Friday, January 4, 2019

Patterns of things to come

Began working on some images from eastern Canada that are starting to show up in the New folder on my website. During the last week of September and first weeks of October 2018, I was able to visit the Quebec and New Brunswick provinces and attend a photographic workshop that introduced me to some new experimental approaches; perhaps more on those later. Patterns (see below) was something that just grabbed me this morning and I wanted to share it. No deep thoughts 😇 just something beautiful to me. These grasses in the stream caught my eye along with the gentle ripples in the water. Printed, it looks outstanding hanging on my wall! Hope you enjoy.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 80-400 zoom @ 400 mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

NSFW: Grace

NSFW = Not Suitable For Work (for internet non-mavens)

Sometimes I get carried away as I write about images or experiences. This post is NSFW if you are offended by disturbing allusions to spirituality, iconic religious symbols, theological language, or things so sublime I must resort to metaphor for their expression. If so, stop reading! You'll only harm yourself.

If you choose to ignore my warning, as you read, remember that I was a scientist for nearly forty years and I thought of myself as pretty hard-nosed and clear-eyed. But in this new artistic phase of life, I find myself learning new things, encountering the unexpected, surprised by joy, thinking less about the "what" and more about the "why" of things.

Photography has taken me to some surprising discoveries. Not just to beautiful locations, it has lead me into places of the soul that I had long forgotten, disdained, discounted, or refused to respect, to consider. But as the journey continues, I find myself confronting more frequently the "why" of creativity, the "why" of a given image. So it was a few years ago I posted here a blog entitled, Why take a photograph? One reason, for me, is that it gives me joy, perhaps a joy that can be shared with another. But usually, when I am out taking pictures, I am not thinking at all, I am being. In the moment. The camera becomes an extension of myself, my eyes, my hands, my brain. Sure I think about exposure, shutter speed, f-stop, and composition; you might call it the "what" of photography. My recent discovery, however, is that the "why" often reveals itself after I go back through a series of images asking myself, what is it that intrigues me about this or that photograph? Why did the subject call to me? What was it inside me that caused me to press the shutter? What was I trying to say? If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are they? Where do they come from? On with the story!

It was our last day in Iceland and returning to Reykjavik, we stopped at an odd small church, a chapel really, its roof covered in sod and dandelions. Dismounting from our tour bus with my colleagues, I remember thinking it a tawdry little tourist stop. Boring as it was, I went through the motions, snapping away. Our return schedule was tight and I was the last one climbing onto the bus because something had called to me at the last minute. I stopped, adjusted the settings on my camera, composed, pressed the shutter, and trotted off to the coach, not giving it a second thought. Covering is the result you see below. Not a great photograph, but I hope you find it has an interesting story.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 55mm, 1/800 sec, f/22, ISO 400
I shared this picture with my mother's youngest sister, Connie Patrick, knowing she would like a "church" picture from Iceland. You know it's a "church picture" because of the cross, right? Again, I didn't give it a second thought. But in a return email, Connie asked me, "Why did I choose that title? What were you thinking when you took this?" Honest questions, they deserved an honest answer. As you know I alluded to above, I wasn't thinking much about anything when I captured this! And this is where I get to the surprising part about where photography has taken me, sometimes unsuspectingly, which the following describes.

When I processed this in Photoshop, two months later, I don't know why I was thinking about grace. Serendipity really, I wasn't trying to make a statement, the image just guided me. Grace covers us and without it, none can stand. Often, we go unaware of the gracious covering we enjoy, from our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, our bosses, even, our Creator though few seem to believe anymore. What do we have that has not been given to us? Of course, the photograph is full of symbolism. The sun covers us in warmth and yet the trees and atmosphere cover us and shade us from the dangerous effects of solar radiation. So too, the sky covers the earth and all that live upon it. The roof covers the chapel and is itself covered with sod and a thick splattering of flowers; it covers and insulates, it decorates! It is oddly beautiful. The cross stands over and covers the entrance to this quaint little church. It reminds us of, yet covers, our estrangement from the Creator; some call it sin, others moral failure, the desperateness of the human condition, the things about our existence that make us weep. It is a gracious covering that shields us from the righteous demands of justice and compassion and love, responsibilities before which we always seem to come up short. Secular humanism has no recourse for woulda, coulda, shoulda, no need for forgiveness.

Grace. It is an image loaded with unintentional symbolism, but really it was grace that allowed me to be in that place at that time and grace that enabled me to see. I didn't set out to discover it, more that it found me. Some would say lucky, but I cannot; that implies something haphazard and I cannot believe that. Fortunate I was and fortunate, I am. And, most importantly, grace shared, covers us. It is the greatest of gifts and something to keep in mind as we face the new year.

I don't know if it is the season, the awful discourse of our national politics, the shame of our world's condition, or simply my advancing years. We could all use a little covering, a little grace, and if this inspires you, let's spread some of it around, wherever grace seems to be needed.

If I have somehow offended you, please know that it was not my intention. Some people consider such subject matter impolitic. Truth is sometimes like that, but you can always put me in the SPAM folder!😉

Friday, December 21, 2018

Fini Iceland: To be revisited

It was a long task in the same direction, but I have reached the end of more than two hundred photographs from Iceland. Not all are spectacular, maybe not even particularly good, but then some of them are gems. This may seem self-serving, but the further along I get with this photographic journey, the more I realize that I capture these images because they call to me. That they might speak to you brings added joy. I think that is a worthy discovery; when I am out and about with my camera, I am in the joy zone. Not bad for a guy with a sometimes sardonic sense of humor!

In my opinion, some of the variability in quality was probably due to the variability in subject matter. The photos capture a range of landscape, travel, and fine-art material. I haven't bothered to categorize them, that should be obvious, but the ones presented in the gallery are culled from more than three thousand frames. As you can see, I had my work cut out for me! In the Iceland collection, photos are arranged in temporal order; thus it may be possible to detect an evolution in my reactions to Iceland as the tour progressed. Here, I chose to share a few of my favorites from the last half of the trip.

Iceland Light
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 50 mm, 1/20 sec, f/16, ISO 64
One of Iceland's stunning features I found intriguing was the way the light would change throughout the day. Along a western fjord, partly cloudy skies caused "pops" of sunlight to illuminate the soft yellow-green slopes as seen in Iceland Light. High latitudes lead to a low angle of incidence resulting in warmer, red-shifted, light, as in a sunset, for example. This photograph has nice features for a travel shot, steep cliffs, flashes of muted color, a road, water, and a moody sky, but it also has something more. Most popular photographs exhibit highly saturated colors that can be breathtaking or even "over the top." Rarely do we perceive the "real" world with comparable vivid dimension and thus, for an image to be special, we come to expect or even prefer saturation in pictures that appeal to us on Facebook or Instagram; thus we overlook the exquisite beauty in the "mundane" surroundings of our everyday lives. How sad. Can we only experience joy when transported to some exotic location? Our spirits crave escape from banality, yet beauty, in the eye of the beholder, surrounds us everywhere. Some might not care for the image above, lacking as it is in "eye-popping saturation," but in my opinion, it represents quintessential Iceland. It makes me inwardly groan with wonder at a scene I find sublimely beautiful and it recalls to me the inexplicable joy I felt as I was abruptly seduced by the warm rays of sun kissing the distant slopes. True and good, at least for me, your mileage may vary.

Alone Beside a Lonely Sea
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 44 mm, 1/30 sec, f/8, ISO 1600
Often a photo tour can be very busy, but arriving at the town of Vik on the southern coast, we had time to stroll around before dining. Have you ever noticed that when you've been around people for an extended period of time, even if they are good friends and you enjoy their company, there comes a time when you just need to be alone? Wandering, I was. Happy. No goal in mind. My steps turned toward the spectacular black sand beach and unusual coastal rock formations. And there, I found myself, indeed Alone Beside a Lonely Sea. The mist, vaporized above the roiling waves, hung in the air and there I spied the silhouette of a lone figure. Alone, but not lonely, I was joyous to be able to stand in this place, at this time, and to be enthralled, really overcome as I remember, by the beauty surrounding me. A funny thing happens to our vision as light diminishes. Rods and cones and all that! Remember this the next time you spurn a monochrome, an unsaturated photograph: Colors disappear and we are left with black and white. What a metaphor! Either or. My way or the highway. Them or us. Form and line. Right or wrong. You get the idea. In photography, absent color, some believe we are left with the essence of a subject, boiled down into its shape, positioning, and luminosity. In some respects, the subject transcends the distraction of color. I could see myself in this image, alone, but not lonely, joyous beside a lonely sea. Maybe I sense something primal here; a lost relationship from when our ancestors crawled out of the oceans in eons past. I, alone, but not lonely. The sea? Perhaps it is lonely; maybe that is why it draws us to itself, to re-engage with that which is lost. The Good Book speaks of "deep, calling unto deep." Crying out for connection, to re-engage; with ourselves, others, nature, yes, even our Creator. You know this: Sometimes, it is good to be alone. Sometimes we need to see the essence of things, to figure stuff out, to wonder at the immensity of Creation... Alone, night had come, I headed "home" to dinner with my friends.

Near Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 160 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/11, ISO 400
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland delights the eye with strange and unexpected visions. Among them, icebergs in a kaleidoscope of bizarre shapes and sizes, but I must confess I've seen so many "berg shots" that the challenge was to capture something different, something that would tell a story. A story beyond trivial, beyond imagined animal forms, I was looking for "a thousand words." This odd floater has persisted for at least a year or two; I've seen numerous photographs of it over that time and realized, however, that I had never seen a shot including a sense of place, the context in which the iceberg exists. When I noticed the distant slopes, I knew I had found my shot. As big as a small warehouse, the huge ice formation floating in the lake is as nothing compared to the masses of glacial ice flowing behind it and from which, it derives. Such raw power, creating such beauty: Context is everything. Fire and ice. The rocks, forged in Vulcan's fire, cooled and sculpted by the ice, become the land. The ice flows to the sea, out of which life comes to cover the land with more life. Fire and ice. Beginnings. Origins. Cycles of life. We, each of us, are forged and shaped by the contexts from which we emerge, scarred and gritty, oddly beautiful. Maybe not a thousand words, but at least a few thoughts...

First to Unfurl
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 100 mm, 1/100 sec, f/8, ISO 1600
Iceland is full of surprises, serendipity, the unexpected. At the black sand beach to the west of Vik, well up on the wall of a cave, this little still-life gobsmacked my eyes. It was as if an unseen hand had placed it just so, one blossom fully opened, the rest not quite. Promises for the future. Part of photography is being open to serendipity, maybe even expecting it to grace your path. Soft light, soft stones, soft leaves, grace unfurled before my lens.

Sea and Ice Sublimation
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 210 mm, 1 sec, f/16, ISO 31
Our last day in Iceland, we rose early to photograph the beach at Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. I could hardly wait. It was littered with a million gleaming pieces of ice diamonds that had washed ashore! Some were reminiscent of animals, others formed abstract arrangements, all were gleaming jewels in the rising sun, sparkling with potential, bathed by waves breaking on shore. I was fascinated with these mini-bergs and the slow shutter speed that juxtaposed their solid brilliance against the moving water. I captured several different compositions, which can be seen here. I will return to Iceland and hope you've enjoyed these short vignettes; perhaps some of these photographs may have spoken to you. I hope so. Most of all I wish you a very merry Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or etc, and best wishes for a great new year!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Filled Up One: Iceland

It's been a couple months, and for some reason, I have been blocked trying to write about my most recent experiences in Iceland. Part of the reason for this was that three weeks on the tail of Iceland, we enjoyed a two week odyssey in Canada along the St Lawrence Seaway followed by a photography workshop with Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant in St Martins, New Brunswick. These were the first two photo shoots since my eye surgery in late 2016, early 2017. Both were extremely fulfilling and I will write about the St Martins experience in a later blog; here, I will tell you a bit about Iceland and my post processing so far.

First, if you have not visited Iceland, you must go. My friend, Mark Alberhasky, had been after me for a couple of years to visit and now, I finally understand! Great people, great food, and spectacular scenery, what could be more motivating? For my next visit, I think I would rent a car and stay at the wonderful B&B type lodges scattered along the highways, frequently in beautiful locations. I can see Mark smiling as I write this: Thanks, Mark and PhotoZoneTours for making it possible! I have been on a few terrific tours with Mark and fellow guide, Layne Kennedy; both fabulous photographers and teachers (note links to their respective websites), but this tour was one of the best... so far!

When I landed in Iceland at the Keflavik airport, it was pissing rain. I brooded on dark thoughts during the seemingly endless bus ride into Reykjavik, the capital city. Then it dawned on me that maybe the moody weather reflected something of the ambiance of Iceland; my outlook brightened and I found that this realization turned out to be a recurring theme. After a three hour nap in my comfortable hotel, I walked around Reykjavik, snapping photos an evening before the rest of the crowd arrived. A Russian four-masted schooner was in port and very interesting to see. The architecture in town stood out for some reason; Icelanders are not afraid of bright colors on their houses or places of business! Did I mention beer? Viking IPA, try it, you'll like it! Hungry, I found a seaside shack, which served a lovely lobster and fish stew. Sated, knowing the tour would be great (running out of superlatives!), I strolled back to the hotel for the night, but not without sampling some more Viking IPA. Jetlag is a funny thing.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast (I love the European plan!), I again wandered around the city, this time with blue skies. Such was the Icelandic weather, clear as a bell one moment, cloudy and dark the next; it made for interesting photography. I have started a collection on my website with all of the Iceland photographs; I am still working on it, but you can check my progress here. The images are organized based on the tour's start to finish, so you might imagine how the trip progressed. One of my most favorite photographs is rather fine art-ish, but it shows the gentle features of the afternoon light at this high latitude; see below. Click on the images to see larger versions.

Nikon 1 v2, 10-100 zoom @ 71 mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800
The letters that show at top of frame were formed from some sort of reflection off one of the surrounding buildings, almost surreal really. To see more, you can click on each of the following links to get a feel for what called to me in Reykjavik: Reykjavik AlleyReykjavik 2BHallgrímskirkja SanctuaryHarpa Reykjavik 1Yellow House Reyjavik, or, you can see all, here, at least as far as I've got to date!

On from Reykjavik, we headed to the Western Fjords where cliffs, black churches, myriad waterfalls, fjords, and strange mountains awaited us. I was eagerly anticipating capturing some waterfalls , but I must confess, by the end of the trip, I'd had enough waterfalls, at least for the meantime. Here, I show one of my favorites:

Kirkjufellsfoss Magic
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 8sec, f/16, ISO 64
And another, taken at a different location, of course; more can be found on my website.

Waterfall at Foss Farm
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 250 mm, 1/4 sec, f/16, ISO 32
The geological formations of Iceland are truly fascinating. Foreboding mountain peaks and unfamiliar topography could be discovered in every direction. The light and soft colors were often sublime. Sometimes the sun would shine, sometimes we'd catch a fleeting flash of sunset, and sometimes words didn't exist to portray what I was feeling. Some examples:

Mt Stapafell Near Bárðar Snæfellsáss
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4, ISO 200
On Mt Stapafell, legend has it that elves inhabit the area and magic occurs at the top of the peak. Not sure whether the mountain guards a statue of Bárðr, part human, part giant, part troll, at the base of the mountain or the other way round. A bit eerie.

Columnar basalt formations are evident throughout Iceland. Caused by rapid cooling and crystallization of volcanic rock, the hexagonal geometry can be seen edge on in great columns or, end on creating interesting patterns; both forms are shown here and confront the extremes of the North Atlantic:

Basaltic Bastions of Iceland
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 24 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400
An iconic peak to the north of Kirkjufellsfoss, is loosely translated "Church Mountain" and broods over the town of Grundarfjörður. While we were out late, shooting the waterfalls, we happened to catch a beam from the setting sun bathing the slopes of Kirkjufell in rosy light.

Sunset on the Kirkjufell
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 16 mm, 1/2 sec, f/11, ISO 64
And that brings us to the end of this episode. I slept deeply that night, full of a profound satisfaction that perhaps I had captured what may have been a few of my best photographs to date. I hope each speaks to you with at least some morsel of the delicious moods I experienced in each moment.

Night Falls on Grundarfjörður
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 8 sec, f/16, ISO 64

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Next Time on an Airplane

A while back, I was flying to a conference in Chicago. Leaving Salt Lake City and climbing out over the Wasatch Front, I was sitting in the window seat I usually prefer and fondling my little newly purchased Nikon 1 v2. As we traversed the eastern Rockies in late afternoon, I wondered how the camera would "perceive" the fabulous landscape sliding by slowly below. Would it be sharp enough, even though shooting through the plane's windows? Could I adjust for haze without a filter? Would the compositions even be interesting? Undaunted, I started shooting with a 10-100 mm zoom, the equivalent of 27-270 mm given the crop factor of 2.7x.

Yesterday, almost five years later (!), I was experimenting with these aerial shots in Lightroom and Photoshop. Being retired is great! Anyway, I was quite pleased to see some interesting possibilities emerge and wanted to share the results with you. So, the next time you are on an airplane with nothing to do, dig out your camera; you never know!


Eastern Utah
Nikon 1 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 34 mm, 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Nikon 2 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 22 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Chipped Flint
Nikon 1 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 30 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 200
This last one reminded me of an Indian arrowhead, which is why I chose the title. The late afternoon light from a setting sun aided and abetted the contrast and texture of what might have been an otherwise ordinary formation. Recalling floating somewhere over the Rockies, I think of how many times I have flown above this land and basically ignored the wonders over which I sailed. Seeing. That's the beginning of photography. Without it there is no vision. And without a vision, people perish.

Afterthought: I have tried taking photos with my phone. From an airplane, I have yet to achieve success with this strategy although I have made others images that I found satisfying. Part of it is the lenses of the phone cameras and part of it is being able to shoot in RAW format because, I think, the post processing can be somewhat extreme. Of course, without trying, who knows?