Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Picture Canyon is Saved!

Picture Canyon Falls

I am really pleased to announce that a local Flagstaff cultural resource called Picture Canyon has been permanently preserved for future generations and protected from vandalism and environmental degradation. For years picture canyon has fallen through the cracks and has been subject to paint ball damage, litter and protective limbo. The canyon is really Flagstaff's only local waterfall.

Adding to the value of the site are the ancient Sinaguan petroglyphs scribed in the stone adjacent to the unique water features. The last few years have seen a resurgence in a grassroots effort to not only clean up the vandalism, but removal of old tires, trash and the invasive Scotch Thistle. A core group of local volunteer have successfully lobbied the City of Flagstaff to purchase the 4800 acre area with the aid of an Arizona State Parks Department grant and a 2004 voter approved open space bond.

Even after living here in Flagstaff for 28 years, I had only heard of Picture Canyon. I found out about the canyon after reading an article in the Arizona Daily Sun. I met one of the organizers of the clean up efforts and quizzed him on the location of the area. For those who don't know, you take Old Route 66 behind the mall and take a left at the Wildcat water treatment plant. You continue down the road and it is on the right hand side. After parking on the top of the hill, you weave your way down the canyon through the boulders until you see the waterfalls. I first visited the canyon in March of 2011 and instantly fell in love with the unique features, practically in our back yard.

City Councilmember Celia Barotz who worked for more than two years on the purchase and preservation of Picture Canyon says: “This acquisition is a true testament to the vision and tenacity of the group of Flagstaff residents who years ago imagined that Picture Canyon could one day be permanently protected. I am thrilled that the City Council has authorized the use of 2004 open space bonds to complete this long-awaited purchase and will make this unique historical, cultural, archaeological, recreational and educational resource available for present and future generations to enjoy,” Arizona Daily Sun, Tuesday Oct. 30, 2012.

This makes me proud to be a Flagstaff resident. Things like this really renew my faith that a grassroots campaign can effectively enact real change. Congratulations Flagstaff, and well done.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feeling Your Way to Great Photography

Great photography is more than just taking pretty pictures. It's more than snapshots of your last vacation. Sure, they can be pretty and in some exotic location.  But really effective photography has that extra element. It tells a story. It portrays emotion.  It embodies life, and living.  You know those photos when you see them. They reach out and capture your imagination.  They whisk you away to another land, another time, or another life. They have that certain feeling. But how is it some photos are snapshots and others ethereal?  How can a static picture emote feeling to the viewer?  The answer lies within the eye of the artist. The artist has not just the tools and technical knowledge but the motivation and the passion to convey that feeling.  Start first by calling yourself an artist. Getting yourself in that mindset is the only way to get where you want to go.  Don't worry about what other people think about your art.  They will be subjective and judgmental.  While people are deciding whether or not they like it, make more art, as Andy Warhol would say.  There is nothing you can do to make them like it.  Find your creative muse. Shakespeare wasn't always inspired to write brilliant sonnets. His passion lied with women, and was motivated to write out of his passion for them.   Wear your heart on your sleeve. Put yourself out there to be seen.  Choose a subject.  Let it be your muse. It could be a flower, or the sun, or a colorful cloud. Whatever it is, it has to mean something to you.   See it.  Feel like doing something with it. Create some tension. Juxtapose it. Expose it or leave it mysterious. Make bold choices. Get close to the ground. Use leading lines into the photo. Plan it. Stalk it.  Visualize it. What will it look like in different light?  Will it look different with a long exposure?  Whatever you do with your subject experiment with it. It will be clear to your audience that feeling you had.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mesa Arch & HDR

The first time I saw a photo of Mesa Arch, I knew I had to go there and experience it. I loved the different layers, and even the second arch in the distance. Now, it has become a bit of a photographer's mecca, drawing photographers from all directions of the planet.  I went last May during what was the most beautiful weather with really nice clouds the entire trip.  Many photographers have a love/hate relationship with icons such as this.  Icons are icons because they are amazingly beautiful. The problem is that they can be photographed to death, eliminating any originality.  Unless you are prepared to travel to the ends of the earth, finding an original epic landscape is becoming more and more difficult. We have to settle on re-interpreting those icons trying to find an original composition to stay away from the cliche. My philosophy is that if I haven't shot the icon before, than it is not yet cliche. I will have my personal vision and creativity to keep the mundane at bay.  We'll see if you agree. 

I arrived at the arch at about 4:30 in the morning, and some people had been there for hours already. I wasn't sure what to expect, but there were 5 photographers lined up and waiting for sunrise. With an hour to kill I began to talk to the people, after setting up my tripod on 'the line.'  One person had been there since 2 am, and another had been there the morning before, saying they had to comeback due to heavy cloud cover.  I had no idea where the sun was going to rise, but since I was late to the party, I happily positioned myself for the big moment, ready to press the shutter when it was time. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted out of the shot, it definitely had to have a sunburst in it. Just as the sun came up a tour bus arrived with about 50 Chinese tourists.  They swarmed the place and at one point a guy with a long lens set it on my shoulder to take a photo. I turned my head and hit my face on the lens. He backed off and with out an apology went about his business of machine gunning the scene.  A few female tourists started to climb to pose on the arch. This was met with an angry reaction from the more serious photographers.  A white guy on 'the line' with the Phase One spoke Mandarin and cursed them all out, in Chinese.  He he.   Fortunately within about ten minutes they all disappeared back into their tour bus and took off.

I was able to work the scene, taking turns with the others at an intimate or original perspective, if one could be had. All the minor aggravations aside, it really was a bit of fun.  Hanging out with like minded individuals, sharing each other's shots and anecdotes left me with a feeling of camaraderie. The mob mentality directed toward the inconsiderate tourists was entertaining as well. 

My Pentax K5 has pretty good dynamic range, but I chose to bracket my shots +/-1.3 Ev so in post I could have more choices on how to process them. As a study on HDR techniques I processed the shots three different ways, on three different shots to see what each process had to offer.  It wasn't totally dark before sunrise, as moon was quite large and setting in the opposite direction. It gave some light on the front of the arch, but left the rock face with a bit of blue tint to it.  The first shot here was done with Tony Kuyper's luminosity masks. His way of dealing with high dynamic range is quite complex and involves masking different luminosities from separate exposures in several layers in photoshop.  See the link in the right side bar titled "Good Light Journal" for more information. His methods of HDR among other things are cutting edge in modern processing. His method gives the photographer complete control of color and light.  The second image shown here was simply loaded into Photomatix, an HDR program that uses algorithms to extrapolate the highest luminosity values into one image.  I used three exposures, again at +/- 1.3 Ev then loaded them into Photomatix. Typically they come out more saturated than natural, as this image ended up being. I had to selectively remove some purple fringing in the sunburst afterward.  The third image is just one image chosen out of the three I bracketed. The rock face is a bit dark and blue, which I felt might have been accurate to how the scene actually was since it was the earliest shot and the moon was still quite bright.

Each technique produces quite a different result, as you can see. Having displayed different images it might be a bit difficult to choose a preferred method based on my findings here, but any image should be processed differently from another based on it's own merits or weakness anyway. The artist's feeling and mood have to be considered before processing as well. Over all, I would choose the first method over the others. It is definitely more work, but the results are more realistic looking, and the artist has much more control of every facet.   The other methods are easier, but may reflect the artist's vision better.  What do you think?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

South Rim Monsoon

Living only 80 miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, you would think I have a huge library of the canyon from every vanatage point and weather condition. Well, I'm working on it. It takes a bit of effort to get there for either sunset or sunrise, which is the time of day that best captures the colors and moods of the canyon. I made a bit of a push this year to get the canyon under some summer monsoon. You have to pick a spot, get there early and work the scene for a couple of hours, then you're done. You pretty much have to be prepared to spend the night, to catch both sunset and sunrise. Photographing even in early morning light leaves the canyon washed out, and flat. Not ideal for photography.

Canyon Cloudburst

The summer around Northern Arizona is blessed with what we call the Monsoons. Basically we enter into a weather pattern that pushes up moisture from the south and for about a month give us life giving and much needed rain. Oh, and the skies with the big puffy clouds light up with the last rays of the day. In late August the monsoons are winding down, blue skies give way to large storm cells that move around dropping rain in isolated areas.

Vishnu View

The storms can be quite fierce in those areas, but often times they last a few hours and move off. It's quite a spectacle and seeing them day after day, leaves me gazing at the clouds and dreaming about all the sunsets I could be capturing. On this day I got my wish and got up there just after a cloud burst, and just before sunset. There were still storm cells hovering along the horizon. I chose Grandview point as my muse, because, well, it is a grand view. The layers of the canyon, and the iconic Vishnu's Temple, plus the various foreground options make for good photography. I made my way to a stack of rock that had some depressions filled with water called rain pockets. I used those as a foreground element, and waited until the sun was low enough to the horizon to get the rays skipping across the top.

Mather's Sunrise

I had enough time to work the area and get some more shots of Vishnu's Temple and some spectators. Although the sun went down the light kept on commin'. Just as I was packing up the distant storm clouds lit up and my last shots of the day were a close up on those. We camped just outside the park off a forest service road for the evening. I had every intention of getting back to the rim for sunrise the next morning, so consulted my iPhone to get sunrise times.

Although I was 20 minutes early according to the data, I was more like 20 minutes late according to the sun. When I got to Mather Point the sun was already over Vishnu's Temple, but the light was still good. I got a couple of shots off that I was happy with either way. I guess the rule still stands: show up an hour before sunrise!