Posted by: kerryl29 | April 15, 2019

A Photographic False Choice

While recently perusing a nature photography message board I read the latest iteration of the “how much does gear determine how good your images are” debate.  The dialogue typically goes something like this.  Someone makes a statement that essentially states “it’s the photographer, not the camera.”  Someone else counters that the the gear actually has a lot to do with it, and in so doing cites all the features added to cameras (and lenses) in recent decades that have helped photographers improve their imagery, including:  autofocus (and the refinement thereof), autoexposure (and the refinement thereof), image stabilization, and a plethora of digital era developments (instant feedback, usable high ISO performance, the ability to change ISO shot-by-shot, in-camera HDR, etc.).

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Given how long this discussion has been going on (i.e. seemingly forever), it seems clear to me that, to the extent that no consensus has been reached, it’s function of people more or less talking past one another.  I say that because it’s obvious, at least to me, that both sides are correct, depending upon how the question itself is posed and interpreted.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

During the nearly 10 years that I’ve written this blog, when I’ve attended to matters pertaining to the art and craft of photography (as opposed to, say, relating my experiences on photo trips and that sort of thing), I’ve spent more time talking about the art of the endeavor than the craft.  It’s not that there haven’t been craft-related posts–there certainly have.  But I haven’t spent a great deal of time discussing technique.  That’s not to imply that the technical side of things isn’t important to successful photography; I simply prefer to talk about aesthetics.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake at Sunset from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

But both the aesthetic and the technical sides of photography, like any visual art form, are significant.  (And yes, protests to the contrary from the cognoscenti notwithstanding, photography is a form of visual art.)  And it’s my contention that the degree to which your photographic interest tends to focus more–not exclusively, just predominantly–on left-brained or right-brained aspects of things, the more likely you are to emphasize the role of gear over the photographer or vice versa.  And this makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Advancement in photographic equipment has primarily improved–or made it easier to master–the technical or craft aspects of photography:  getting the exposure right, obtaining sharp images, maximizing depth of field, and so forth.  I say “primarily” because there are ways that technical advances can enhance creativity, such as being able to instantly see the results of experimenting with different shutter speeds and aperture settings, for instance.  And to the greater extent that one’s photographic oeuvre is underlaid by comparatively stiff technical requirements, the more one is likely to–properly–credit gear improvements with one’s perceived success.

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

But for the most part, gear improvements have had very little effect on the artistic part of photography for me…but keep in mind when reading that statement the kind of photography I (mostly) engage in:  landscape photography.  The practice of landscape photography is mostly about seeing and, with few exceptions, the advancement in gear over the years hasn’t improved my ability to see in the field.  Now equipment improvements have, in some very important ways, helped me realize my vision.  But aiding the ability to see itself?  I don’t believe so.  That has come (to the extent it has come at all) from copious time in the field and personal development, not from the advancement of photographic gear.  I do believe I “see” better now that I’m using a D800 series camera than I was when I was using a 35 mm film camera 20 years ago, but I don’t think the cameras themselves have anything to do with it.

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

So what’s more important, the camera or the person behind it?  Both, for different reasons and in differing amounts, depending on the photographic style under consideration.  Give me a 35 mm film camera today and I’ll make better images with it than I did 20 years ago.  But I’ll still make better images today with a D800 series camera than I would with a 35 mm film camera.  Both I and my equipment have improved over the years.  And I think that’s reflected both aesthetically (me) and technically (my camera).

Clingman’s Dome Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Advertisements
Posted by: kerryl29 | April 8, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: Mother and Child Reunion

I spent a couple of weeks in the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009, just a couple of months before this blog debuted.  Only a couple of weeks past the summer solstice, given how far north Olympic National Park is located, there were many, many hours of daylight.  During my time based in Port Angeles, at the base of the winding road that climbs all the way from sea level to Hurricane Ridge (more than 5200 feet above sea level), I awoke at 3 AM to make the drive up to the Ridge in time for sunrise.  This was the beginning of some exceptionally long days in the field throughout the entire two-week period, but that’s a story for another day.

On those mornings when I was at Hurricane Ridge, after sunrise I spent some time exploring and photographing many of the seemingly infinite beautiful scenes accessible in the Olympic high country, from the various trails to the vistas visible from Obstruction Point Road.  On one morning I hung around the not-yet-open Visitor’s Center, which is surrounded by a large parking lot right at the ridge.  The visitor’s center is surrounded by open, rolling meadows that are filled with purple lupine in the summer months.  The other thing one routinely sees at and around the visitors center is Columbia Black Tail Deer, in copious numbers.  These deer are so accustomed to being around people that they take little notice of human presence and can frequently be seen strolling through the parking lot, to the pleasure of many visitors.

In any event, on this particular morning, I was in the process of sizing up some distant intimate landscapes in the very nice early morning light, using my telephoto lens.  I was standing on a paved walkway astride a fence, several hundred feet to the left of the visitor’s center building, with the meadow 20-30 feet below my position.  Between frames I glanced into the meadow and saw a doe, slowly meandering around (and nibbling on) some of the clumps of lupine.  In spots, the wild grass was extremely tall, and when the doe waded into this area, she was up to the base of her neck.

I paused, stood to the side of my tripod and simply watched this idyllic scene for a few moments.  While I was doing so, I noticed a kind of rustling in one of the clumps of high grass and saw a tiny head peek up, then disappear.  And then, a fawn literally bounded out of the high grass and began to prance around the meadow.  I was dumbfounded–and delighted–by this display.  And then I regained some semblance of my bearings, enough to realize that this was a splendid photo opp, taking place right in front of me.

As I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, I am not a wildlife photographer.  I sometimes find myself with the opportunity to take pictures of wildlife, but this is not my forte.  As evidence of this, when I was trying to photograph the deer on this morning, I kind of forgot–or neglected–to activate autofocus and ended up producing the images using manual focus (and manual exposure).

But the fawn was captivating as he (or she) bounced around the meadow with boundless energy.  The doe showed all the patience one could hope for from a mama deer.  Eventually, the fawn bounced its way over to mom and stopped long enough for me to produce the image you see below.

“Mother and Child Reunion,” Columbia Black Tail Doe and Fawn, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 1, 2019

Center of Interest

More than 20 years ago, when I was in the relatively early stages of becoming serious about landscape photography, I was given a copy of Joseph K. Lange’s How to Photograph Landscapes.  The book, which was published the same year it was gifted to me (1998), had a wealth of valuable technical and artistic information for the relative novice, which is what I was at the time.  One concept that stuck with me was the notion of employing what Lange termed a “center of interest” as a key compositional facet.

I quote from the book:

“The kind of artistic landscape photography that I advocate can be achieved only by evoking a strong emotional response from viewers.  An essential element of this kind of image is a strong center of interest.  A center of interest can be defined as the place in the photograph that the eye is drawn to and lingers.  There should be no other object of equal or nearly equal interest in the photograph to pull the eye away.”

From the time that I first read these words, I took this idea very seriously.  Center of interest.  When scanning a scene I had to find it, identify it, know what it was.  If I couldn’t do that, obviously there was no image to be made.  It wasn’t long before I stopped thinking about this concept consciously and, truth be told, I really don’t ever think about the center of interest consciously today.  But I do deal with the matter subconsciously, all the time.  And I’ve also come to realize that, at least in my view, the way center of interest was defined in the book is too narrow.

The quoted passage above implies that centers of interest are objects.  And, frequently, that’s so.

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Pretzel and Lighthouse Arches, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Lower Falls, Enfield Glen, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Barns, natural arches, waterfalls, mountain peaks…all classic “center of interest” objects.  But over time, I came to realize that while a center of interest can be an object, it need not be, at least not in the classic sense of the term.  As I attempted to demonstrate in my previous post, patterns can be a center of interest.

Birches, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Prairie Trillium, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Breaking Waves Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

Bracken Fern Closeup, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Birch Reflections Black & White, Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Colors can also be the center of interest in an image–not colorful objects per se, but colors themselves:

Spruce Knob Dawn, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Water Abstract, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Color Riot, Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

 

Tones, too, can serve as the center of interest.

Fern Closeup Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Virgin River Intimate black & white, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Aspen Isolates Black & White, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Textures can be the center of interest:

Blackwater Falls Abstract Black & White, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

Light can be the center of interest:

October Light, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

Golden Band, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Backlit Tree, Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Shapes can be the center of interest:

Totem Pole at Sunrise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Ice, Snow & Water Patterns Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

Forest Floor Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Lines can be the center of interest:

Ridge Lines, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Scrub Oak, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

You get the idea.  In fact, if you view some of these images, you may think that the category of the center of interest may be manifold…texture and pattern, for instance.  This raises the question of whether it’s possible to have multiple centers (plural) of interest within the same image.  Or is that an oxymoron?

Informally, I’ve redefined the term “center of interest” loosely as:  the primary reason why an image is compelling.  Admittedly this is a far less structured definition than Lange used in his book, and is therefore probably less actionable–and thereby less useful to the relative novice.  Upon reflection, I’m grateful that Lange defined the term as he did because that narrower, more tangible approach was an important building block for me when considering the notion of composition.  But I’m glad that I have now allowed that definition to be broadened, for my own use, as doing so as opened up all sorts of creative paths that I might otherwise have neglected.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 25, 2019

Patterns

Few things catch my eye when I’m photographing more than patterns, and since the vast majority of the time I’m photographing natural subjects, the patterns I see and respond to are naturally occurring.  What’s particularly interesting about patterns in nature is the fact that they are revealed in so many different places and in such visually unique ways.

Dunes Abstract Black & White, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Merced River Reflections, Sierra National Forest, California

Aspen Forest, Celestine Lake Road, Jasper National Park, Alberta

While the subject matter is remarkably varied, the perspective needed to tease out the patterns is equally disparate.  I’ve used wide angle lenses, normal focal lengths, telephoto lenses and closeup/macro lenses to make pattern-based images.  Sometimes the pattern is revealed as far as the eye can see.  On other occasions, a much closer examination is called for.

Lily Pond Reflections, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Forest Floor Intimate, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Autumn’s Tapestry, County Road 7, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Banana Tree Leaf, White River Gardens, White River State Park, Indiana

As some of the above examples have already demonstrated, patterns and abstracts often fit together, hand-in-glove.  This isn’t always the case; it’s certainly possible to render a pattern in non-abstract form, but not infrequently the two genres often have nearly perfect overlap.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Driftwood Abstract Black & White, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, California

Elephant Ear Leaf, White River Gardens, White River State Park, Indiana

Enfield Creek Rapids Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Toklat River Black & White, Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska

Since patterns are often mostly a function of common and/or complementary shapes, the pattern can sometimes be best recognized when displayed in monochrome.

Beach Grass Trio Black & White, Little River State Beach, California

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Redwood Sorrel and Ferns Black & White, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Hemlock Hill Black & White, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Surging Surf black & white, Monument Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine

Palmetto Closeup Black & White, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Snowy Conifers Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Marion County, Indiana

It may seem as though I go out specifically looking for patterns; I don’t, ever, really.  The pattern either reveals itself to me or it doesn’t.  But it remains remarkable to me how often the revelation happens.

Aspens Forever, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Dunes Geometry, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Sun-Kissed Aspens, Telluride Valley Floor, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Snowy Conifers, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Given how many patterns I run across without even looking for them, I can’t help but wonder how many I’d discover if I was making an active attempt to find them.

My previous post referenced common landscape photography expectations in Arizona as the means to making a point about the potential for being blinded to opportunities by superficially familiar settings.   As a result, I thought the story of how the image contained at the climax of this entry was made would be timely.

Seven years ago I flew to Phoenix as the prelude to a photo tour of portions of northern Arizona–specifically, Monument Valley, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I came in a day before the start of the tour and drove to Flagstaff for the evening, with the plan to drive to Monument Valley the following day.  I expected to arrive in Flagstaff by mid-afternoon, so when I was planning the trip I tried to find somewhere nearby that I could explore in the few hours of daylight I expected to have upon arrival.

Things played out more or less as anticipated.  My flight arrived in Phoenix a bit after noon, I picked up a rental car and began the roughly 2 1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff.  I drove through the saguaro-laden desert north of Phoenix and gradually began the slow, steady climb to Flagstaff (which is situated nearly 7000 feet above sea level; by comparison, Phoenix is a smidge over 1000 feet above sea-level).  Along the way, the vegetation changed dramatically, as the cacti were gradually replaced by tall pines.  About 50 miles outside of Flagstaff, the mostly clear skies I had encountered in Phoenix were replaced by clouds and the final half-hour or so of the drive was made through steady rain.

The rain had essentially stopped and it appeared to be clearing when I arrived in Flagstaff, though it was obvious that the rainstorm had blown through the city, as everything was soaking wet.  When I checked into my motel the desk clerk asked me how I’d liked driving through the rain.  I said it hadn’t bothered me (I’m used to driving in wet conditions), but that it had surprised me–I hadn’t really expected to encounter rain in Arizona, even though I knew it was the monsoon season.  The clerk pointed to a calendar.   “This is the 35th consecutive day of rain here,” he said.  That piece of information shocked me.  Monsoon season or not, five weeks of daily rain is a lot anywhere.

After checking in, I quickly made my way to the spot I’d selected, pre-trip, for exploration that evening:  Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument, which is only 15-20 minutes north of Flagstaff along US-89.  The entry road to the monument was effectively deserted, and arched around some tall stands of Ponderosa Pines.  I was looking through the windows on both sides of the car, when I caught site of something yellow to my right.  Peeking through the trees, I saw what looked like some kind of an open field.  The trees were too dense for me to tell from the vehicle, so I parked the car in a pull-out and made my way through the trunks; the forest floor was laden with pine needles and cones but I was still intrigued by the splash of color beyond.

As I moved closer, I could see that I was looking at a huge field of tall flowers.  Before I knew it I was standing amidst them…and what a surreal moment it was.  Here I was, in the “desert” state of Arizona, in late summer (this was in the second half of August), looking at one of the most impressive displays of wildflowers I’d ever seen anywhere.

I retreated to my car and retrieved my gear, then returned to the flower field.  Bees and other insects were buzzing around.  It had turned into a very pleasant early evening; the sky was partly cloudy, the humidity was nearly non-existent and the temperature was around 70 (F) degrees.  I made several images of the scene, one of which is below.

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

This photograph has become one of my favorites, partly because of the mood it instills in me and partly because it serves as such a dramatic visual counterpoint to what pops into the minds of most people when they think of Arizona.  As someone who greatly enjoys seeing stereotypes explode, I can’t begin to convey how happy this makes me.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 11, 2019

The Grass Is Always Greener (Sometimes, Literally)

I have a friend who has lived almost his entire life in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  For those of you unfamiliar with Phoenix, it’s located in a valley, smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.  It’s dry and often very hot in Phoenix, with an unsurprisingly dun-colored landscape.  This, in fact, describes much of the state of Arizona (though not all of it), at least in a technical sense.

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

My friend has taken an interest in my photography and has asked me to send him periodic samples of my work.  He has typically shown a particular affinity for my images which contain things like creeks, waterfalls, fields of flowers and trees lush with foliage.  See the pattern here? These are all things that are not in abundance in a desert environment.

Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (final version)

A number of years ago, when I told him that I was heading to Arizona for a week or so of photography, he expressed surprise, bordering on outright astonishment.  “Why would you want to come here?” he asked.  “It’s hot and dry.  The most interesting things are rocks and cacti.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take the time, and spend the money, to come here for landscape photography.”

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

I explained that there was nothing unique about my desire to go to Arizona to photograph; people from all over the world travel to Arizona and the surrounding states of the American Southwest for photography—a concept he simply couldn’t wrap his mind around.  Why would people travel thousands of miles to come to a place that had “nothing”?  Why would I leave all of these inspiring ecosystems that he was seeing in my photos, native to the American Midwest, filled with water and greenery and trees with leaves that change color in the fall to go to such a bleak and barren place?

Oak Tree Splendor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  It’s a natural tendency to become habituated, to at least some degree, to that which is common to our own experience, regardless of what that is.  We’re inclined to take the familiar for granted.  Sometimes it requires the perspective of an outsider to reboot our own associations with places and things.  My friend has been in the desert all his life.  Where I see haunting, singular beauty, all he sees is monochromatic monotony.  Similarly, what I often regard as the cluttered, indistinct scenery of the Midwest is like Shangri-La to him.

“The Cavity,” Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I’ve always said that I spend my time living in a part of the world that is hardly among the planet’s garden spots for the kind of photography I like to engage in (i.e. landscape), and I firmly believe that to be true, but it’s always helpful to receive a reminder that there’s plenty of natural beauty out there, simply waiting for someone with the appropriate mindset to see it for what it is and reveal it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

The moral of the story:  don’t settle for regarding the familiar as prosaic; you’ll be missing something grand if you do.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 4, 2019

Equipment Familiarity and Once In a Lifetime Trips

The following post was originally published on 1001 Scribbles (which, sadly, appears to now be dormant) back in 2014, during my multi-year stint as a guest blogger.

So, you’ve got the photo trip of a lifetime planned—Antarctica, perhaps, or the Galapagos Islands or a photo safari in Kenya or Tanzania.  Wherever it is, since it’s the “trip of a lifetime,” what better opportunity to finally break down and splurge on that new camera or new lens or new tripod that you’ve had your eye on for so long time.  Since it is the photo trip of a lifetime, why shouldn’t you have the best?  The top action camera that you’ve been drooling over, to best capture the animals on the Serengeti…the most resilient camera to stand up to the cold and wet conditions in Antarctica…the exotic prime lens to photograph the wildebeest or the penguins or the albatross or the cheetahs or whatever.

Right?

Let me just make one suggestion about taking brand new gear on an expensive trip—don’t do it.  Ever.  I understand the temptation; I’ve essentially laid out the appeal in the first paragraph.  Don’t give in.

Sunrise, Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Trust me, the very last thing you want to do when you’re faced with once in a lifetime photo opportunities on a once in a lifetime trip is fumble around with unfamiliar equipment and—again, trust me—when your equipment is unfamiliar you will fumble around with it.

Bisti Arch Moonrise, Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

A new camera is the worst because it’s the nerve center for everything you’re doing out in the field.  That new camera will have some new features—which you won’t be able to easily implement because—you guessed it—you won’t be familiar with them.  It will also have some new ways of implementing pre-existing capabilities…and you’ll struggle to execute them because—that’s right—you’re familiar with the old way of doing so.  There will be some new buttons, possibly some new dials, certainly some new menus.  And when you’re out in the field, trying to remember where the exposure compensation button has moved to, the cheetah will disappear from view.  While you’re fighting with the new autofocus system, the albatross will fly off.  While you’re trying to remember how the new auto ISO system works and is implemented, the wildebeest will gallop away.

You get the idea.

Bull Elk, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

While a new camera has the largest number of potential pitfalls, other new equipment can have its own issues.  For instance, if you’re not used to using long, prime lenses, you’re going to flip and flop around trying to get used to finding objects with a very, very small field of view…to say nothing of the difficulties you’ll have getting used to obtaining sharp images with a big, heavy (here it comes again) unfamiliar lens.  (A hint—it requires different support and/or technique.)

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Even something as seemingly innocuous as a new tripod or head can cause problems.  Each tripod model has its own system of extending and retracting the legs, with different kinds of locks.  Heads have their own quirks—different types of quick release systems, different sized knobs and different levels of tension.  A lack of experience with all of these things will slow you down in the field and lead to the frustration of missed shots.  The same principle applies to other accessories as well.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The point of all this is not to suggest that you shouldn’t get new (better?) equipment.  The notion of having better tools to accomplish a task isn’t a bad one.  But the key is to obtain this equipment, and familiarize yourself with it, long before heading off for that “once in a lifetime” trip.  Do so and you’ll likely return home with once in a lifetime images…which was surely the purpose of the trip in the first place.

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 25, 2019

No Contest

Years ago–15 or thereabouts–I started entering my work in art “contests.”  (I’m not talking about international photo contests that solicit digital images from all over the world.  These were local exhibitions, involving framed prints.)  I don’t even remember spending any time thinking about it; it just seemed like the natural thing to do.  It was a way, I thought, to gain some exposure from my work and there were cash prizes to be won.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At first, I entered pretty much any local contest that came down the pike.  But over time an incremental attrition began.  The first thing to go was the “mixed media art competition” category.  It became clear, fairly quickly, that judges of these shows simply didn’t regard photography as being as worthy as other forms of visual art, such as painting, drawing, sculpting and the like.  I did win some awards at these shows, but one judge told me, directly, that a photo had to be far “better” than another form of art for her to award it.  I think she regarded this statement as a compliment, since she did assign an award to my photo, but I saw it as bit of backhanded admiration, at best.  After all, if I wasn’t going to be competing on an even playing field, what was the point?  It wasn’t long after that that I ceased entering mixed media shows.

Cataract Covered Bridge, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

There were still plenty of photo-only competitions and I continued entering work in them, with my share of “success.”  But I started becoming uneasy about the results and gradually, slowly, started to drop certain exhibits.  What was the source of my discontent?  I increasingly felt that the entire notion of specifically which works were selected for awards and which weren’t was, well, almost random.  This was how I felt whether my work was awarded or not.  There didn’t seem to me be any rhyme or reason to what was chosen and what wasn’t.  An extreme illustration of this presented itself when I had an image that didn’t even clear the jury for one show that was chosen best in show at a subsequent exhibition (one that had more entries and was widely considered more prestigious).  While it was nice to win best in show, I couldn’t get the notion out of my head that the same image that was apparently so good that it won that award had earlier been deemed so bad that it wasn’t even included in a show with ostensibly “inferior” submissions.

You can probably see where this is going…

The Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

After whittling the number of shows down to just a few per annum, last year I decided to end my participation in all shows and that’s where I am today.  I realized that I had reached a point where the only reason I was entering any shows at all was to try and win prize money, and that simply didn’t seem to me to be a sufficient rationale to continue the practice.

I had determined, years earlier, that the “prestige” of winning was really non-existent.  Selection of one’s work for an award really, in the end, means nothing more than that a particular judge likes that person’s photograph more than the others that were entered.  Unless there are technical issues–sharpness, exposure, etc.–that distinguish images (very rarely the case in these contests), it’s merely one person’s obviously subjective preference that’s at the heart of what wins and what doesn’t.  While it’s nice when someone else likes my work, that’s where it ends with me; I don’t feel better about myself–or my work–based on whether one of my photos is selected for an award by a contest judge…and I don’t feel worse about myself–or my work–if it’s not selected.

Pilings in Morning Fog, Tillamook Bay, Oregon

Beyond my increasing sense of the vapidity of the contest experience, there was one other reason I decided to end my participation in photo contests.  I began to question the very idea of an art contest.  The aforementioned subjectivity of art–and aesthetics is, in my judgement, inherently subjective–makes the very notion of a competition seem to me, upon full reflection, kind of odd.  It’s admittedly a bit of a metaphysical consideration, but does it make sense to compete over art?  To me, it seems essentially antithetical to what art is all about, and I’m more than a bit chagrined that I didn’t take the time to think about this a long, long time ago.

Heart of the Dunes Black & White, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 18, 2019

Alaska: The Dalton Highway – Finale

Our final full day in Alaska was an entirely overcast one.  With no possibility of a sunrise, we didn’t bother to get up particularly early.  The main goal on this day was to return to Fairbanks before it got too late.  (Our flight out the next morning was due to take off at 5:30 AM; that meant leaving for the airport at around 4, which meant getting up at roughly 3.  It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway–no one was looking forward to this.)

I should note that, in my experience, when the primary goal is to get from Point A to Point B, photography, unsurprisingly, typically suffers.  Creativity and deadlines have a tendency to clash, after all.

Given the length of the drive–we got a good sense of how much time it would take on the drive to Wiseman a few days earlier–the number of stops would necessarily be limited.  But that didn’t mean that there would be no photo opportunities.  We made four principal stops, all but one of them well to the south of the Brooks Range.  We hadn’t seen these areas since the drive in, when just about everything was still almost entirely green.  A dramatic change had taken place and our return trip showed the full range of peak fall color in this part of Alaska.  It was unfortunate that we didn’t have more time available to us because there were an innumerable number of attractive scenes alongside the highway that appeared worthy of exploration, but we were on the clock.

Our first stop was at the meadow location we’d photographed late on the previous day.  As it was on our way, and was only about ten minutes south of the turn-off to Wiseman on the Dalton Highway, I’d asked if I could take a second crack at this spot.  (The wind on the prior day had been a real nuisance.  There was some wind today as well, but not quite as much.)

Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We stopped, ostensibly for lunch, at the Yukon River Crossing.  I spotted a couple of tight compositions that caught my eye that I was able to take advantage of.

Birch Trees Intimate, Dalton Highway, Yukon River Crossing, Alaska

Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Yukon River Crossing, Alaska

Autumn Meadow Black & White, Dalton Highway, Yukon River Crossing, Alaska

Farther south on the drive, after passing some fairly colorful meadows, we hit an area that caused everyone, I think, to audibly gasp; David, who was driving slammed on the breaks so we could all get a better look.  There was universal agreement that, clock be damned, we simply had to photograph this scene.  We drove ahead perhaps 1/8 of a mile up a hill until we found a turnout.  The question was posed–could we just as productively photograph what we had seen from this spot (i.e. the pullout atop the hill) or did we need to walk back on the side of the road to the specific location that had caught everyone’s attention in the first place?  I volunteered to check and venture an opinion, so I jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the edge of an unofficial overlook.  I concluded, more or less instantly, that this perspective was nowhere near as appealing as what we’d seen earlier, so we everyone got out and we made our way back down the road, ever vigilant for possible truck traffic.

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

In addition to the breathtaking colors provided by the birch, aspens, poplars, spruces and tundra, what made this location so phenomenal that there were scenes on both sides of the road that were begging for attention.  I decided to concentrate on the east side first.

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Then I turned my attention to the west side…

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

My only regret about this area is that we didn’t have more time to explore it.  We probably spent something like 30 minutes on the ground as it was.

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Dalton Highway, Alaska

We did make one final stop, at a rise along the highway, with some marvelous views.  The mountainsides were covered with yellowing deciduous specimens and deep green conifers.  I relentlessly worked both wide-angle and telephoto opportunities as this location.

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Foggy Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Someone spotted a moose back up the road.  Dave, Ellen and Debbie went off in the car to chase that opportunity, but I was having too much fun at this spot; I told them to take their time, that I’d wait here for them to return.  I crossed the highway to get a better look at a scene that I found attractive to the northeast of my shooting location.  The moose chase ended relatively quickly (and had been unsuccessful, unfortunately).  It had, however, enabled me to spend a few more minutes photographing than might otherwise have been the case.

Autumn Splendor, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Splendor, Dalton Highway, Alaska

It was well into the afternoon by now and we still had the better part of three hours of driving before we’d be back in Fairbanks.  There was rented photo equipment to be returned to the camera store in Fairbanks and we still had to pack and otherwise prepare for the ridiculously early morning we’d be facing the next day, so this was the termination of the photographic portion of our Alaska journey.

This is the end of the set of chronological posts covering the Alaska trip; I hope you enjoyed taking it with us, albeit vicariously.  I may put together an Alaska retrospective at some point in the relatively near future, but otherwise I’ll be returning to more thematic musings here on the blog.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 11, 2019

Second Chances

As I’ve noted in the past on this blog, one of the primary advantages of photographing at nearby locations is that you can return with relative ease.

In my experience, the best photographic opportunities pertaining to a location are rarely realized on a first visit.  Exploration and growing familiarity with an area can’t be overrated when considering their impact on imagery, for a variety of reasons:

  • You can better predict how certain elements will look under different lighting conditions at different times of the year.
  • You have a better sense of when certain flowers or flowering trees will bloom and when fall colors will develop; or when rivers and creeks will be relatively high or low.
  • Where the sun will come up and where it will set.
  • Etc.

The benefits of experience are nearly limitless and the more accessible a place is to to you, the better you’ll be able to capture its essence.

But what about all of those places that aren’t nearby?  The familiarity advantage is essentially universal, but what if you can’t apply it due to the inaccessability of locations?  When it comes to distant places, we’re mostly left to consider, with much chagrin, what might have been…

But I’ve been lucky enough to have had a second chance at a number of locations that I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to revisit.  This afforded me the occasion to act on the experience of the first go-round at the same spot.

Here are my three most meaningful–and memorable–recent examples of opportunities to revisit specific, distant locations under what I hoped would be specific conditions, to experience something that I explicitly missed on the first go-round.

Lake O’Hara & the Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The most consequential of these examples was at Lake O’Hara.  On my first visit to the Canadian Rockies, I managed to snag a single day pass to Lake O’Hara at something close to the last minute.  (Access to the area is restricted; you can read more about the details here.)  As I noted in my post covering the experience, after great anticipation, I was “treated” to absolutely miserable weather conditions (in the form of an all-day soaking rain).  If that didn’t entirely ruin the experience, it did put me knee-deep in a year-long retrospective of what might I’d been denied.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I felt so strongly that I’d missed out on something truly special that I managed to finagle a return visit to the region the following year and was able to book access to the Lake O’Hara area on three separate days–a hedge against the notoriously fickle weather.  It paid off spectacularly.  I will feel forever lucky to have experienced time on the Opabin Plateau on a picture perfect Indian summer day.

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Redwoods, Rhododendrons & Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

During a visit to the Oregon Coast (see below) in early May a few years ago, I made a brief side trip to the coastal redwoods region of far northern California, since I’d never been there and I was so close…and who knew if I’d ever have another chance to go again?  Although I knew I was probably too early in the month, I had hoped to catch the bloom of the Pacific rhododendron that is so prolific (and beautiful) in this area.  I had also hoped to experience the redwood forest in fog (which I had been told was ubiquitous).  All three–redwoods, rhododendron blossoms and fog–would have been sublime.  But I ‘d have settled for two of three.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

I got the redwoods, of course, and they were spectacular.  But I got little beyond a few rhododendron buds and saw almost no fog, despite spending parts of four days in the forest.  Amazing as the forest was, I had to admit to a bit of disappointment (though I tried to tell myself otherwise).

Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

So, when I returned to California in May of 2017–ostensibly to spend time photographing in Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, I specifically built in a few days to make the extremely long and entirely inconvenient drive all the way to Crescent City in the hopes of catching the rhododendron bloom back in redwood country.  Some fog would be the icing on the cake.  The “inconvenience” of adding far northern California to the itinerary was completely forgotten when, on the final morning of my time there, everything came together so marvelously that I couldn’t possibly have imagined anything better.  It was a transcendent experience.

Oregon Coast

China Creek Beach Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I had visited the Oregon Coast, as a bit of whirlwind, over parts of four days (it’s not nearly as much time as it sounds–just two full days, plus an afternoon/evening and early morning) back in 2009, at the tail end of a trip to the Pacific Northwest.  It was, in essence, a lesson in over scheduling.  When I decided to try to make up for a combination of inadequate time and subpar conditions by rescheduling a trip–limited entirely to the southern coast area–in 2015, I was absolutely committed to the idea of learning from my earlier experience:  I gave myself much more time and limited myself to a far narrower area.  This paid off.

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I timed the trip, in part, to avoid the seemingly endless Pacific summer marine layer, which had plagued me so relentlessly during my first go-round on the coast.  This ended up being a good call, as I saw very little of the mist the second time, which made for an entirely different experience on the beaches and viewpoints.  In essence, I had the opportunity to simply view–and photograph–scenes that had been entirely hidden on my first visit.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

These second chance opportunities have been some of my most satisfying photographic experiences, and not merely because of the opportunity to leverage the benefits of earlier times at these locations.  There’s a real sense of fulfillment that accompanies seeing something through, even if it takes years to scratch a festering itch.  These aren’t occasions to tick certain “get the the shot” items off of a list.  They are, at least for me, reflective of the chance to experience something unique and memorable and I hope to have more such opportunities in the future.

Older Posts »

Categories