I’ve been away from blogging for several months and I’m going to try my best to start posting here again regularly! I shot the above image in the dead of winter in a local park. The wind (or some force) had swept the grass into beautiful swirling patterns that resemble an ocean during a storm. I converted the photo into a toned black and white using Nik Silver Effects Pro. I wanted a dark, contrasty mood because winter feels like a dark time to me and it also just looks more interesting.
I’m trying to push myself to explore some new areas of photography and find new and fresh ways of capturing images. It seems like a bit of a futile task since so much has been done by others already. Nevertheless, I’d love to incorporate some abstraction into my work and I’m not exactly sure how to go about that. There are many ways to get abstract compositions with a camera…some interesting to me, some not. Today I thought I would try shooting some leaves with my 35mm f/1.8 lens wide open and then messing with the color in Photoshop. Here is the result. What do you think?
It’s been a nasty year on Longs Peak. In addition to numerous injuries, there have been 3 fatalities on the mountain this summer. I ventured out to climb the peak with some friends in August. We backpacked to the Boulder Field and camped overnight with the intention of summiting the next morning. But weather moved in overnight and the scene above is what greeted us in the morning. As you can see, the summit was covered in mist and light rain. These kind of conditions make the climb to the top extremely treacherous. Needless to say, we gave up on trying to reach the summit. I’ve been up there before, but I think I like the view I got from the Boulder Field much better! It was a great light show for sunrise, though it only lasted a few moments.
I’ve always wondered what level of risk there is to my vision when I’m composing photographs with the sun in the frame. I use a DSLR camera for all my photography which, unlike point-and-shoot cameras, actually projects the image from the lens onto a mirror and then into the viewfinder. What you see in the viewfinder is exactly what is in front of the lens. I’ve always been somewhat concerned when the sun is in my shot because the sun is being focused by the lens directly into my eye.
Last week I went to the eye doctor for a routine eye exam and I asked him specifically about the risks. He said the most dangerous scenario is when the sun is centered in your photo and unobstructed. The sun can burn the back of your eye just like it can burn your skin, but unlike your skin, your eye will never recover. The damage occurs to your macular and can happen very quickly given the right circumstances. Apparently any past damage to your macular can be seen on a thorough eye exam. My doctor also said that the risk is much less if the sun is near the edge of your composition or is partially obscured by an object such as a tree or cloud. UV coatings on filters, lenses, glasses or contacts can cut down the damaging effects of the sun, but can’t eliminate them.
Most DSLR cameras made within the last few years have a Live View feature where the camera can digitally display what is in front of the lens on the LCD screen. This makes a DSLR function more like a point-and-shoot camera. This is a good way to completely eliminate the risks to your eyes when the sun is in your composition. I use Live View on my camera anytime I’m shooting photos like the one above. Your eyes are too important to risk no matter what photographic opportunity is before you.
I went on a backpacking trip with my brother last weekend to Ice Lake basin near Silverton, Colorado. It is a phenomenally gorgeous area of the San Juan mountains. I believe we hit the peak of the wildflower season perfectly because the hills were virtually carpeted with flowers. Though the trail was busy during the day, I’m sure it wasn’t as busy as Yankee Boy or American Basin which are the well known photography destinations this time of year. I highly recommend Ice Lake Basin for anyone up for a high altitude hike. The blue color of the water at Ice Lake is truly mind blowing. It’s as blue, if not more so, than anything in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
This trip was the my first opportunity to use my new Gitzo GT1541T carbon fiber tripod, which I invested in specifically for backpacking and overseas travel. It weighs less than 3 lbs and folds up to 16 inches long but can still hold the weight of my DSLR. I’ll be posting a review of my experiences with it here shortly.
I went snow shoeing this Saturday with my friend Zach in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had been planning the trip for a few weeks but I didn’t expect the conditions to be so perfect. On Friday, there was a significant snow storm which dumped tons of new snow on the park. I think the accumulation far exceeded the forecasts. The storm moved out quickly and by the time Zach and I got to the Bear Lake trailhead at 6:15 am on Saturday, there were beautiful clear skies. Everything was coated in fresh snow. We didn’t make it up to Dream Lake by sunrise because highway 34 is closed just east of Estes Park while they replace a bridge. With the detour taking extra time, we would’ve had to get up 2:30 AM to make it for the 6:30 sunrise. Ouch. But it didn’t matter anyway because there was so much blowing snow off the peaks before the sun came up, we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Here are two images I took along our hike. Winter looks so nice in toned black and white!
The Ice at Dream Lake (above) was beautiful with all kinds of interesting bubbles, cracks, and ripples. Zach and felt very comfortable walking on it as it appeared to be at least a foot thick.
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to image quality. Like most photographers, I love getting the sharpest, smoothest images with the highest resolution and dynamic range that I possibly can. Recently though, I’ve started wondering if the whole photography industry might be a little too caught up with digital image quality. As a little Christmas present to myself this year, I picked up a nice coffee table book of Galen Rowell’s photography. I am surprised at what I see in his images. There is graininess, motion blur and focus errors in a surprising number of his photos. It’s not isolated to Galen’s work either. The same flaws are present in a National Geographic retrospective book that I looked at with photos from dozens of different photographers. Here’s the question I have to ask myself. Do these technical image quality flaws subtract from the awesomeness of the work in those books? Absolutely not.
I’m guessing that the vast majority of people who enjoy Galen Rowell or National Geographic don’t even notice those technical errors, so long as they are not photographers themselves. I think they are more impressed with the subject matter, lighting and composition of a photograph. This is a huge relief for me. There are countless wonderful images that I have grievingly cast into digital purgatory because they have a slight technical flaw. I have been taught how to look for these flaws by the countless camera review websites and photography blogs out there. People on these sites routinely discuss the sharpness of their photo prints when viewed under a loupe. Really? A loupe? When you have a gallery show, do you hand out loupes to all the visitors? The camera manufacturers love this because the inevitable conclusion to all our problems is always to buy more expensive gear. Are the corners of your images a little soft? Well then you need a “pro” lens. Are you making prints of your photos? Certainly nothing less than the highest resolution digital camera available will suffice. What’s interesting is that the personal work of most of the camera reviewers out there is artistically mediocre at best. But darn it, their images are “tack sharp.”
There are extremes in every debate. The infamous Ken Rockwell would try to convince us that he’d give up his digital SLRs and just shoot with the camera on an iPhone, but he’s too cheap to actually buy one. Gimme a break. Of course your camera matters and you should do everything you can to avoid blur, focus on the right spot and expose correctly. But seeing what Galen Rowell and the folks at Nat Geo accepted as good enough gives me a new perspective on how to judge acceptable vs. unacceptable quality in my own images. I can only hope to be as adventurous and creatively brilliant as the photographers on my coffee table, but it’s nice to know that technical perfection takes a back seat to more important aesthetic considerations.
In looking back on the 2009, I realize that I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel to so many different locations around the globe. This year alone I took over 6400 photos in Tanzania, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. I would be thankful for an itinerary like that any year, but the economic turmoil of 2009 has given me a new level of appreciation for a stable job at a great company and the ability to get out and see the world.
Here are some images that I’ve never shown from each of the locations I’ve traveled to this year. Most of these got lost in the digital shuffle of thousands of images on my hard drives or ended up on the cutting room floor because there were better images I wanted to share. In any case, I’m glad I’ve rediscovered them as they help keep the great memories of this year fresh in my mind.
While I was waiting for the sun to go down at Ke’e Beach on Kaua’i, I snapped this before I had to hustle into position to get the sunset. Nothing spectacular, but I couldn’t resist the evening light on the interesting trees. It’s amazing I didn’t get any chickens in this shot because they were everywhere. Apparently, the last hurricane to hit Kaua’i (‘Iniki in 1992), freed all the chickens from their pens, and now they live wild all over the island.