April 6, 2011

Time for some "Imagination"

I know, I know, it's been a YEAR since I updated my blog. Blogs are dead anyway, right? I remember when blogs were the hot thing and the next big thing was the "vlog"...the concept of a blog but with video's....I guess that became YouTube...or Facebook? I dunno.

Well anyway, I decided I should catch up a bit and share the story behind my latest published image, I call "Imagination".

And the story goes...

3AM, I wake up to the sound of a lovely harp playing in the distance...groggy, I look toward the front of the MoHo (aka "motorhome") and realize it's just my iPhone telling me it's time to get up...instead of some vixen beauty playing me an early morning melody.

It's time to get up and go SHOOT!
I'm in the eastern Sierra's for the week conducting two Aperture Academy Death Valley workshops. Mid week I'm doing some shooting of my own. Last weeks group was a blast and there are many familiar faces for this weekend so it should prove to be a great weekend of photography for all.
So, I drive out of my camp spot and head off for a shoot that I've had on my bucket list for about three years now -- Piute Indian Petroglyphs. Weather in the Sierra's hasnt been on my side so I've been doing a lot of night shooting given it's so very nice and dark over here.
Back up two days...
With vague information gathered from about 10 different sources...I had, what I thought, was enough guidance to locate these amazing petroglyphs. The first day I hiked and drove quite a bit, with no success. That afternoon I phoned the ranger station in hopes of some help...no dice. They wouldnt tell me! And, now that I've been there I understand why...this place MUST remain extremely difficult to find for it's very preservation. I even have some hesitation with the image in that I do not want people flocking to this location.
No, I wont tell you where it is. I'm not being a jerk, you're welcome to go but you must have the same utmost respect for this place as I do, and you must go through the same challenges I did. And I request that if you do ever go, and find it, that you keep it's location only to yourself. I say all of this becuase I recently photographed some Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef National Park and was sickened by the defacing and distruction I witnessed on the artifacts :(
Enough of my soap box...on with the post...
So I'm on the highway on my way to the trailhead. It had taken me two days of hiking several canyons, searching for any signs that I was in the right area. Finally, and yes it's always the last place you look...bingo. I sat in awe, looking at each sketching in the stone...seeing things like turtles, fish, deer and the most strange of all, what appeared to be a jelly fish. I was amazing by the detail and level of patience it must have taken to create this giant pictograph panel...and could not stop wondering what drove the people of this era to document with such persistance and imagination.
I very carefully setup my gear on the edge of the rock surface and shot a series of 5 minute exposures. The first 30 minutes or so I tested a variety of settings until I had just what I wanted. Then, the real shooting began. It was nearly 445am now and I new the light in the sky would begin to grow in intensity, even though to my nake eye it was still nearly pitch dark (moonless night). I continued to shoot in 5 minute frames all the way into the morning twilight...carefully adusting my ISO down in small increments to not ruin an exposure. If I were to fumble now, I'd have a gap in my star trails and that would ruin the entire final result.
Why 5 minute exposures? Why not one long exposure?
Digital has an achilles heel...the sensor heats up during long exposures and this leads two a couple of issues -- noise and "hot" pixels. Both are not good for a quality image. So, by taking 5 minute exposures, all exactly back to back, you keep the noise manageable and help avoid hot pixels (I still had a few on the 1Ds Mark III).
But then what?
Then, you take each image into Photoshop and stack them in layers...with the "lighten" adjustment selected on each layer. This allows you to merge the images together, thus giving you the single continugous star trails. Then, one final image for the foreground where I used my trusted "walmart" plastic wrap latern. If you dont know what that means, you can read about that here.
I really love my lantern for light painting, now that I have it all pimped out with orange plastic to cast a nice warm and even light :)
So anyway, there you have it...I call it "Imagination". I'll have a BIG print up in the gallery in the coming days.
PS: It was awesome to hear the coyotes yipping in the distance as I sat waiting on my exposures...everywhere I go I seem to hear coyotes...I knew feeding them crockpot was a bad idea...they always come back for more!

January 4, 2010

2009 in Review: A Year of Big Events

What a year it was. Not just for me, but the world. So many big events and the loss of many iconic figures such as Micheal Jackson, Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett.

For me, it was a busy year of travel photography and on-location workshops. I started the year in Oregon and came away with an image of these timeless sea stacks, standing like giant tombstones of time. (These monoliths hug the shoreline of the small coastal town of Bandon, Oregon.)

In February, I made a long weekend run to Death Valley with good friends Brian Rueb and Scott Davis. Normally you'd think of a place like Death Valley as hot and dry, but we managed to plan our trip to encounter some of the worst rains the area has seen in years. We did manage a few images, but were eventually chased out just as they were closing the roads to the valley.

From Death Valley, Scott Davis and I hopped a plane to Alaska for our long awaited journey to the Kenai Peninsula, to photograph Bald Eagles. Our bad timing in Death Valley was long behind us, and we managed to arrive in Alaska to an unusually sunny week, where we took full advantage of the conditions and photographed eagles every day of our week-long stay.

We returned from Alaska just in time for me to head to Yosemite to meet back up with Brian Rueb and conduct our 2009 Winter Yosemite Landscape Workshop. We had a great group this year and the conditions didn't disappoint. Winter in Yosemite is always a great time, and the students loved every minute of it.

With spring's arrival in Oregon, I made the 12-hour drive from my home in California's Bay area to the Columbia River Gorge, a 60-mile stretch of scenic wilderness along Oregon's northern border with Washington State. I spent a week hiking and photographing many of the waterfalls; conditions could not have been more perfect.

Anxious to get down to the Desert Southwest before it got too hot, May was a perfect time for a long weekend get-a-way to the four corners area. Monument Valley was high on my list, as I'd driven through that area a few times prior but had never stopped to take in the giant, timeless landscapes.

On the way back through the Mohave Desert, I was fortunate enough to be near Andrews Air Force Base and witnessed the space shuttle landing. Lucky for me, weather had caused them to land in California instead of the standard Florida return. Hearing and feeling the sonic boom was indescribable!

In the middle of June, I headed north to Mt. Shasta to meet up with Brian Rueb again, to conduct our annual summer photography workshop tour of that area. Conditions this year were HOT! But visiting all the waterfalls and higher elevations really helped. We had a big group this time, but it was another great workshop!

From Northern California, I headed to Montana in route to Glacier National Park. I'd visited the west entrance many times before but never had the chance to spend time on the east side, which is difficult to access because Logan Pass is only open a few weeks each year, and they don't allow motorhomes to pass over, which is my transportation of choice these days. So after two days of driving I arrived at St. Mary's Lake, where I spent several days hiking and waiting for just the right conditions. Finally on the 4th day of my stay, late morning light gave way to one of my new favorite images.

July and August were very busy. That is Art and Wine Festival season and every year I display my work and sell prints and other misc. photography products. This year was one of the best ever, despite the slow economy. I was pleased with the response to my newest fine art prints and it was further evidence to me that my idea to open a gallery was valid.

Late September finally arrived and I was very anxious to get back into the field. I had been planning a two week trip to Colorado all year and with several stops on my pre-planned route, there wasn't a day to spare. My first stop was Zion National Park, where I hiked the 10 miles in and out of one of the north canyons, "The Subway," formed by an ancient lava tube. I arrived to find just the right lighting conditions and was able to capture the scene as I had hoped.

From Zion, I headed east into Colorado, where I spent a week in and around the San Juan Mountains in search of the best fall colors. While it wasn't the best year for color, I did manage to find a few spots that didn't disappoint. High on my "to-do" list was the difficult, off-road journey to the ghost town of Crystal.

After a full day of visiting and photographing this location, I moved on to the famous Maroon Bells Lake. My first day at the lake was a disappointment...stormy skies kicked up waves on the lake and muted the light. However, when I returned the next morning, the conditions were superb!

With my Colorado trip successfully behind me, I returned to California for the last, and largest, Art and Wine Festival of the year. Held in Half Moon Bay, California, this weekend show boasts up to 250,000 attendees.

October is also the final workshop of the year...our Yosemite Fall Landscape Workshop. Our scheduled workshop was timed perfectly for the fall colors and the students were treated to ideal conditions. On that Saturday night, we arrived at Glacier Point to photograph sunset and it turned out to be one of the most amazing I had ever witnessed. Everyone left with a camera full of wonderful images and many new photographic skills.

In between all of these trips, travels and shows, I managed to write a business plan for The Aperture Academy, a 4,000 square foot photography gallery featuring my work. It is also a studio for building upon the workshop series I'd been developing over the last few years.

We officially opened the doors to Aperture Academy on October 20th, 2009. A full 10 days sooner than expected, due to a streamlined construction schedule. We held our grand opening celebration on December 5th, 2009, with over 500 guests in attendance. It was quite a celebration!

Yes, 2009 was a year of big events and personal milestones, bringing great promise for an even better 2010. Happy New Year everyone, and I hope your 2010 is the best year yet!