about taking artful selfies or what I call "super selfies". Check it out if you have a chance.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

First, First Descent

I can now add "canyon explorer" to my resume. I accompanied the great Scott Swaney (the real canyon explorer with more than 200 first descents of canyons to his name) and three other guys on the exploration of two canyons in the Nopah Range near Death Valley that had never been descended. Here are the shots from the first canyon we did, which Scott named Atlas Canyon. Midway down the canyon, we hit a 360' whopper rappel. Under any other circumstances, that would have been breathtaking, but because we were the first to go down the wall, we weren't certain how much rope we'd need. We had 370', which was just enough, although we didn't know that at the time. In fact, the only information we had on the rappel was Scott seeing it from a distance and estimating how long the drop was. The other exciting part of this—aside from the unnerving wind at the top of the rappel knocking each of us about as we stepped over the edge—was how we were the first to ever rappel such an amazing wall.

Scott's canyoneering gear minus the 370' rope he asked one of us to carry. Can't blame him.

Scott Swaney

Leaving camp at 5:15 a.m.

Hiking up an alluvial fan to the base of the mountains.

Starting the 3400' climb to the canyon drop-in point. By the way, barrel cacti dotted the landscape just about everywhere we went.

Jason climbing above the alluvial fan.

View of the Nopah Range from about midway up the climb.

Climbing into the sun. Fortunately, there was a cool wind that kept the heat down.

Rich topping a ridge with Nopah Peak ahead.

Scott checking out the best place to drop into the canyon. It turned out to be a little farther along the ridge.
Jason working his way over a down-climb.

Scott tossing a rope bag over the first rappel.

Jason tackling the first rappel while Scott had him pause for a picture.

The rock chock anchor Scott built for the first rappel.

Rich on the first rappel.

Rich down-climbing.

Scott looking for a place to set an anchor for the second rappel.

Alvin on the second rappel.

The group gathered atop the 360' rappel.

Building a cairn anchor for the big wall.

Jason tossing the 370' rope hoping it goes all the way down.

Scott doing a "soft start" on the 360' rappel, meaning he was trying to stay low and be gentle so as not to blow out the anchor which could happen if he jerked up on the rope.

The wind blows Rich about at the top of the 360' rappel.

It's takes three guys to pull a 370' rope tied together to two-200' ropes.

Down-climbing a rock slab.

Scott checking out the route before rappelling.

Rich on one of the shorter rappels.

Jason tossing the rope bag off the last rappel.

The final rappel.