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Thursday, 28 January 2016 23:01

Ms Lucy's Barn

Many years ago Ms. Lucy Nolan told me that I was welcome to photograph her barn at any time, so long as I did not use the image in a "beer commercial." I have kept my word, and I have photographed Ms. Lucy's barn in every season and under almost every imaginable condition. To me it represents the quintessential mountain farmstead; an icon of something I hope will never disappear, but whose numbers seem to diminish with each passing year. When it snows in the lovely, but narrow, valley of Fines Creek and the ground is covered in white, along with the bare winter trees and grass stems, there is offered up a stark contrast with the still bright red framing of the structure, sitting just off the creek and near the base of a low ridge where the Nolan farm has nestled for many years. It was snowing fairly hard as I stood with an umbrella in one hand and adjusted settings with the other. I chose a focal length of 78mm, short telephoto, to give me the angle-of-view and slight magnification I wanted, which provided both context and some small enlargement of the subject. A shutter speed of 1/8th second was enough to slow some of the motion in the snow without causing more blur than I wanted. Another stop slower would have been too much blur I decided; and an aperture of f/16  at ISO 100, it gave me depth-of-field and the shutter speed I wanted with an overall exposure of somewhat lighter-than-medium. A time gone by, but never forgotten.

Friday, 22 January 2016 17:30

Rumpelstiltskin's House

The rivers of the Southern Appalachians are beautiful beyond words, and when the reflected light of a winter sun bounces off an understory of last fall's leaf litter unto a surface of churning water, magic happens, like Rumpelstiltskin spinning liquid straw into gold. The Tellico of Southeastern Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest is such a river. It takes the drainings of the Unicoi Mountains and funnels them into an ancient narrow metamorphic sandstone gorge before delivering them to the greater flow of the mighty Little Tennessee. In its tumbling and rolling, when the light is right, the Tellico becomes braided sunshine. A focal length of 300mm narrowed my angle of view so that what was included was just the flow over a small underwater boulder and the white turbulence beyond. An aperture of f/16 provided sufficient depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/15th second at ISO 100 gave a slightly lighter-than-medium overall exposure.   

Friday, 15 January 2016 12:34

The Eyes of the Gingerbread Man

On my way from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Amarillo, Texas I crossed the Llano Estacado from west to east as a fierce thunderstorm blew in from the North. I had come through the edge of the storm and knew there was both lightning and hail associated with the cell; so I decided my best tactic was to outrun it, but its beauty was too great to ignore. So I would drive as quickly as I could to get far enough ahead so that I could stop, grab my gear, and compose an image or two before the rain began to overtake me again. This game of cat and mouse went on for about 40 miles until it began to be so dark my shutter speeds were becoming longer than I wanted. This was the final image, taken just as the sun began to slip below the horizon. In the end I felt like the Gingerbread Man, but with the hope that I might actually get away from something seemingly determined to devour me. I decided that the story of the storm was best told through wide-angle landscape eyes, so I used a focal length of 27mm to give me the angle-of-view I wanted. I was far enough away from the elements of my image that f/11 gave me depth-of-field. As you can see, the wind was blowing the grasses in the foreground, but a shutter speed of 1.0 second managed to provide some detail in them. At ISO 100 these settings gave me an overall slightly darker-than-medium exposure. A Llano Estacado storm through the Gingerbread Man's eyes.

Friday, 08 January 2016 17:14

Everything Emptying into White

It has become rather difficult to do much artistic landscape work in the Smokies during icy and snowy weather events because the Park's roads are often closed. It's probably more a matter of maintenance costs than anything, although safety is certainly a large factor. Either way, it is an occasion for excitement when I find myself on the inside and there is snow or frost on the trees. Such was the case a couple of Februarys ago as I came up Newfound Gap Road above Chimneytops Trailhead and entered a fairyland of lacy white growing out of the green lushness of rhododendron and mountain laurel. A line of leafless birches made for an interesting foreground in an abstracted forest. A focal length of 66mm allowed me to isolate a small section of the larger whole and create an intimate landscape of frosty hardwoods. An aperture of f/16 allowed for depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. A day of frost in the Smokies is a fine day indeed.  

Friday, 01 January 2016 16:13

In the Beginning

Indian Service Road 7900/7950 is the most direct way into Chaco Canyon from the northeast, crossing through the Navajo Nation from Nageezi. It is a rough, rocky, washboard of a dirt track, and it traverses through layer after layer of high desert geologic time with little human presence to mark its passing. On our way to greet a Chaco morning last fall we were stopped by one of the most intense sunrises I have ever seen. The sky was a fire of flaming stratus streamers, whose show I wanted to anchor with a bit of mesa line and chaparral. Without the assistance of my 5-stop graduated neutral density filter to open up some detail in the foreground, the chaparral and mesa would have become silhouettes.  A focal length of 187mm was sufficiently telephoto to somewhat magnify the clouds and mesa, yet with enough angle-of-view to give a sense of the enormity of the cloud cover. An aperture of f/18, given the camera-to-subject distance, provided depth-of-field; and combined with a shutter speed of 1/5th second at ISO 100, it created a slightly darker-than-medium overall exposure. I wondered what the ancients would have thought.

Friday, 25 December 2015 00:00

A Cathedral for Me

This Image marks the conclusion of four years of Image for the Asking, my weekly conversation on photographic beauty and creativity. The number "4" seems rather small, but when I expand it out to 208 weeks, it begins to take on a different meaning and context. I wanted to conclude this fourth year with an image from a place that is as special to me as any cathedral. This is Fajada Butte which sits at the entrance to Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. It must have been sacred to the ancient Ancestral Puebloans for high up among its crevices they carved a spiral glyph which, on the day of the summer solstice is pierced exactly down the center by a dagger of light passing through rock slabs. As the butte appears to have had no "utilitarian" purpose, it seems to have had important spiritual and ceremonial significance for the Chaco people. It seems appropriate that I should offer this image as a "wide-angle" landscape since that is how I typically see the world. The sun was steadily setting in the west and the day's last light was illuminating the butte when we found some rabbitbrush, blooming-to-seed, to serve, by way of being a foreground element, as an invitation for the eye to continue across the chaparral to Fajada. There was absolutely no wind. A focal length of 33mm allowed me to be wide-angle but to eliminate unwanted information in the sky and surrounding landscape. An aperture of f/16, given the camera-to-subject distance, provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 20 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly-darker-than-medium exposure. Happy New Year to All. 

Saturday, 19 December 2015 00:00

An Instrument of Peace

Although I had photographed the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos on several occasions, I recently learned that there is an interesting feature to consider when thinking about visiting this beautiful structure. There are  light-sensitive floodlights which turn on at dusk illuminating the statue of Francis and the frontal exterior of the building. Constructed between 1772-1815, no less a luminary than Georgia O'Keeffe described it as "one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards." In the gloaming, the marble statue of the good saint, as well as the adobe walls of the church, seem to glow with an inner light that makes the scene, for me, all the more poignant and special. A focal length of 20mm allowed me the angle-of-view I wanted in a visual field that had to be carefully constructed so as to include essential elements and exclude non-essential ones without mergers or other distractions. An aperture of f/13 and a shutter speed of 30.0 seconds at ISO 100 provided depth-of-field and noise control with an overall very slightly-darker-than-medium exposure. It just barely allowed me to avoid having to use the "bulb" setting on my camera. The scene was a gift to my spirit.

Saturday, 12 December 2015 00:00

A Confusion of Seasons

Southeast of Moab the La Sal Loop Road pauses above the deep gash of Mill Creek Canyon before descending to cross the narrow chasm. From that vantage, the broad, flat shoulder of ridge between Horse Creek and Brumley Creek watersheds leads the eye slowly upward toward the rise of Mt. Mellenthin before curving south into the deeply incised Brumley headwaters drainage that eventually ascends to the heights of Mt. Peale, at 12, 721' often, as here, shrouded in cloud. Across the lower reaches of that forested shoulder, Gamble oaks and small junipers spray an autumn palette of color, while higher up thick groves of aspen, some leaf-bare and others still in golden splendor, cover the mountain. Still higher the great conifers reign, but crowning them all beyond the tree line the high peaks of the La Sals stand tall and shining in the season's first dressings of snow. I was far enough removed from even the nearest foreground that a focal length of 150mm took in a fairly wide angle of view. An aperture of f/20 gave depth-of-field (f/11 would have been sufficient here), and a shutter speed of 1/10 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. This, too, is the glory of the Colorado Plateau.

Saturday, 05 December 2015 00:00

Light Lines

The Windows District of Arches National Park is a fairy world of rock. The park, as a whole, contains the largest concentration of rock arches in the world, and those of the Windows District are as incredible as any to be found. In exploring various angles and perspectives recently we came upon an opening in the massive Entrada Sandstone formations which may at one time been an arch itself, but is now a long, rounded outcrop, open to the sky and offering an amazing view northwest toward the Garden of Eden and Balanced Rock tiny in the distance. As we watched the light slowly fade, it began to highlight the various formations in intense tones of warmth, but at the same time it cast a rim light across the top of the outcrop at our feet. Using just the edge of the rock, where the highlight ran, as a floor, I framed the right edge of the image with the edge of the Entrada formation and placed the highlighted formations in the mid-ground so that the lighted tops were near to the right vertical third line. The dark gray clouds overhead were an interesting contrast to the still-whitish cumuli on the far horizon. A focal length of 20mm gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field;and a shutter speed of 1/10th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall somewhat-darker-than-medium eposure. Fairyland at sunset is magic.

Friday, 27 November 2015 00:00

Never Far From the Tree

Three weeks ago I shared an Image of a single cottonwood leaf at the edge of a small waterpocket in the upper slickrock in Zion National Park. This week I want to share with you the image that first attracted my eye when I initially reached the bottom of the wash. The single leaf came with some exploration. This, of course, is a wide-angle landscape, whereas the other was most certainly an intimate landscape of a very small portion of the scene you see here. Perhaps you prefer one to the other; I do not. For me they are just different ways of "seeing" the same world. Here, just as in the intimate scene, I was very conscious of camera location and perspective, of element relationship and arrangement, of angle-of-view and especially what was included and excluded. I also waited for a small passing cloud to reduce as much contrast as it would. So often it's all of the various ways you can engage the process of communicating what you have seen that make for your creativity in the visual world. I encourage you to never believe there is only a single way of seeing what is around you. A focal length of 35mm gave me the angle of view I wanted (anything shorter would have been too much information for me). An aperture of f/20 provided depth of field; and a shutter speed of 1/5th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. Don't stop looking until you are sure there is nothing left to see; and then look one more time just for good measure.

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