Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

                                                             Happy Holidays!

I look out the window at snow flurries, teasing me. It's been since May that we had significant snowfall, and I look back at those times and wish for feet of snow. This shot was taken in 2010. It had snowed a few feet over already deep snow. We had gone out early the next morning just after the storm was breaking up. Cross country skiing to Heart prairie with our two dogs in this winter wonderland was wonderful. I hope we will all look for peace and joy in these times, as it is too easy to forget the wonderful.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Galen's Tree

 "I almost never set out to photograph a landscape, nor do I think of my camera as a means of recording.... My first thought is always of light." -Galen Rowell

I had been to the Eastern Sierras a couple of times before, but I decide to attend a Jack Graham workshop because we were to explore many areas that I had not previously visited. We spent a bit of time in the footsteps of the great Galen Rowell, with whom Jack Graham had studied with.  A world traveler and mountaineer, Galen Rowell used his camera to capture the adventure and natural optical phenomena of the so called 'dynamic landscape.'  The Sierras were his stomping grounds, and Bishop is where he chose his home. Although the list of Rowell's mountaineering accomplishments is quite long, it is his writing and photography that endures today as his legacy. Unfortunately he lost his life in a tragically ironic plane crash within sight of his home.  His gallery Mountain Light still remains in Bishop, and showcases many of his images from California to Tibet.  It was here that we got a glimpse of what vistas and subjects we would be visiting. One such subject was located in the Bristlecone Pine forest of the White Mountain region of the Eastern Sierras. Our group was delivered to the top of a mountain ridge well before sunset.
We were set free to analyze the terrain and become intimate with the ancient forest. As the sunset began to creep up on us we were to reconvene closer to our vehicles.  It was then that Jack pointed out a beautiful specimen, calling it Galen's tree. I didn't get an exact answer why it was so called, but it became clear it was out of reverence and a tribute to the land he loved and photographed with passion.  Sunset was approaching and the light was getting interesting. I had been keenly aware of the moon phases on this trip, and had been studying it's light and timing since my arrival in the Sierras.  I had a feeling it was going to rise coinciding with the sun's setting.  I had written before about an iPhone app called Star Tracker.  Not only does it track and identify the stars, it tracks the sun and moon, and their exact positions in the sky.  I could see on the screen that just below the horizon the moon was about to rise.  While the others were focused on their own work, I positioned myself and set up my camera to capture the event.  I used a long focal length to condense the scene, and make the moon's size more prevalent.  I was getting a little nervous, because I was loosing the warm light on the bottom of the tree.  Then the moon presented itself. Just as it rose over the earth's shadow, the sun dipped below a distant mountain, casting a diagonal shadow along the base of the tree closely matching where the pine needles ended.  I was elated. I felt as though I had experienced an ethereal astronomical event.  I kept shooting, hardly containing my enthusiasm.  The other participants and instructors slowly began to notice the moon rise, and eventually joined me.  It was still magical, watching the moon and looking for different compositions, but they had missed the timing of that fleeting moment.

"The landscape is like being there with a powerful personality and I'm searching... to make that portrait come across as meaningfully as possible." - Galen Rowell

Galen's tree was replete with that personality.   The timing and light convened to put this experience at the top of the list in meaningful experiences for me.  I hope that the feeling in these images will resonate, and serve as an homage to the late great Galen Rowell, and convey the essence of his spirit.

Jack Graham on Location

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Night in Havasupai

Ever wonder what demons come out after dark? They posses the living, steal their rationality. Sometimes it happens to people in paradise as well. The fringes of daylight introduce a different way of looking, and seeing. It all began with an exploration of the night, in Havasupai. I was to meet a couple of friends, and they with a couple of their friends. And eventually a couple more of their friends. I had arrived well before dark. I enjoyed a few beers, and a sandwich. As dusk approached I began to examine Hualapai Hilltop at night.  I prepared a long exposure series featuring the flashlights of hikers emerging from the canyon depths.  The sky was dark, and the only ambient light that fell was from the stars.

Then they arrived. My two friends, and their two friends. I had not met them before, and in the dark illuminated by a simple headlamp, their faces bobbed in and out of unrecognizable clarity. They left no impression on me, and I had no grasp of what they actually looked like.  As it turned out the next morning, they did indeed look completely different.  That's how the demons work, they operate in that realm of uncertainty. The day had come and gone, and we had sunken deep into the canyon.  Darkness is darker in the canyon.  The light from the atmosphere, or moon or stars fail to reach the inner depths. What lies in shadow during the day, likes like pitch at night. Space, unrecognizable space. A flashlight will allow you to move around. It will lead you like an orb through a tunnel.  Another two of their friends arrived. I didn't know them either, a thin girl, and her husband Brian. An impish fellow, an extrovert speaking constantly in different accents. Mostly East Indian. "Very very goot. Very goot."  He was likened to say on many occasions. Shortly after dinner I noticed the moon had broken the darkness. At least on one side of the canyon. The other side still had large voids.  But the clouds. The clouds were glowing. It was unmistakable. A fight had begun between the light and the dark.  The moon had risen and flowed into the canyon, illuminating the clouds, which in return refracted the light into ambient light. It began filling the canyon.  It was time to get to the falls to capture the struggle.

The moon was playing with the clouds, and mist from the falls. The clouds slowly, persistently receding, the water incessantly pounding. This unworldly scene was unfolding, and emoting a peculiar energy. The power and struggle of nature against it's elements. With no regard for me or mankind. I tried illuminating the falls with a flashlight but the mist played games with the wind and light. An odd reaction occurred. The water droplets became lightning bugs. Darting and dodging afloat on the air currents generated by the energy of the falls. It was time to return to camp, my mood elevated. My sense of wonderment deeply affected. As I moved between light and shadow, I was reminded a headlamp was still necessary. Excessive contrast in the shadows hid unseen perils. I could easily turn an ankle. The closer I got to camp, the energy began to change. I heard music, techno music. An impish figure emerged, spinning glow sticks. Strangely out of place in nature, a rave. Fueled by alcohol, and visual candy. A hand began to reach out, grab me and pull me in.

Suddenly a glow stick hit the ground and rolled into a tent. This unleashed an angry creature. A man in the neighboring camp trying to sleep lurched out as if it were a lion from a cave. It attacked the imp. A struggle ensued. Demons fighting between the fringes of light and dark. Rolling on the sand arms were flying, voices raised. "Ken, stop it Ken..." "Brian, No Brian!" As if the needle scratching a record, the music stopped. Campers gathered around the demons in a ring. Dust and fury, legs and arms. It was unclear who had the advantage. Then the movement ended. Ken had lost, and was pinned face down in a Half Nelson. Adrenaline pumping, we all awaited the next move. The crowd began to banter, and for a moment it was unclear if a riot were to begin. Alas the two factions pulled the demons apart, and each returned to their respective shadows. Quietly grumbling until darkness and sleep arrested the camp. I had written before about this paradise of Havasupai. For all the beauty and nature, this little canyon, suffers from the evil spirits of mankind. They lead you down dangerous paths, of mine shafts and murder. Each time I visit I'm reminded how man has become at odds with nature. The balance has been upset. In this microcosm every step has profound repercussions. And I worry about our fate as we propel ourselves in orders of magnitude toward the future. We have become the demons, and I fear that future, and the darkness of that unknown.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Arches of Alabama Hills- Mobius Arch

Last October I had the fortuante opportunity to join a workshop in the Eastern Sierras with Guy Tal and Jack Graham.  The workshop started in the Alabama Hills area off the Whitney Portal Road leading out of Lone Pine California. We all rose at about four thirty to gather and caravan to a parking area that featured a view of Mt Whitney and the mountain range. Standing in the dark we were pointed toward the range to capture the sunrise.  Once the sun made it's appearance we were led on a trail that encircles three natural arches hidden in this un-earthly terrain. Mobius Arch and  others sit as a surreal frame to the distant snow capped mountains.  The group took turns framing this classic composition discovered many years ago. Hollywood film crews have made the Alabama Hills their backdrop for dozens of movies and commercials.  Many famous photographers have tromped these hills discovering more and more arches.  David Muench, for example has been capturing these arches since the early 50s.  He's discovered hidden arches, and deliberately left them un-mapped and un-named to protect the delicate rock surrounding it.  Galen Rowell has also taken famous images of Mobius Arch.  Although many before me have captured the arch, I was inspired to return after the end of the worshop to make my image.  I've been practicing throughout the trip with light painting and have been making images with dual, and sometimes triple light sources.  The third light source being the moon, of course.  I had been keenly aware of the moon and it's cycles for ten or so days now and had a good feeling of where and when I needed to be to take advantage of this natural light source. I rose at about two thirty in the morning to make the short hike.  I set up a Petzel headlamp behind the arch, and a large Mag-lite on the side below. The different angles and color temperatures of the sources helped make the image a little more surreal. The moon illuminating the mountain range helped make this image possible.

   I repeated the process with another arch, just a few hundred feet away, Lathe Arch.  Earlier in the day I attempted to locate more of the arches, as well as the un-named one, but ultimately failed.  Perhaps another day.  The only other arch I could find, was one nearby as well.  I'm not sure what the arch's name is, but I'll call it Heart Arch.  This was taken during the workshop just as the light was beginning to get harsh.  Some people may ask why bother taking an image that's been done time after time.  Indeed a simple Google search reveals many dozens of renditions of these arches.   I had visited Galen Rowell's gallery in Bishop and have seen these images of his. I guess you can think of it as an homage. What good is Beethoven's music if it isn't performed over and over? Think of this as my personal performance. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Four Falls - Havasupai

I written a few times about the grandeur of the falls in the quaint Indian Reservation of the Havasupai Tribe in the Grand Canyon.  What started as a crush in high school has become a full blown love affair over time. I've had a chance to study the culture in an anthropology course in college, and backpacked the ten miles to visit four times.  This last time I decided to study the reservation with my camera.  Five beautiful spring days were spent standing in warm blue-green water. From dusk to dawn I tried to capture the essence and moods, pushing my gear and prowess to the limits.  If you browse through the blog here you will find what I have discovered and experienced over the course of decades.   Every once and a while a particular image has to be showcased. Many elements have to come together and be captured to properly portray the feeling felt while standing there.  This image is one of those.  I had spent the day hiking to the lower Beaver Falls, and upon returning I came to this scene, just below Mooney Falls.  A number of times I've tried to capture it, but only recently had the skills and technology to process it to fruition.   I was struck by the last light of day reflecting off the higher canyon wall, not to mention the vantage of seeing four falls in a curious confluence.  The challenge here was to grab the dynamic range between the bright reflection of sunlight to the dark shadows of the canyon. A standard image capture would not be able to properly expose for either the highlights or shadows, so I decided to do a bracketed image. I set the camera to allow it to take three successive images, each at different shutter speeds. One to properly expose the highlights, one to properly expose the shadows and one in the middle to expose the mid-tone ranges.  I chose the initial shutter speed and f-stop to smooth the water, and the camera choose the other two exposures. The post processing was done in Photoshop using a technique called channel masking or luminosity masking. This technique allows the photographer to seamlessly blend the three images together in a more controlled and realistic fashion than using stand alone HDR (high dynamic range) software that does it for you.  Although it takes hours of work, the result more closely matches the scene you would experience if you were standing there.  For more information on the technique see the side bar to the right under the helpful links heading. Another challenge capturing this scene was to avoid other hikers and photographers.  I was standing in the stream for ten or fifteen minutes waiting for the the scene to clear, when another photographer tromps up and sets her tripod directly in front of me.  She says "Oh, am I in your way?" as I stare at her with my mouth open in dis-belief.  "It's a free country," was my response.  It's true, there is no law against being inconsiderate and oblivious in this country, and people take this notion to the extreme.  It's a cultural thing.  Just don't let it get to you.   Tune out those people just like that annoying hip-hop song on the radio. Instead focus on the beauty of nature and the moment you're living it. It will not last forever.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Wade Hot Creek

Hot Creek begins its life as Mammoth Creek flowing out of Twin Lakes, in California's Eastern Sierra Nevada. It makes it's way to the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery and confluences with warmer water from natural geothermal springs commonly found in the Long Valley Caldera area. It eventually flows down to become a tributary to Crowley Lake. As it travels through the Hot Creek Gorge hot springs in and near the stream bed can be found.   As recent as 2006 the geothermal activity in the Hot Creek Gorge has become increasingly unpredictable, intermittently emanating geysers.  The activity produces enough vigor to shoot scalding water as high as 6 feet as well as popping from the steam vents in the vicinity and from in creek itself.    For this reason the Forest Service has closed parts of the area due to its dangerous and unpredictable activity. They posted warning signs to deter the fishermen from wading in its dangerous and scalding water. "Don't Wade Hot Creek."

Its popularity began as a location in many Hollywood films, then continued with anglers, bird watchers, swimmers and photographers alike.  It had been several years since I last visited Hot Creek, and  I wanted to return to capture it during sunrise.   I remembered the winding creek that seemed to flow out from the surrounding mountains. Steam rising up in plumes of alkali mist. What I didn't remember was you couldn't camp with in a mile from the creek.  I scouted and found a forest service road a short distance and camped there, but had to make more of an effort. Especially the next morning. I was able to get there at just the right time for the light illuminate the peak and to skip atop the trees.  After what seemed to be a brief window, the show was over. I returned to the van and prepared my morning coffee and breakfast.   A fisherman arrived just as I had taken the shot of the sign "Don't Wade Hot Creek." I chuckled to myself, "I Waded Hot Creek."  I think he thought I was crazy.